Dealing with work-induced stress disorder and a loved one's crisis
April 7, 2019 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Need coping strategies to not be effected by my partner's psychological issue

I have been on stress leave from work for the past month and am scheduled to go back in one week. Initially I thought I didn't need to go off work. Then I thought 2 weeks would be enough. Then 2 weeks passed and I felt even more overwhelmed than before, and as the sensation of stress lessened I became aware of a sensation of depression. I believe the reason I needed to go on leave was extremely simple - I work in a public-facing role in a software company and the company simply works us to the bone. No holidays over Christmas combined with a gigantic increase in workload in the past 6 months has just completely burned me out. I started getting panic attacks in the grocery store, crying during work and completely neglecting my household chores (to make matters worse I work from home). I still find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and have no motivation to do my household chores but I have managed to stay physically and socially active during the time Ive been on leave. I will be seeing my doctor tomorrow to get advice on returning to work.

The past two weeks I thought would be the time when I can actually start feeling energetic and happy again. But a crisis occured - the person I am dating had some kind of 8-day dissociative psychological episode during which time I had to extricate myself because they were being aggressive towards me (not violent but aggressive sexually). They also had lack of concentration, memory loss, disorganized thinking, and separation from reality and were unable to work. They have now come out of that state of mind and are going to be getting psychiatric help, hopefully starting this week. It may have been a temporary episode or symptom of a deeper issue but we haven been able to get access to psychiatrist yet to find out.

But it hurts me to see them also going through the shock of realizing they lost 8 days and the fact that they are now seeming to feel a bit depressed about this realiztion. Im finding it hard to cope emotionally with not only my feelings of love for this person, but also my worry about them (I have an anxiety disorder), my concern that they get the help they need in a convoluted and overloaded healthcare system, and also the fact that they don't seem to have any support network here (they are from the middle east and all their family is there).

I just now spoke to him and he said he spent the whole day in his apartment and now feels depressed. What I think is happening is that for so long he's had no one to talk to and had no one to really care about his inner life that now that we're dating, he's sharing everything with me but no one else. However, I don't seem to be able to cope with that very well. I wake up in the night feeling stressed and have had to start taking Ativan to get through the night.

I'm not looking for the advice of 'bail on this relationship' because I don't really want to do that because for some reason I deeply love this person.

I am looking for the coping strategies of how to help this person who's suffering but also not be emotionally effected by it because I'm already emotionally swamped myself. If you have tips on phrases I can say to him to explain my sense of drowning-ness without making it sound like I don't want to help, please let me know. How do I emphasize the need for this person to develop a support system without sounding like I'm trying to abandon them?
posted by winterportage to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are no magic words that will perfectly communicate your own emotional issues and make the person you’re dating stop relying on you when they’re socially isolated and going through their own shit. Instead, what you need to communicate are BOUNDARIES. What do you need out of this relationship? To feel supported by your partner? To maintain a healthy, equitable partnership with the person you’re dating? Figure this out, and communicate it. For instance, “I need you to find a therapist and start seeing them at least once a week in addition to psychiatric treatment. It’s okay if you don’t immediately click with the therapist, but I need you to make a concerted effort until you find a professional you can talk to so that our interactions are more than just us working through our own issues.” If there are specific things you’re willing to help with (for instance, navigating U.S. private insurance), express that, but it’s not your job to take on this whole project for your partner. That goes double for anyone prone to take on more and push through stress to the point of overwork. It’s okay to set boundaries, and to expect people to respect them. It may feel extra weird if you’re not used to that in your life, but that’s all the more reason to make some and communicate them. Hopefully you have your own mental health support team who can help you navigate these situations. If not, the adage about putting on your own oxygen mask first definitely applies here.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:45 PM on April 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Can you create a schedule for communicating with one another? It sounds like you aren't seeing each other in person right now but mostly communicating via phone or text? Could you set up two times a day -- and then set a timer -- for talking with each other? While texting can be fun (and sexy!) in good times and helpful in emergencies, it can be draining and a pain in many other circumstances. Is limiting texting something that could help?

If your partner is in crisis again like before, they -- or you -- can call 911 to connect with emergency services. I know that's not ideal but an option when safety is compromised. Would your partner be open to a text or phone hotline for support? A mental health social worker? Could they reach out to their family back in the Middle East when they need support or a distraction? How about a local support group for people of his background, like a cultural club or religious group (if he's of any particular faith.)

It's so incredibly hard being an immigrant, and painfully isolating at times. It's not your responsibility but I feel for both of you. I'd suggest spending time together not talking but rather watching movies, drinking tea, going for walks, etc. However, I also suggest this if you feel safe with them, and it sounds like you (understandably) don't feel completely safe right now.

