Submission and Mental Illness
Updated: Aug 22, 2022
My first serious girlfriend told me I was not worth the risk to marry because I had Bipolar. She knew this when we got together. Still, we dated, fell in love, had a relationship. After a few years, I asked about the possibility of marriage. I was told that because I had Bipolar, there was always a chance she would come home and find me dead by my own hand. That risk was not worth it to her.
I can’t say I fully blame her for the caution. I had tried to kill myself once before. However, that statement also seared into my soul that I was and will always be damaged goods. If I was going to be worth anything to anyone in a relationship I had to produce something that made up for the risk. I had to make the big bucks, create a home, tend to everything and need next to nothing if I was ever going to be even vaguely worth the risk of loving.
Since then, of course, I had an ex-wife who was willing to take the risk. And I now have a partner who says we are in this together. He allows me to be messy and imperfect. Still, I live with the constant fear that if I am too messy, sick too long, too needy, and can’t be the bread winner, home-maker, perfect slut in the bedroom and in charge in the rest of my life I will not be worthy of love.
There are a lot of unique challenges in loving someone with a mental illness. In a power exchange relationship these issues can be even more pronounced and difficult.
The “Secretary Fantasy”
Each mental illness is unique and each person with a mental illness experiences it in a unique way. Bipolar is different than depression. Depression is different than an eating disorder. Eating disorders are different than anxiety. And every singly one of us living with a mental illness has a unique manifestation.
There are many things to learn about when your partner has a mental illness. Today, I want to talk about what I call the “Secretary Fantasy.” It comes from the movie The Secretary. I love that movie for many reasons, but do take issue with the way mental illness and power exchange is represented. In the film, the Dom played by James Spader, finds out that Maggie Gyllenhall (the sub) is a cutter. He tells her that she needs to throw away her cutting supplies and he will make sure she never cuts again. She tosses the kit, finds kink play and they live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, it never works that way. Ever. Period. Stop protesting, it isn’t that simple.
Mental illness is not something that happens because someone is weak or lacks coping skills. People don’t engage in self harm because they are just giving into a desire. Its not like wanting a Twinkie at midnight. The compulsion is overwhelming, all-consuming and you can think you will die if you don’t do something to stop the need. The hurt behind self-harm is more than just “a bad day.” The emotional pain is something you can’t fathom unless you have actually experienced it.
You can overcome self-harm. I have and know other people have. In part it comes with age. In part, it comes with treatment. It has to be treatment that addresses the actual issue. Self harm cannot be effectively sublimated with BDSM. They are not the same release, and do not address the same issues. Chasing catharsis through intense BDSM play is not and cannot replace therapy long term.
Telling your submissive to stop being mentally ill is actually cruel. If someone suffers depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD or any of the other illnesses, simply saying, “Stop It!” both hurts us more and is destructive to our self perception. What happens with a D-type says “Stop it!” is the sub desires to please the D-type. Ultimately, they fail. Then they feel even worse about failing their D-type plus they feel guilty about an illness they can’t control.
It is like telling someone, “Just breathe!” during an asthma attack. That won’t do anything. Further, by just yelling at them, you fail to do anything to help something that is damaging and might be fatal.
Mental illness, unlike physical illness, is often portrayed as the individual’s fault. It is like getting Diabetes II when you are overweight. The disease is seen as something that is your fault. You deserve to be ill and it is on you to fix it. This position ultimately is not helpful to the person with the illness.
First Steps to Helping Your Partner with Mental Illness
There are things that are helpful to someone with a mental illness.
Talk to them. Everyone has a unique experience with their illness. They know it better than you do. Talk to your partner about what happens when they get sick. Talk to them about what helps. Talk to them about how to be supportive.
Learn about it. I can’t teach you everything about my illness. I get tired of talking about it. I can’t always vocalize effectively about what is going on when I am in the middle of being sick. There are plenty of ways to learn about an illness. Start with NAMI.org. They offer resources and classes for family and friends of someone dealing with mental illness.
Understand you can’t “fix” them. You can support someone. You can help them in many ways. You cannot fix them.
It’s not you, its them. Really, my depression is not about you. My anxiety is not about you. You might have triggered it, but most of the time, there is something more innate, more fundamental. My bad mood is not about you.
It is complicated to love someone with a mental illness. Ultimately, we can be worth it. Just please, don’t tell us that we need to “stop it,” for you.