[This guest post is one of several guest posts that will be appearing on our Partners and Wellness blog during the upcoming weeks.]
After therapy, there will be surprises, challenges, and new problems that will test your resolve and your ability to apply your newfound emotional skills to new situations. One of the most important tasks that should take place before you leave therapy, and ideally, as early as possible, is the development of your personal support network, which should include individual family members, friends, advisors, organizations, or other individuals or groups that can be supportive of you during recovery and beyond.
In many cases, a spouse or other family members (or close friends) may need to be taught to be understanding and supportive of you during and after therapy. They may have joined you for some psychoeducation. If so, they’ll be able to see you through a new lens; rather than see you in terms of themselves, they’ll learn to understand that you are dealing with a set of struggles and are working to overcome them.
Carl sat in his therapist’s office, a softball-sized wad of tissues in his hand, tears streaming down his cheeks. After telling his therapist that his week since his last visit had “been good,” he began to cry. He said that he was worried that he didn’t really have depression, but that how he felt was just part of who he was, and that his life would never get better.
He also said that he has an “anger management problem,” despite never getting in trouble at work or with the law for his behavior. He apologized for taking up the therapist’s time, saying that his therapist probably sees people “who have real problems,” minimizing his own very obvious distress.
Carl is a man struggling with depression.
While the DSM-IV-TR, the “bible” of psychiatric diagnoses, does not delineate between how depression shows up in men versus women, there can be differences that get overlooked or attributed to other factors in men.
Caregiving is hard, and when you are frustrated, angry, tired, sad, or lonely, the thoughts and feelings you are having can threaten to spill out of you in ways that you may not want. How many times have you said something out of frustration that you instantly regretted? Does your partner bring up things you said out of anger, throwing them back at you when they are feeling upset, too?
A journal is a safe space to get those thoughts and feelings out, and no one gets hurt. Better yet, you and your partner will actually benefit: Research has indicated that journaling has many health benefits too, as people who express their thoughts in writing often feel that they are relieved of the burdens of their stresses once they get them out of their heads and bodies, and onto paper.
People who journal regularly are also thought to be ill less often, make fewer trips to the doctor, and have fewer physical symptoms related to stress. Who knew putting a pen to paper could be so effective?
Or that your partner needs a medical or dental procedure, but her fear of needles and blood is so severe, she chooses to ignore the problem instead.
Or that your partner is afraid of cats, so when you move in together, your beloved cat who has been your companion for many years has to find a new home.
Most people have things they are scared of, but when your partner’s phobia prevents you from being able to live the life you want, confusion, frustration, and anger can ruin an otherwise healthy relationship. While a person generally is not able to “just get over” a phobia, there is help.
“My partner has to be bipolar…I never can predict what his mood is going to be, and the littlest things get him upset. But then, a few hours later, he’s fine again.”
“My coworker never seems to need sleep! She sends me emails at 3:30 am, and wonders why I’m not awake to answer them. But then, she misses deadlines and is furious when projects don’t run as she would like. Does she have bipolar or something?”
Bipolar disorder has a bad rap, and is largely misunderstood by lay people with no mental health training. Even those of us who are trained in psychology can sometimes be mystified by the presentation of bipolar disorder.
The above examples illustrate that people understand bipolar disorder includes having extreme ranges of emotion, but the key element that’s missing is how quickly those emotions change. People with active bipolar disorder experience their depression or mania for days, weeks, months or (unfortunately) longer–not in short increments that can be measured in minutes or hours.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can run in families, so it makes sense that if your partner has it, your child might as well. Often, the adult goes undiagnosed until the child develops problems in school, and the assessment process begins for the child. At that point, the adult often realizes that they, too, have similar symptoms that may not have been previously recognized. ADHD is a relatively new diagnosis, so many adults of child-bearing age went through school before ADHD was something with a name.
While it is great that your partner and child have a diagnosis and there is treatment, having two people in the house with ADHD–one of whom is supposed to shoulder a lot of the “adult responsibilities”–can be a recipe for chaos and frustration.
How do you handle having an adult partner and a child with ADHD?
Technology is everywhere: cell phones, iPods, computers, televisions, DVRs filled with recorded shows, and video games all clamor for our time and attention. But at what price to your relationship with your partner? How does having all these gadgets contribute to an anxious household?
We have become slaves to the very products that are supposed to make our lives easier. Theoretically, our phones, laptops, and other devices make it easier to connect with others. That’s true, except that like Pavlov’s dog, who was trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell, we have been conditioned to jump at the sound of a phone ringing or an email landing in our inbox. Many people feel they have no choice but to instantly respond to the phone call, the voicemail, the text message, the post on the Facebook wall, or the tweet on Twitter. Our intentions are good, but technology has stripped our relationships of intimacy.
What would it be like to turn off all technology products in your home for one evening? Does the thought sound wonderful or anxiety provoking? Are you worried you and your partner would be bored? Are you already thinking, “Well, we’ll just go out that night!”?
It was Faith’s second birthday, and her mom and beloved aunt were ready to give Faith a cupcake with a candle on it to celebrate. Faith’s father, Chris, however, was on the phone with the real estate agent, and couldn’t be bothered to stop what he was doing to be with his little girl.
Faith’s aunt was furious–how could Chris not understand that it was time to focus on his child? Faith was only going to turn two once. Faith’s mom repeatedly pleaded that Chris come join them in the celebration. But, no, Chris continued what he was doing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his wife and sister-in-law were furious with him, and that what he was doing seemed bizarre and wrong.
Chris might just be clueless and self-absorbed, but it’s more likely he has Asperger’s Syndrome.
A client of mine was telling me about interactions she sometimes has with her partner that are less than ideal. Because she struggles with anxiety that can get blown out of proportion and results in her snapping at everyone and everything, there are often several incidents during a typical week that can cause tension or hurt feelings between her and her partner.
As we all know, trying to diffuse an ugly situation in the moment, or shortly thereafter, when hurt feelings are still simmering, can often be challenging.
Their solution: Time on Sundays dedicated to “Questions/Comments/Concerns.”
As we wrap up National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2012, one of the most frequent questions those of us who treat people with eating disorders get asked from partners, families, and friends is, “How can I help? I don’t know what to say or do, but I want to support my loved one!”
Here are ten ways you can help.