Having a mental illness is tough enough on its own but when you throw in navigating relationships with family, friends and partners alongside it, it can be daunting and difficult. Below are some tips that I have learnt through the years dealing with my illness alongside my loved ones.
1. Being ‘Selfish’ Is Ok
‘Selfish’ is used as such a dirty word sometimes but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself first, with making yourself and your mental health your priority. This is how we survive; don’t be afraid to do what is best for you, as long as you are not actively trying to hurt anyone else, then you have a right to put yourself first.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need
Asking for help isn’t just about asking people to be there to listen or to support you; sometimes you might need to ask those around you for space, to leave you be or to adjust their behaviour somewhat if you feel that would help your mental health. Don’t be afraid to ask the people in your life for what you need; they may not always give you what you have asked for, but voicing your needs is the first step.
3. Don’t feel pressured to share more than you feel comfortable with
Knowing that loved ones will be worried about you and taking this into consideration is necessary; understand that they will be concerned about your health and wellbeing but at the same time, you should never feel you have to let them in to what is going on in your life, what is happening with your treatment or what you are thinking any more than you feel comfortable with. If you don’t want to share something, then don’t, even if you feel pressured; no one has a right to know what is happening with you, it’s your own life.
4. If someone says something triggering, speak up
Loved ones will often mean well and although of course the intention behind what they are saying or their actions is what is most important, this doesn’t mean that if they say something that triggers you or that you feel uncomfortable with, that you can’t speak up; voice your discomfort so that they aware of how they have made you feel and can hopefully take steps to alter it in the future.
5. Choose the path that is best for you
Taking other people’s opinions about your life and how you handle your illness into consideration can make your burden lighter and can help you to figure things out, especially if it’s from someone you trust, but at the end of the day, you are the one in control of your life, and you don’t have to take everyone’s opinion on board; do what you feel is best for you.
6. Don’t hold onto guilt
It’s hard not to feel guilty for mistakes we may have made in the past; for unhealthy ways we have may have tried to deal with our mental illness; for actions we have taken that have been out of character when we have been going through an episode, but it’s vital to try and let go of that guilt.
There are times when we aren’t in control of our actions or thoughts with this disorder, so we may act in ways that are out of character for us, this isn’t our fault! The past is the past, and if you are doing your best in the present and taking responsibility for your actions then that is all you can do. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s about how you move on from them and how you learn from them for next time.
7. It’s not your responsibility to educate your loved ones
If you feel able to be open with your loved ones about your disorder and explain things to them then that’s wonderful and may help them to understand, but it’s vital to remember that you don’t have to do this if you don’t feel comfortable. It’s not our responsibility to educate everyone in our lives about our mental illness.
8. You do not have to accept negative treatment
Even if you communicate your needs and try to keep up good relationships with those in your life the best way that you can, there may still be people who don’t understand, who act in negative ways or perpetuate stigma: the most important thing to know is that you do not ever have to accept bad treatment. You can choose to put distance between you and negative influences and decide that they shouldn’t be a part of your life, as hard as this can be.