Episode 51 – Relationships and Mental Health

Mental Relationships


Maintaining relationships while struggling with our mental health can be incredibly difficult, both on us as the sufferer but also on the other person.  Together, Cheryl and I look at how we manage to maintain a successful relationship while we both struggle with our mental health.  We cover practical suggestions and other tips and tricks.  Why not join us?

Useful Links:
Talking Things Through
Practically Perfect

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Become a Patron - Relationships and Mental HealthDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

If We’re Honest…

Being Honest

Honesty is supposedly seldom-seen in today’s world.  People are rarely honest with each other and some businesses are built on dishonesty.  With mental health, however, it is important that we practise honesty.  But not just to other people!  We need to remember honesty with ourselves as part of our self-care.  What do I mean?  Find out more.

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The Name of the Beast

What’s In A Name?

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”
– Juliet Capulet, Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

What’s in a name then?  I felt Juliet Capulet had a few interesting thoughts on that, though we’re not really here to discuss names, are we?  No, this post is on a slightly different slant.  More specifically: diagnosis.

Plenty of people have asked me over the years why I am committed to delving as deeply into my mental health as I can to find out exactly what I struggle with.  After all, I do seem to dig deeper and deeper until I’m satisfied that everything that is there is diagnosed – which is how my Borderline Personality Disorder came to light.

But why do I do it?

A Society Neatly Labelled

We have a lot of labels in our society.  Naturally, it makes sense that things around us have labels, but we find a lot of people have them too.  Everyone, nowadays, seems to have some kind of label, no?  Some defining attribute, something in their physical appearance, something else…it gets taken and turned into a label.

So it is with mental health as well, for people find their diagnosis becomes their identity.  Just as the classic line for AA says “Hi, my name is X and I’m an alcoholic”, we find plenty of people are being labelled according to their mental health.  People are known by whether they’re depressed, anxious, bipolar, have a personality disorder, or even an array of physical health conditions.

Assuming all that is accurate…why, then, would I want to find out what all my labels are?

Quite simply: it names the beast.

The Name of the Beast

Call me crazy (although my mother had me tested…no, only joking) but I find a label helps me to cope with my mental illness.  In the same way someone else can identify it, I find that I can better identify with it as well.  It helps me understand what I’m dealing with.  In a sense, it gives me a truer understanding of the problem.

Alright, let’s sidetrack a moment.  Imagine you’re in the swimming pool with your child – for argument’s sake, we’ll say a four-year-old, as I’ve got experience of that.  As she can’t swim well, she’s got a rubber ring on but you find the rubber ring keeps deflating.  That implies that there is a hole in it where the air is escaping, but you can’t fix it without knowing where the hole is.  So begins the epic hunt for this tiny pinprick so that it can be fixed.  The only trouble is you have to know exactly where that hole is.

Likewise, having a diagnosis provides me with the information that I need to be able to cope with the condition.  Before the diagnosis, I know something is wrong.  I know that there are things that will need changing, perhaps, or things that will need attention before whatever it is can be made better.  But without knowing what it is that needs fixing (as opposed to the location for the rubber ring analogy), how can I fix it?

So for me, having a name for whatever is wrong, having a diagnosis is helpful.

The Caution to this Tale

Knowing what the illness or condition is is all very well, but what happens afterwards, what we choose to do with it is something else entirely.  For some, it seems to be that they collect medical diagnoses almost like scout/brownie badges, as avidly as a collector.  That’s not disagreeing that they have those conditions, but does it really help them move past it?

Others will take those labels, make them their own and continue to hold onto them the way a miser holds onto money.  They cannot be parted from them because suddenly it is an immovable part of their personality or psyche and no one can take that away from them.

It’s important, as we gather these labels, that we don’t stick them to ourselves with superglue.  We still have that responsibility to try and work through them instead of sitting in them.  If we don’t move forwards, we will be forever stuck with them when there is still the potential to move past it or through it.  (Granted, some conditions are lifelong and that’s OK, but others aren’t and it’s those that this last comment concerns itself with).

