Polyamory and Mental Illness

Via David Thompson, an article in Everyday Feminism on how difficult it is to be polyamorous when disabled:

As someone who’s disabled and non-monogamous, it’s hard for me to relate to most of them.

Back when I used to trawl through the Twitter feeds of polyamorists in an effort to understand who they were, I noticed a lot of them are self-described as disabled in some way. Now when ordinary people hear the term “disabled” they think of some poor soul confined to a wheelchair, or perhaps blind or deaf. But when the sort of people who get into polyamory talk about being disabled they mean:

For example, for scent sensitive people this can mean partners not wearing any scented products.

Scent sensitivity is a disability? Who knew? The article continues:

It can be hard enough to find one partner, let alone more than one.

One of the great ironies about polyamory is it is often practised by people who are manifestly incapable of holding down one stable relationship, let alone several concurrently.

That’s even more difficult when you’re disabled.

Then why do it?

Not through any fault of our own, but ableism can paint disabled people as inherently sexless or undesirable.

If a potential partner starts wittering on about scent sensitivities, I can believe it.

One friend I spoke to who did not want to be named explained her experience, “as a disabled-since-birth superfat genderqueer femme, it’s not always possible to find partners who I trust and am able to be open with.”

Or anyone who wants to be with you.

Another friend who wanted to remain anonymous mentioned that a big hurdle for her is the impossibility of meeting people when you spend most of your time in bed.

Whilst I am sure this is true and a genuine problem, if finding one partner is impossible it’s rather difficult to see how polyamory is even on the horizon here.

Though I identify as non-monogamous and occasionally have other sexual partners, I currently don’t have the energy to maintain other serious romantic relationships.

I’m low on energy, so I have to settle for shagging around. I’ve got to try that one.

Sometimes I am too sick to make my own food and rely on my partner to feed me.

According to her bio she has four kids and “an amazing partner”. If she’s so unwell she sometimes can’t feed herself, yet she has time and energy to go sleeping with other people, where do her children sit on her list of priorities?

Non-monogamy can work great for this as the more people you have for support, the easier the workload is on any one individual.

Being disabled and polyamorous is good because there are more people to shoulder the enormous burden which is me.

So, if my partner needs a break from that responsibility then someone else can take over.

Lucky him.

Conversely, sometimes we may need so much care that our partners don’t have anything left over to give to other partners.

Which – again – raises the question: why are you practising polyamory? Frankly, if you’ve got the time and energy to run around sleeping with multiple partners, you’re probably not that disabled.

My partner has agoraphobia and get stressed out in social situations, and as his primary mental health support, I need to be available to help him with his anxiety.

Remember, polyamorists are perfectly normal.

So if he is going to go on a date, part of my emotional caretaking means being available before and after his date to help him relax and and process and deal with the anxiety.

Should this man-child really be having dates, other than with a shrink?

Practically, this means that we cannot be on dates at the same time…

A bloke can’t bring his wife along on a date. Imagine.

…and I need to make sure I have the emotional energy for that support.

I’m going to assume while daddy is on his date and mummy is trying to cope with the emotional stress of it all, the kids are parked in front of the telly with a gallon jug of Sunny Delight and a family pack of Monster Munch.

One friend, Demi Simon, says that her mental health issues have made it easier for her to be polyamorous because she already needs to navigate the world in a different way due to her mental health issues, so adding non-monogamy on top of it makes sense to her.

A point I make often when discussion polyamory – which I originally got from commenter Daniel Ream and now shamelessly cite as if it’s my own – is that it’s a coping mechanism for people with severe personality disorders. In many cases, polyamory is a form of self-medication via the medium of meaningless sex with strangers. Paragraphs like the one above go a long way to reinforce this view.

Sometimes the need for open relationships is directly related to mental health.

Well, yes. It’s refreshing to finally see this so honestly stated.

My friend Bear identifies as someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (often erroneously referred to as multiple personality disorder) which is integral to how and why they practice polyamory.

They say, “I don’t have any illusion one person could meet all my personalities needs. We are very different. Different tastes, different hobbies, different things which make us happy.” Diverse brains can be an asset!

As I said, it’s a coping mechanism. Keep this in mind next time the BBC or NYT runs a puff-piece on polyamory.

While there doesn’t necessarily need to be any sex involved in romantic or other kinds of relationships, for lots of people sex is an important part of how they practice polyamory.

As I’ve said before, sex defines a polyamorous relationship. Absent the sex with more than one person, you’ve got a normal, monogamous relationship.

As a concrete example, some people’s bodies may prefer sex that involves pain, others may have to work hard to reduce the amount of pain during sex in order for it to work for them.

I’m just going to throw this out there, but do disabled people really go seeking additional pain during sex?

As disabled people, we are twice as likely to have been victims of sexual trauma. This will often affect the ways we do sex and relationships. One disabled friend shared that her (also disabled) partner is generally unable to have sex due to trauma issues and she looks to other partners to meet those needs.

So let’s fix this by having multiple sexual relations running concurrently in a setup which even the most robust people find extremely stressful. Yeah, that’ll work.