Whatever you do, please talk to your doctor about this when you discuss options for going back to work. They can recommend more resources for you and hopefully your partner, too.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:39 PM on April 7, 2019

You have been dating for three months. The level of support they are expecting from you is out of whack with what your commitment level should be; and your feeling you “deeply love” someone who you have only known a few months indicates that you may want to dial back a bit for your own stability.

You don’t need to dump them, but you don’t need to martyr yourself for their needs, either. I don’t think there are any magic phrases you can use, just keep repeating your boundaries *and stick to them*. My experience with the type of person that presents such high needs so early in a relationship, and who trampled over boundaries as your boyfriend has, is that they cannot control themselves and put someone else’s needs first. You are going to have to advocate for yourself.

With the level of disfuntion you describe it sounds like they need to be an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, it is far more serious than something a monthly visit with a psychiatrist can address. Knowing they are being cared for 24/7 should also help your own anxiety and allow you to stop developing a therapeutic relationship with the person to focus on developing a romantic relationship.
posted by saucysault at 1:40 AM on April 8, 2019 [23 favorites]

One thing jumped out at me in your question, because it reminds me of a situation that I had last year. I also took time off work at a busy/demanding software company with stress-related mental health issues, and took longer to return than I'd expected - I was off for three months.

I don't know about your work situation & logistics, but one of the key things for me on return was to stop working from home, and to travel into the local office every work day that I'm not spending in front of a customer. That was very helpful as part of setting up regular & healthy work habits, so that home & work didn't spread & merge into each other as they'd been doing for me before. Now, when I'm at work I'm working (plus taking breaks regularly, plus going out for a walk in the fresh air each day, plus not eating lunch at my desk, plus... etc) and when I'm at home, I'm at home and doing home-life things.

So I mention this for two reasons - first, just to share what I found helpful when I returned to work from a similar absence to how yours sounds. And second, to use it as a worked example of setting & keeping personal boundaries. That's something that I needed to develop some better practices around, and to have a boundary between work and home has helped me to understand how that should work, and how I can make it work in practice. Maybe that's a step towards also being able to set & keep healthy boundaries in your personal life too?

Good luck, and be sure to keep your own oxygen mask firmly on the whole time.
posted by rd45 at 2:46 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can't save him. You will drown in the attempt. It doesn't matter how much you love him, he is incapable of being a good partner to you right now. And he's adding to your immense stress to the point where you can't work because you're worried about him. If you had a great job that didn't make you miserable, this relationship might be sustainable. Between the job and the boyfriend, your own well-being is in danger. Please don't choose him over yourself.

He needs professional psychiatric care. The best thing you can do for him is encourage him to get it, and set loving but firm boundaries to protect yourself. You can't make him do it. He's been sexually aggressive with you? Deep love doesn't matter. He needs help you cannot give him. Please protect yourself. There are great suggestions above. But I'm telling you because no one told me: you cannot save him.
posted by Nyrha at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I respect that you want to stay with this guy, and I am not telling you to end the relationship. That all said, I want to point out some things that concern me about the dynamic between you. Most important, because you're in the relationship and you are a smart, intuitive person, is that in your last question you described, repeatedly, that you were not trusting him and that he was aggressively pushing the relationship past your comfort level. You are now describing him continuing to push the relationship past you comfort level, in a way that has escalated from (I'm guessing) verbal things that made you uncomfortable to physical/sexual aggression. You extricated yourself because he was being aggressive (GOOD FOR YOU!) and now he is expressing feelings of depression. You worry about him feeling "abandoned" if you set reasonable boundaries.

This situation, as you have described it, worries me for your ongoing safety, emotionally and physically. Much of this fits the pattern of relationship abuse (particularly the mental health crisis as a way of excusing sexual aggressiveness and seeking caregiving from the person who was the victim of that aggressiveness).

Let's assume, though, that his mental health crisis was 100% as he described. He had a psychotic break-type experience. It doesn't strike me as the healthiest thing for him to be in a relationship that goes against his parents' values and his long-standing pattern in terms of dating---it must be unbelievably stressful for him and he is at the point of, according to him, disassociating.

You stated that he has a church, so I know that he has other options for social support, even if he does not prefer to use those options. I would suggest, gently, that loving this person does not necessarily mean continuing to have the same kind of dating, sexual/intimate, romantic interaction that you have been having. It seems like you both need space and time to focus on some acute and serious mental health issues without the stressors of a romantic relationship.

It also sounds like you may need to be the stronger one in this situation and set some firm, serious boundaries for both of your sakes. In six months or a year if you are both in healthier places, maybe the romantic/intimate aspect could be considered again, but right now---this doesn't strike me as a healthy, supportive dynamic for the two of you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:24 AM on April 8, 2019 [10 favorites]

Please, too, realize that experiencing sexual aggression is a mental health issue for you. That is true regardless of why it happened. You 100% have the right to prioritize your own feelings about this and get help for yourself.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:25 AM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

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