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Let it Be

A Revelation

Now, while I do identify myself as a Christian, I don’t know if I’d be classified as a good one. I drifted away from church as a teenager and have only in the last few years come back to it (albeit to a very different church to the Church of England  I walked away from). But throughout, I’ve still had faith. Belief in that higher power that helps us be more. Now, I don’t care if you have faith or not, or what in; that’s your choice. But for me, today I had a revelation. It was something quite a few people had already told me, but the speaker today had been driven to bring a message. Let it be.

Now, no he didn’t stand there and specifically start quoting The Beatles, but was more talking about how much we strive to be defined and accepted. How we judge ourselves and others by what they do,when actually we need to accept who we are. God loves us unconditionally as we are. Rather than fighting to be more, or to get others to recognise our status, we need to just be.

Your Approval is Not Required
It really hit home with both me and Alex. For him, helping him to redefine how he perceives the work he does here at PBTS. When he’s lacking in motivation, the lack of external recognition from people close to him has made him question the validity of what he’s doing. After all, blogging is not what people look at as a ‘proper’ job, no matter how much work he puts in. But does it matter what others think? It’s what he feels called to do. He reaches out to people struggling with depression and other mental illnesses every day on Twitter and Facebook.

He’s a listening ear to those who need it, when they need it most. Listening to the speaker this morning it bought it home, that the approval and support of those who don’t see it as a ‘real’ job isn’t really necessary. From day one, he’s felt called to do this and that alone gives it worth. So instead of fighting for the approval he’s going to let it be. He cannot force others to see the value in his work, but that does not devalue what he does.

I Need to learn to Let it Be

For me, it drove something else home. I mentioned in a previous post how someone in my life had recently inflicted a great deal of hurt on me. That no matter what I did, or how hard I tried, nothing was good enough. Because they are important to me, I kept fighting. Kept trying, giving them what they wanted to get it thrown back in my face again and again. My depressive side had a field day with it. I was obviously not good enough. A failure. It heaped the blame on to my shoulders alone. Which in turn was driving me to try harder and harder to get this persons’ approval and affection.

So many people had said to me that I was fighting too hard. If anything by fighting so hard it was having the opposite effect and driving this person even further away. For a long time I couldn’t hear it.

Backing Off

But I’d started to back off in recent weeks. I’d accepted that the acquiescing to every single demand they made wasn’t making any difference. So why was I doing that? I remember sitting with Alex one evening saying how I didn’t know what else I could do, what more could I change ? The answer was so simple. Let it be. I have done everything I can and more. This does not mean I’m bad, I am a good person, this is not something I can force to change. I have to let this individual come to terms with their own issues on their terms. The moment I realised that, things began to get better. I felt better. I’ve accepted how I am; I will always help someone when they call, but that does not mean I have to fix everything for others. It’s just not realistically possible. And that does not make me a bad person or a failure.

It’s not easy to remember that when you have mental health issues. You are not defined by how others treat you, it defines them. If they behave poorly, do as the Beatles suggest, “let it be”.

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Episode 50 – Sometimes We Have To Take It

Sometimes We Need To Take It

It can be difficult when we find ourselves on the rough end of someone’s mental illness.  Sometimes, though, despite our best intentions and wanting to walk away from it, we have to take it.  But there is a cautionary note to this too.  What?  Listen to find out!

Useful Links:
Successful Self-Care
Top Tips for Self-Care
Practising Self-Care and Pacing Ourselves

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Whose Problem Is It Anyway?

Problems Problems Problems…

Whenever something bad happens like someone not talking to us or people not understanding our mental health, we make it our problem.  We blame ourselves.  Don’t we?  And yet is it really down to us?  Let’s find out.

Useful Links:
Who I Am

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“But the facts say…and they can’t be argued with!”