This is just the beginning of the conversations we need to have and resources we need to develop to make polyamory as much of a possibility for us as it is for non-disabled people.

Well, insofar as polyamory is a route to successful and happy relationships, you’re on an exact par with your non-disabled peers. But I’m a bit concerned about this demand for “resources”. What exactly do you mean by that? What you need is psychiatric help, not taxpayers’ money spent furthering your delusions.

Share

25 thoughts on “Polyamory and Mental Illness

  1. So, if my partner needs a break from that responsibility then someone else can take over

    Translation: I’m a lazy bitch who wants to be waited on hand and foot.

    While there doesn’t necessarily need to be any sex involved in romantic or other kinds of relationships

    I have relationships with other people that do not involve romance or sex. I call this friendship.

    There is a single theme running through all these polyamorist stories, Tim. Every single one involves a narcissistic fuckwit.

  2. The “disabled” point is interesting – pretty much everyone has physical or mental limitations on what they are able to do, is everyone disabled?

    I am not blind or deaf and don’t use a wheelchair or crutches, but do meet the legal criteria for physical disability. I’d probably rather describe myself as having health issues, or a chronic condition, rather than “disabled” – I certainly wouldn’t “identify” as disabled – but that may be because I have an outdated and insufficiently inclusive vision of what disability means… It also seems a very negative and (especially lately) hopelessly unspecific word.

  3. It also seems a very negative and (especially lately) hopelessly unspecific word.

    It’s become fashionable to call oneself disabled, as it confers an all-important victim status.

  4. “It’s become fashionable to call oneself disabled, as it confers an all-important victim status.”

    It might get you some dosh, too. I’d call myself anything if the state were to give me money for it.

  5. There does seem to be a victimhood hierarchy that people are trying to ascend. One reason I don’t like that is that it deflects attention from people who need it the most – in favour of people who are “scent sensitive”(?) apparently.

  6. MC, on that picture: MILF? Is she taking the piss?

    MIWNF (Munter I would never fuck ) more like.

  7. Sometimes I am too sick to make my own food and rely on my partner to feed me.

    Well, my *wife* does that for me (substitute ‘too drunk’ for ‘too sick’ here if you like). I cook for her too when it’s my turn. In sickness and in health. Neither of us are incapable, it just makes more sense for the less tired one to cook dinner. Neither of us treats it as a mental health responsibility, for crying out loud, it’s just what you do in a relationship where you both have irregular schedules and support each other.

    I am imagining a land whale here going “eee, eee, eee” and waving her flippers in bed for food.

  8. My friend Bear identifies as someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder

    Not even a diagnosed medical condition. He’s just decided he has an illness, ready to score some victim points. What a c*nt.

  9. There’s enough sadness in the world already without learning there’s a person who’s “a disabled-since-birth superfat genderqueer femme”.

  10. @Henry – how about…
    Mental Illness Looks Fugly
    Munter In Lounge, Fuck!
    Mother-of-god I’m Leaving Fast!

  11. It might get you some dosh, too. I’d call myself anything if the state were to give me money for it.

    One of the reasons for the alarming rise in diagnoses in autism in Our Deranged Dominion is partly because it’s trendy, but also because our tax burden is so high that parents with children who have mild learning disabilities often don’t have the disposable income to pay for tutors or other resources. Get your kid Diagnosed With Something, on the other hand, and that unlocks a ton of government-funded support programs. I know more than one parent of a child suffering from nothing more severe than an advanced case of Parents Getting Divorced Before They Were Five Years OId who has acknowledged that the doctor slapped a diagnosis on the kid primarily so they could get access to tutoring resources. Admittedly there’s a bit of Munchausen’s By Proxy going on as well.

    A point I make often when discussion polyamory – which I originally got from commenter Daniel Ream and now shamelessly cite as if it’s my own – is that it’s a coping mechanism for people with severe personality disorders.

    I can’t take credit for it originally, I got it from an anonymous commenter over at SDA and added judgment born of my own life experiences to it. It’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation; you get pretty much the same thing on any episode of Dr. Phil. His entire schtick is “you keep engaging in objectively self-destructive behaviour because you’re getting something you want out of it. What is that?”

  12. @Daniel Ream

    Somewhere on t’intertubes is a fantastically depressing in-depth article about, I think, poverty in the US coal belt, and one of the depressing things about it was the number of kids given special educational needs statements in order that parents could claim higher benefits. So it made economic sense to have half a dozen sprogs and make sure none of them could read. Right up there with the world’s most deeply perverted incentives.

    Anyone remember it? Suspect it was by a right-leaning journalist/essayist in a more “establishment” conservative, quality magazine.

  13. Henry C,
    How about a bit of naval slang, fugly or FAFU. Fugly, fucking ugly. FAFU, fat and fat fucking useless.

  14. I am visited by the desire to punch these sick humans’ parents in the face.
    But perhaps it’s not their fault.
    If one of my sons turned out to be like that, I would spend the rest of my life questioning my whole educative effort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *