Archives for December, 2011
Thank you to everyone who has read this blog since its inception in March of this year. It has been an honor and a privilege to share with you topics that are important to maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner who has a mental illness. I very much respect the hard work, dedication, and love that it takes to care for someone who is struggling, and hope you will continue to visit this blog in the new year as we explore other areas of interest for partners. I always welcome suggestions for topics, too! Please comment below if there is something you would like covered. As the year comes to a close, I am taking a brief vacation from blog writing (Just this week! Promise!), so I thought I would share the top five most popular blog posts from this year, in case you missed them the first time around:
It's always nice when other people give us gifts during the holidays....it makes us feel loved, appreciated, remembered, cared about. But sometimes, other people just don't know what we need or what would be most helpful. As the partner of someone with a mental illness, you may have to give yourself the gifts you really need. It might not be as exciting as unwrapping a beautifully-packaged present, but the benefits will likely last a lot longer.
It's about that time of the year again...the time when people tell themselves that January 1 is the start of a new year, and darn it, this is the year they are going to ________! [Fill in the blank with the habit that has managed to elude your attempts to change for the past 365 days or more...] I'm all about deciding to change your life for the better. On a continuum that has "acceptance" on one end and "change" on the other, I very much lean towards the "change" side, unless it's obvious that change is not possible and acceptance would be in the person's best interest. When you have a partner with mental illness, you have to try to balance the "change" and "acceptance" when it comes to the effects the illness has on your relationship. There are some aspects that need to be accepted, such as the fact that your partner has an illness, and that life is not how it might be if your partner was well. You may have to accept that your partner cannot fulfill 50% of the responsibilities in the relationship right now. Or that your sex life isn't what it used to be because your partner is taking medication. What are other realities that you wish you could change but must accept instead?
Partners and family members of people with anxiety mean well. When living with someone who has anxiety, it’s often easier to just “go with the flow” and adjust your behaviors to help your loved one feel less anxious. You may find yourself taking on extra responsibilities, avoiding places that make your partner anxious, participating in “safety behaviors” or rituals with your partner (such as checking door locks or that the oven is turned off), or handling issues that have arisen because of your partner’s anxiety, such as making excuses to her boss about why she didn’t show up for work today, when the problem is she is too anxious to go. The problem is, making these accommodations does nothing to improve your partner’s mental health. Yes, these behaviors relieve the anxiety in the moment, and you may feel happy that you have found ways to avoid or prevent the anxious reactions of your partner. You may be willing to go to great lengths to make everything okay for your partner, and you are to be commended for your caring. Sadly, these actions on your part ultimately make your partner more and more dependent on you and your family to adjust and adapt to her fears, instead of teaching her that fears and anxiety can be faced and successfully overcome. By “helping” in this way, you are making her anxiety worse, not better.
Did you know that nearly half of adults in the U.S. with symptoms of diagnosable ADHD don't know they have it? Are you thinking, "How could my partner not have a diagnosis??? He (or she) can never sit still for a minute, remember to pay the bills, or manage the money, let alone pay attention to me!" Well, ADHD has only been diagnosed in adults since the 1980s. Since it is usually caught in childhood, if your partner wasn't assessed back then, they may have slipped through the cracks. Until now.
Drug abuse doesn't just happen with illegal substances like heroin and cocaine. It can happen with any kind of medication, including over the counter and prescription meds. Any time a medication is used for something other than what was intended, it is being misused. It can be very easy to justify the use of meds for alleviating symptoms-- especially if you already have the medications in the house--but it's also all too easy to cross the line from occasional use to dependence and abuse. With psychotropic medications (those prescribed for mental illnesses), the risk of abuse is even higher, as some of those medications are not meant for long-term use and are easy to become dependent on. This happens commonly with anti-anxiety meds, such as clonazepam (Klonopin®) or alprazolam (Xanax®). On the other hand, your partner may not be abusing their prescription meds, but instead using alcohol or marijuana as another means to alleviate their pain, whether that pain is physical or mental. Substance abuse and psychiatric illness--especially for people with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia--often go hand-in-hand. Your partner may be trying to self-medicate in order to relieve their symptoms, but mixing alcohol with prescription medications can be a deadly combination. Medications that are sedatives, such as those prescribed for anxiety or sleep, combined with large amounts of alcohol, can result in your partner's breathing and heart rate to slow to the point of stopping.
WebMD has a great collection of resources about all things medical, including mental health. I recently took their "Myths and Facts About Your Mood" quiz, which had 13 questions related to how music, food, and interactions with strangers affect mood, what mood means you are more likely to catch someone in a lie, whether older people are more likely to be in a bad mood, when seasonal affective disorder is most likely to occur, and more. Go check it out...I learned some new facts, so I'm sure you will, too! As the partner of someone with mental illness, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. The above-mentioned quiz might clear a few things up, and here are ten more mood myths that you may not have realized were false:
When a battery of medical tests for physical symptoms of illness turns up nothing conclusive, you might begin to wonder if the complaints your partner has are all in their mind. After all, if nothing can be proved medically, what other option is there? It's not quite that simple. When a condition is psychosomatic, it means that the illness involves both the mind (psycho) and the body (somatic). A psychosomatic illness originates with emotional stress or damaging thought patterns, and progresses with physical symptoms, usually when a person's immune system is compromised due to stress. A common misconception is that a psychosomatic condition is imaginary, or "all in someone's mind." Actually, the physical symptoms of psychosomatic conditions are real, and should be treated like any other illness. It's thought that maybe as much as 50% to 80% of all the complaints treated by physicians are psychosomatic in nature. Your partner is not faking it!
Having a partner with a mental illness can feel very lonely. You may feel as if it's not right to burden others with your problems and concerns, but also wish there was someone who understands what you are going through. Maybe, for whatever reason, going to therapy or in-person support groups yourself is not an option, or not enough. What else is there? Technology to the rescue! Online support groups--sometimes called online discussion groups or Internet self-help groups--are one way of finding others who are having the same experiences you are as the partner of someone with a mental illness. These online support groups generally are welcoming environments which users often find helpful. People who use online support groups get emotional support and suggestions, as well as accurate information, since other users will quickly chime in to make a correction if someone posts something erroneous.
Breast cancer is one of the most devastating diagnoses a woman can receive. According to the American Cancer Society, 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, and nearly 40,000 women will not survive their battle with cancer. A recent study from the University of Missouri looked at how marital status, children, income level and age affect the likelihood of depression among breast cancer survivors. Researchers found that women who were single or who had children at home were more likely to develop depression in the year after treatment. Women generally receive extensive support while cancer treatment is happening, but life returns to normal for caregivers soon after, even though the patient may still be recovering, physically and mentally. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration for the patient. In addition, researchers found that if the woman was depressed prior to treatment, she was less likely to adhere to medication regimens, potentially complicating the progress of her treatment. What does this mean for you, as the supportive partner, if your partner has breast cancer?