Facing the Facts

Facts…I don’t know about you but I used to hate them at school and university!  Every essay I ever had to write about anything had to be backed up with cold hard facts.  It didn’t even really matter what it was about, we had to reinforce our arguments.  I can honestly say it used to frustrate me to no end because I knew what my argument said, it felt justified, why did I need to include this fact or that fact to make it concrete?

Regardless of my feeling towards them, facts exist.  They’re all around us.  Sometimes simple things, other times a little more abstract, but we can find examples of them in our everyday lives.  The trouble is, they can be taken in three different ways:

  • treated as gospel
  • taken with indifference
  • completely ignored

Which are you?

Really, I’m sure we can all think of someone to fit each of those three categories.  I certainly can!  I could go on almost endlessly about certain individuals who refuse to accept what’s going on around them, even though it’s almost as set in stone as is possible.  Personally, I treat them with indifference because they’re there, I can’t change them, I’ll use them if necessary but other than that they can keep to themselves.  If that makes sense, of course.

It’s the first point that I want to focus on.

“The stats tell you all you need to know.”

That was said to me by someone over on our Twitter account, who believed firmly that I was wrong in saying that our struggle with our mental health doesn’t define us.  Apparently, things like thoughts, behaviours, etc are defining attributes and all of those, filled with mental illness, make our struggle our identity.  I argued that those can be changed, but apparently it’s a case that “it’s not about being convinced, the stats tell you all you need to know”.

Well…politely put…that’s a load of tosh.

Why?

Because why exactly should we go by the stats?  They might tell us that depression is a dark pit that only the extremely lucky can climb out of; that anxiety is a never-ending cycle of panic, calm, panic, calm; that insomnia is sleepless nights for the rest of your life.  Perhaps they tell us that people need medication and/or therapy in order to get out of mental illness, and even that isn’t guaranteed to work.

But why should we limit ourselves by what the stats and the facts tell us?

Aim for the Moon

Why exactly should we limit ourselves based on what the stats and facts are telling us?  Surely that is nonsensical?  After all, doing so only serves to shoot ourselves in the foot, crippling us before we’ve even left the starting line.  Believe me when I say it won’t get us anywhere.  Instead of helping us get better or work through our mental illness, we’ll start to believe that we cannot get out of it.

We will be limited before we’ve even started.

So what should we do instead?  Metaphorically speaking, we should aim for the moon, because that way if we fall, we fall amongst the stars.  Might seem whimsical and almost like some ridiculous fantasy, but isn’t it true?  If we set our sights on what the stats have told us and where the facts are, that’s as far as we will ever go, if we make it even that far.  If we set our sights beyond that then we stand a far better chance of making it past the limitations that they have put on us to begin with.

Wouldn’t you say that’s better?

In every single one of us, there is the potential to be something better than we are now.  We can move past the restraints our mental illness puts on us.  Granted, some of us will become another one of the “can’t be cured” statistics, but others of us might get through, who knows?

But why should we let the stats and the facts tell us that it’s pointless to even try?

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Who I Am

Who Am I ?

At one time or another, everyone faces this question. Sometimes we follow it up with who do I want to be or where do I see my self in 5 years, but the starting point is always, who am I? It’s sometimes that big philosophical moment, that moment of addressing the human condition or even a self-inspection of our own souls. Yet it is the bedrock of who we are. That core of what makes who up who I am. So who am I?

Now I could list the things I am.  A mum, a daughter, a partner, a call centre worker. I am depressed. Is that me?

No.

Who I am is so much more, even if I don’t see it myself a lot of the time.

Getting To The Crux

So what’s got me thinking about all this? Well, to do that I’ve got to tell you a little story. Someone in my life who I love very much has hurt me, repeatedly in the last few months, someone who I would never have thought would. Called me unforgivable things. Rejected me and Alex when we’ve tried to reach out to them. Ignored us for weeks on end. This person has promised over and over that they’ll change, that they’re sorry and that they won’t do it again, to then repeat the whole process, again and again. It’s been agonising for both of us.  Believe me, there is a lot of anger both in me and Alex about this.

