Hey folks. This week we’re starting a new posting series about the intersection of mental illness and polyamory. We’ll be covering everything from facts about mental illness, to disclosing mental illness, to the impact of mental illness on jealousy, and a great deal more.
We decided from the beginning of our romantic relationship that we wanted to be poly. I had some experience with it in the past, being solo poly and in one case seriously dating two people at the same time. In my current relationship, I was surprised by the intensity and unmanageability of my jealousy. I read book after book, article after article. I had long talks with my anchor partner about our feelings and our boundaries. I started dating someone else and talked with her about our feelings and boundaries. My jealousy with regards to my anchor partner being with other people continued to be unmanageable. It inspired terror, hyper-vigilance, depression, nightmares, deep feelings of unworthiness and constant anxiety. I didn’t know what to do. All the reading I was doing was telling me to sit with my feelings, own them, observe them. But my feelings were completely out of control.
I have complex PTSD. I am a survivor of child abuse, sexual violence and intimate partner violence. I have done lots of therapy but my C-PTSD is ongoing. I realized that my reaction regarding my anchor partner being with others was not simply jealousy. What I was experiencing was the heightened symptoms of C-PTSD triggered by an experience that brought up trauma stuff for me. My trauma is all about being hurt and betrayed by the people I love. My trauma is all about not being good enough or worthy of love. My trauma is about sexual, physical, emotional and psychological violence that I have experienced in my intimate relationships. It is not easy to simply observe it and let it go.
What I realized is that all of the resources I had been reading on polyamory assumed as a starting point that no one involved had mental health issues. Therefore, the suggestions and advice that they shared were not helpful to me as someone with C-PTSD. I was blaming myself for not being able to simply observe and let go of my emotions. I was feeling like a failure at poly because my jealousy was so unmanageable. When I realized that the way I was feeling was due to my C-PTSD it took some of the pressure off. It gave me a way to understand and talk about what I was experiencing.
In reality, lots of people who practice poly have mental health issues. Since mental health issues are all different, the way that they impact our experience of poly will be different. What we have in common is that our relationship to emotions is probably different from people who don’t have mental health issues. Poly requires that we face our emotions so we cannot afford to pretend that mental health issues don’t matter.
I believe that poly has the potential to provide a wonderfully supportive environment for people with mental health issues. Ideally, it would be an expanded support network, more people to turn to and encouragement to sort through feelings and communicate needs. In order for poly to be beneficial to people with mental health issues, we need to be brought into the conversation. We need more than a one-size-fits-all response to jealousy. We need to not shame people for our differing experiences of emotions. We need to start talking about how our mental health experiences impact our experience of poly.
These conversations are just beginning. Poly relationships and community can only be enriched by them.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.