*This post originally appeared on my Blogspot in August*
How do you approach a loved one on the topic of their mental health? This post has no answers; I am reaching out to my community for support and guidance in the hopes that we can open a dialogue on a touchy subject, and hopefully pass on the knowledge that we have to each other to piece together a better understanding of mental illness.
If you have read my blog before, you are no stranger to the mental illnesses that I live with. I try my best to be completely transparent with my symptoms, sufferings, and downward spirals, in the hopes that I can encourage others to be honest with themselves and others on the topic of their mental health. So what do I do when I recognise symptoms in a loved one? My concerns have been mounting for several years, and I always try to counter my own arguments to avoid projecting my own symptoms onto this person. However, after a few years of studying, I feel confident in saying that this person IS suffering from mental illness, but does not realise it. I have tried bringing it up in conversations about my own mental health, bringing up genetics, talking about the similarities that we share in personality and the way we react to situations, but so far, nothing has clicked. The biggest problem that I find blocks us from making any progress is, this person believes themselves to be somewhat of a psychology expert – an armchair psychiatrist even. They are quick to point out the damage that they see in me, and even offer ideas on ways that I could improve myself, but refuses to recognise these symptoms in themselves.
Sometimes these conversations are infuriating. I am not always the instigator, and to be told sometimes relentlessly that I am damaged goods, and that I need more help, and that I don’t see in myself what this person sees, eats at me, and causes me extreme anxiety. My first instinct is to lash out, respond with extreme anger (as I am prone to), but I try very hard to repress these feelings, mostly so that I don’t prove this person right. I get so offended at the implication that I don’t know my own suffering. I have been dealing with some of these problems my whole life, and have been very proactive in finding ways to help myself, how dare anyone tell me that I am not trying hard enough? I am tired of receiving ‘advice’ from this person, but at the same time, I understand that they are also suffering; probably more than I am, because they don’t realise that anything is wrong with them.
To be direct with this person is out of the question. Confrontation is not their strong suit, unless they are the confronting party; and being confronted even gently about any subject causes them to shut down and regress into a very angry survival attitude that is unreasonable and impossible to deal with. I have tried to introduce the common-denominator theory to them, obviously with no success. In case you aren’t aware of the common denominator theory, I’ll explain it quickly: If you have more complaints about life, people, work, weather, etc. in a day than the people you normally associate with, then the common denominator in your poor day is you. (A very simple way of putting it, but I think that gets the point across). I have also entertained the idea of staging some sort of mental health intervention. After giving it a lot of thought, I have determined that if it were I that were being confronted about my mental health by a group of people, especially after decades of refusing to see the problems within myself, it would likely cause a large emotional breakdown at the least, and violence, extreme rage, or even suicide at the worst. No one wants to hear from a group that they are questioning your mental stability, no matter how much they need to hear it.
So what options am I left with? Guided discovery hasn’t been successful, hint-dropping hasn’t been successful, and asking them to read articles about mental health has only lead to them finding more problems in everyone else. I feel like I am running out of options, which is a scary feeling. I love this person very much, and I care deeply about their well-being. Their treatment of me and their constant chipping at my own health is wearing me down, however, and I fear that I won’t be able to control my own anger for much longer. I don’t want to cause this person any damage.
I am going to include some links on this page for some helpful resources regarding mental health. I know that the person doesn’t read my blog, but I am hoping that if enough of the people surrounding them have a good understanding of signs and symptoms, it will be easier to help them find their way to acceptance, and ultimately, help.
If anyone reading this has ANY suggestions for how I can better help this person, please leave me a comment or reach me on Twitter (@thesagemum).
My goal is not to shame this person or make them feel the stigma that I have lived with for most of my life, but to offer them support, love, and an understanding person to talk to about all of the new things they will be dealing with as a card-carrying member of the mental illness club.
CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION – UNDERSTANDING MENTAL ILLNESS
THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY for BIPOLAR DISORDERS
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA – FACTS AND STATISTICS