Then this morning, a call came. This person needed help. Nothing huge, but they needed a lift and they called me. So what did I do?

Now you could ( quite rightly) argue that I told this person to swing their hook. They’ve hurt me and those who I love, over and over. Why should I help them?

Because at the crux of me, that is who I am. Who I am is the person that if someone calls and says they need help, I help. No matter how much they’ve hurt me. I am the person who will answer that call, go out in the dark to take a friend food when they haven’t eaten, lend money when I don’t really have it to give. Buy someone a gift they can’t afford for themselves because I know it will help lift them out of the darkness.

It’s who I am.

I know, it’s annoying as anything. Because more often than not I will end up getting hurt again. But does that mean I won’t help? No. Does it mean I have forgotten or forgiven those actions? Definitely a NO. Believe me, you have no idea of the anger I felt this morning when this call came. It would have been very easy to leave them stranded.

But as I say, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It certainly doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven their actions. (they may have had quite an earful about it on the car ride) It’s just, this is me. It’s conflicting and annoying and it can contribute to my mental health issues in a terrible way sometimes. The impact of having people you care about you use and abuse you can be huge. I am learning to build up walls to that, but it’s slow.  And it goes for everyone in my life.

Now I know that I’ve mentioned the movie ‘Moana’ before, but one of the lines from my favourite songs in the movie looks at the issue of who you are.

“Who am I? I am the girl who loves my island, and the girl who loves the sea. It calls me…………..I am everything I’ve learned and more”

For the character loving her island and the sea is conflicting and even against the wishes of her parents. They are angry and fearful that she will be hurt because of her fathers own experiences. I get that. I see why Alex is so angry with the people who hurt me, it reminds him too much of his own hurts. But does it mean I should change one of the core things of who I am? One of the things that he loves about me?

I truly hope not.

Like I said, I have not forgiven or forgotten. I am learning. But this part of me, no I won’t change it. It’s who I am.

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Episode 49 – How Can We Get Help?

Asking For Help

Asking for help can be one of the toughest things to do.  When we finally work up that courage, there are a few things that can knock us back down.  Being ignored or not properly listened to, having our struggle belittled and having advice shoved at us.  In this episode, I ask how we’re meant to get help when that’s all people do.  Warning: it’s not for the easily offended.  It carries an important message that we must share.  These are things we must change.  So why not listen?  See what you can do.  Look after others.  But most importantly: listen and take the time to understand.  You won’t be able to assist them otherwise.

Useful Links:
Talking Things Through
Practically Perfect

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Continuing to be Remembered

“Don’t Forget You’re Remembered”

It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it, what happens when you have a mental breakdown and suddenly disappear off the face of the earth.  For a short while, it’s as though nothing’s happened.  You lock yourself away, avoiding anything and everything that could possibly make your excruciating mental state worse and you go radio silent, preventing anything from getting to you.  Then, people suddenly seem to notice that you’ve gone.  That’s when the messages start.  Messages reminding you that “you’re remembered in thoughts and prayers”, “best wishes to you” and the like.

You’re remembered.

Isn’t that nice?  In my mind, it sounds remarkably like I’m already dead, but that might just be me and the state of mind that I’ve been in recently.  Anyway, it has a sense of finality to it.  Perhaps they think you’re never coming back.  Or maybe they’ve just given up on you already.  After all, the world can be very fickle.

Have you ever felt that?  That the words people choose for their messages push your mind in certain directions?  “I’m thinking of you”, having that ongoing concern but “you’re remembered in thoughts and prayers” feeling like you’re a part of the past?  It’s something I’ve dwelt on for a long time, wondering.

You see, there are so many things that I believe people get wrong when dealing with mental health.  One of those big things, as I’ve written about before, is putting the onus of communication onto the sufferer.  I feel there is no need for it, as people who care – and truly care – about the person suffering shouldn’t take the attitude that says “well I never hear from you, so why should I message?”  Though that’s a subject from a previous post.

