Paul and I met online 18 months ago but back then, I didn't know Paul had a mental health problem. Paul's line of work and his very sociable nature made me think that he was just very gregarious and one of life's naturally high people.
It was about a month into our relationship when I came across Paul's medication after a weekend away. I was aware that Paul knew I had found the tablets but rather than put him on the spot and ask for an explanation, I felt it best to let him approach me when he felt able. Four or five days later, Paul finally told me that he had bipolar disorder and the medication was to help him with the treatment of this.
At first I felt like a rabbit in the headlights - I thought what do I do? What do I say? How do I act? Then it dawned on me. Paul was still the same, the fact he had a mental health problem didn't change him at all. From then on, I asked Paul to be open about his condition and it has only served to strengthen our relationship.
Like any new relationship, you are constantly finding out new, interesting things about one other and I have experienced both 'highs' and 'lows' with Paul but with each passing episode, and with Paul's knowledge of his condition and the help and advice from Bipolar group, life with Paul is quite the adventure, but one that I'm confident we are capable of facing together. Paul's bipolar disorder is part of who he is and I wouldn't change him for the world.
Living with someone, in this case, not a family member, but someone you've chosen to be with who has experience of a mental health problem, need not be scary or difficult. Simply doing those little everyday things can make all the difference. Treat them normally.
When I see signals that Paul is in the start of a 'low' period, I'll bring him breakfast in bed to perk him up and help him start the day on a positive note. Sending a few extra texts to let him know I'm thinking of him and making sure he knows that I'm here if he needs me.
What I have learnt is that you don't have to be an expert to start a conversation about mental health. Being supportive can include small gestures like sending a quick text or email, or an invitation to meet up. Talking about mental health is one of the most powerful tools you can ever employ because the more you know about it, the better you can deal with it.
My philosophy: It's only an issue if you let it become one.
Time to Change is Time to Change is England's most ambitious programme to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems. The programme is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and funded by the Department of Health and Comic Relief. To start your conversation go to www.time-to-change.org.uk or tweet #timetotalk
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