It’s been a bit of a rough week here in Olivialand. I’ve had some ups and downs in my family life, and a friend that I care a great deal about has had an incredibly bad week. The good thing about having these two events happen at the same time is that I was treated to opposing sides of the mental health talk: that of the person suffering, and that of the person who wants to help. Because of this kind of parallel, I’ve had a chance to gain some insight about the people who have tried to help me, and I think that the conversation between the perspectives can be beneficial for both sides.
One of the things that’s always been hard for me while dealing with treatment and my mental illness is having sympathy for my friends and family, particularly when they become scared and will do just about anything to change my behavior. There have absolutely been times when people close to me have acted inappropriately out of fear, most often in attempts to keep me safe. They’ve done things that hurt me, scare me, and feel overly controlling.
For quite some time I’ve felt resentment about this. I’ve felt like I have to be the one who manages everyone else and that I can’t be open with people because then I’ll have to deal with their fallout and freakout. I’m sure anyone who’s dealt with mental illness has had these feelings before, because no support person comes ready made with a perfect knowledge of how to support you, and that means sometimes they step in it. Lately in particular I’ve been feeling as if my family wants to control me and keep me close to them so they can keep tabs on my behavior and I’ve been a bit frustrated with it.
However this week has put me on the other side of the spectrum. I have felt the utter helplessness, the desire to just grab the person who is suffering and hold them, the need to make things better. I’ve been part of discussions that desperately try to find some way to ask the other person to listen, to change, to grow. I’ve seen how someone I love and care for is not acting like themself, is lashing out and being cruel, is seeing everything anyone says as negative. It’s so frustrating to see how someone is falling apart and not be able to show them all the ways they’re being self-destructive and all the ways you know they could fix it. There’s this certainty that if they just did what you told them, you would make it better.
Of course that’s not actually true, and probably my solution would be to see a therapist which is a whole bucketfull of hit or miss and really hard work by itself. What is true is that when one is spiraling out of control in depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, it might be a good idea to trust your support crew for a while because they’re likely thinking a little more clearly than you are. What’s also true is that your support crew is not at their best because they’re terrified and they really want you to trust them for a while, so they may resort to bad tactics.
High emotion situations mean that no one is acting at their best. In the situation, it’s easy to always see how the other person is behaving badly rather than take into account the ways that you yourself are not acting the most rational. Experiencing both at the same time made me realize how I was getting frustrated with others for doing the exact same things that I do when I’m put into their same situation. And when you’re already stressed out and frustrated it becomes infinitely harder to cut others slack. Of course this is the most important time to do it.
What I’ve learned most about this situation is that while it’s ok to be frustrated or hurt by someone else’s actions, getting angry and retaliating is the worst possible response. Cutting some slack, recognizing that people are being motivated by fear, trying to see that it’s not actually about you, and then calmly setting boundaries is probably the best response (although like any ideal it’s nearly impossible). In reality, I will probably do my best to balance the anger that I feel when someone violates my boundaries with my understanding that they do so from fear.
When someone is spiraling and they lash out at those trying to help, I will remember what it feels like to have my coping mechanisms yanked out from under me, to be confronted with the sort of person that I’m being, to have people tell me that I’m not being a very good version of myself. I will remember how much that hurts.
When someone I love starts to hold on a bit too tight, I’ll remember the panicked feeling that there’s got to be some guarantee that will make your loved one safe, that they need to get better, that they can’t see how bad it is. I’ll remember all the words and scripts that flooded my mind when I saw someone hurting themself. I’ll remember how nothing I say seems like the right thing, but that I know I can’t just sit back and do nothing.
There are no good solutions to a mental health scare. But I’m making a commitment to try to do better by the people around me by having more patience.