But even when they’re not talking…don’t worry, because you’re remembered…

A Lame Excuse

Perhaps a little of my anger will show through in this particular section, but I’m sure as we progress you will understand where I’m coming from.  You see, the lines of “you’re remembered in our thoughts and prayers” just smacks of an excuse to me.  Not just any excuse, but a pretty poor excuse.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it really really sounds like they’re saying “I want to care but I’m far too busy, so I’ll give you this lovely sentiment of being remembered so that you’ll feel better.”

Am I wrong?

It feels lazy.  As though they’re either too busy to bother arranging something or they simply cannot be bothered.  At least, that’s what it seems like to me.

Now, a lot of people reading this who have used that line will argue with it.  They’ll say that they’ve tried to arrange things, that they’ve attempted to make more of an effort to see you.  They’ll say that they’ve been met with a brick wall of radio silence, that they’ve not had any answers or that there has been no effort made on the part of the sufferer.  In other words, they’ll say it’s not their fault.

And maybe it isn’t.  Maybe they are simply doing the best they can with the situation that they have.  After all, if we won’t reply then what exactly can they do, eh?

What people don’t realise is that first impression, that initial moment is the key.

Cataclysm

In interviews, they say, it takes only 7 seconds to make that first impression.  7 seconds.  That’s it.  If we fail…then we fail, that’s it.  No more chances to make that good impression.

So let’s travel back together to that XXX.  How did it begin?  As I’ve already mentioned, it began with me putting up those walls, dropping out of things, initiating that radio silence.   Getting to grips with my condition left me with little room for anything else.

It was hell.

The radio silence, for the record, might as well not have happened.  After all, with no messages coming in to find out how things were, there was no point in maintaining that radio silence because there was nothing to respond to.  Not that I would have been able to respond if there had been messages.  With depression haunting my every waking moment, I didn’t want to talk to people.  I didn’t have the energy.  Because that’s one of the big problems with depression and other mental health struggles: the lack of energy.  Responding to people, trying to find the words to explain how I was feeling…that took energy that I didn’t have.

That brings us back to first impressions.  No one had noticed I wasn’t there, no one had thought to drop me a message to find out how things were going.  That cemented itself into my mind and, when the messages finally started coming, it was too late.

I’d given up.

They were meaningless.

The Blame Culture

You see, we live in a culture that seems to emphasise blaming others for whatever is going on in our lives.  Whether it’s a person, an object or something else, we will blame anyone or anything so long as we can avoid shouldering that responsibility.  It’s far too common, isn’t it?   I mean…have you ever heard someone use the excuse of “the dog ate my homework”?  I’m sure that’s one you’ve heard of.  Check these out (from the Reader’s Digest):

You see what I mean?  We are so intent on escaping any kind of culpability that we will blame everything and anything else.  And that’s what happens in these situations.  People will give us those short, “heartfelt” reminders that we are “remembered” but then do nothing else.  When we raise it as an issue, we are then told that we’re being ungrateful or that we never give them a chance or that we simply don’t message or don’t respond so why should they?

Likewise, we are quick to blame others when we lose contact with people or they don’t get in touch.  Who is really to blame, though?  After all, both parties could do more.  We, as mental health sufferers, could try and message a bit more and see if we can keep in touch.  Similarly, we as friends and family members supporting loved ones could make more effort to be understanding, compassionate, and realise that sometimes it might not be possible for the sufferer to message first.

My Conclusion

At the end of the day, having that reminder that we are “remembered in thoughts and prayers” is a cop out.  Why not replace it with actual direct questions?  Granted, a lot of people think “Hi, how are you doing?” is a bit of a lame message, so why not take it the next level deeper?  “Hi, how are things going?  Been thinking of you lately.  I’ve been doing X, Y or Z recently.”  Make that little bit more effort.

Who knows?  It might actually get you somewhere.

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