Loving Someone With a Mental Illness

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Valentine’s Day is a day to express love and affection towards family, friends and loved ones. It’s an emotional day for most, but it can be a frustrating day for others.

I remember the first Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend. It was a new relationship, getting to know each other, but for us Valentine’s Day was just like any other day; for me it was a day to show affection but not for him.

You see, my boyfriend lives with mental illness and when he first moved in two months prior I discovered he was not on any medication and couldn’t tell me how he felt.  I didn’t completely understand then, but I do now.

He lives with clinical depression and with that comes with sleeping all day, not wanting to do anything or go anywhere, emotions being put on hold, no laughter. He also lives with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), so on top of the depression is the anxiety. That includes a fear of going outside, talking to anyone, not wanting to text, call or email anyone. He sometimes would ask me questions like, “Do you love me?” “Why do you love me?” “Why don’t you find someone else, someone with a stable mind?” He couldn’t be touched when he was upset, anxious or panicky. The best thing I could do was just talk to him and provide reassurance.

What helped me the most is reading all I could on mental illness but information based on other people’s experiences. I found it helped me better understand him and his needs.

I’m not afraid to say it was a rough year, but it was worth it. We made it through, he’s been on medication and going to therapy for two years now, and we couldn’t be happier.

If you have a loved one who lives with mental illness, I have some advice for you:

1. Please be patient. I know it may be frustrating and upsetting, but it will be worth it

2. Your loved one may need reassurance. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them even though they may not be able to express the same

3. Be sure to take time for yourself. What you’re experiencing may drain you mentally; take care of yourself. Overall, just remember you’re with your loved one because you do love them, you’ve seen them for the real them and not the mental
illness. Also remember they do love you.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s boyfriend.

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Valentine's Day Ideas for People With Mental Illness

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I have to start by saying I have the best partner and husband in the world. Sorry everyone, but I don’t plan on letting him go anywhere. What I can do is share some of the ways he has picked me up during my worst times with depression and anxiety. I remember all the little ways he’s made my life easier. For those who don’t know how to help their partner, maybe this can assist you in making their lives a little brighter on Valentine’s Day. Just because we may need extra care doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate it! If you don’t have a partner on the 14th, don’t let that stop you from spoiling yourself! We need all the spoiling we can get!

Sleepy, comfy ideas:

  • New blanket (or even a weighted blanket or
    snuggle)
  • Specialty pillow (such as u-shaped pillows or
    body pillows)
  • Eye mask
  • Comfy sleep wear

Having a mental illness usually means your mind and body is fighting a battle – and that can mean your body is constantly sore, tired and stressed. I know mine is. This is where the above list helps. New research shows weighted blankets can calm anxiety and give support to those with excess stress. I live in a warm climate so a weighted blanket isn’t an option. However I still have to have a doona or Snuggie blanket whenever I’m on the sofa or the bed. A nice idea for the whimsical partner would be a mermaid tail blanket.
These type of blankets can help release “happy hormones” and start the process of relaxation in tight muscles. This also applies for specialty pillows. The stress caused by mental illness shows greatly in my neck muscles. They are always sore and tense. I can’t be comfortable without my u-shaped pillow, and I’ve heard great things about body pillows. I recently got an eye mask, and what a difference it makes. Insomnia is a common symptom so limiting light is huge for me when trying to go to sleep. Finally, comfy sleep wear is an awesome gift. After my depression symptoms appeared, my outfits mostly consist of PJs and comfy sleep wear. I still struggle to get out of bed some days. Wearing something comfy, cute and soft makes the day in bed feel a little bit better. Also, because I do spend a lot of time sleeping or overcoming fatigue due to the
depression, there is always a need for clean sleep wear.

Technology ideas:

  • His/her favorite book/movie/TV series
  • Netflix account or another streaming account
  • Audio books (available from audible.com)

When my depression and anxiety were at their worst, I didn’t leave my apartment for weeks. I couldn’t do anything but sleep and sob. My husband just stayed by my side and made sure there was a lot of blankets, pillows and tissues. (Hint: Grab the tissues with moisturizer added. The cheaper ones will start hurting your partner’s face.) I didn’t notice when he grabbed his laptop and started watching his TV shows next to me while I cried and slept. Then I started watching with him. He made sure it was something mindless and not too dramatic, gory or adventurous. A good list I found this week was from The Bright Side website. I don’t remember what we watched exactly – but it was good to just keep my mind on that and not think of anything. I realize now he was slowly drawing me back into the “real world” with familiar memories from movies and shows I’d seen and liked. What he did that made this memorable enough to mention was make sure I was always in his arms and presence. Even now, we still have a TV/ movie/Netflix day. It is really just an excuse to be held and keep everything else away for a little while (and wear PJs again all day). I added audio books into this list as this had lasting habits for me. If I can’t sleep I put on an audio book or documentary and the voice talking helps me fall asleep.

Healthy ideas:

  • A cleaner visit
  • Healthy food
  • Chocolate scents
  • Scented candles and essential oils

Being healthy when you have a mental illness can be so hard. Having a clean body and environment makes a big difference when you are trying to get your brain on track. I still struggle doing chores – the fatigue and pain from sore muscles really makes it hard. Having a cleaner come – even if it’s just a once-off – takes some the pressure of being on top of the endless dirt and dust easier. I would suggest telling your partner before booking so they can prepare leaving the house. I have lots of guilt about having a cleaner come, but afterwards I feel so much better.

Healthy eating is also hard. I’m working on trying to find flavor in natural ingredients again. I found a trick to make it easier – which is to ask my husband to help. Research has found that food prepared by someone else may taste better. I’m a huge believer in it as all the food my husband makes tastes really good. He also started organizing the groceries to be delivered at home so fresh greens in the fridge means they are closer to being in my stomach! There are even fruit baskets, which seems an awesome present for those who love fruit. I can’t talk about food and Valentine’s Day without mentioning chocolate. But can I mention a new gift you might not have thought of – chocolate candles? (There are also helps of other chocolate smelling niceties like soap, pens, room spray and calculators.)T hey can help release all the happiness of chocolate without
any calories. Scented candles have other health benefits that include helping with relaxation and headaches. Having my home smell nice makes me feel that my home is nice – taking away a lot of stress for me. The same effect can be made with essential oils if candles are not an option.

Wellbeing ideas:

  • Subscription to an online support website
  • Visit from a loved one
  • Social network-free days
  • A letter written from you

My last little suggestions are one that have made a big difference to my wellbeing. The first is the amount of online support nowadays. I struggle sometimes meeting with a trainer or therapist, so having an option of having them online is genius. Websites such as The Mighty, Happify.com, the BetterHelp app  and other mental illness support apps and websites are great for getting that little bit of help when you need someone, something, anything in the middle of the day or night. Nothing can replace a councilor or therapist, but having support electronically can really help. I’ll also mention Nerd Fitness, as there are also heaps of online fitness support tackling the need to address mental health before or alongside physical health.

When I was at my lowest, my husband organized a trip so I could see my parents and immediate family. That was wonderful as we live a few states away. I got to be with those I loved who were giving me reasons to fight the voices in my head. Really meant a lot as it showed me I still had people who would do anything for me.

Every now and again my husband will endorse social network-free days. I love my laptop and am always on a site “talking” to people. More and more research points out that social networks can make us more isolated. So when I’m stressed out, we call social network-free days. We turn off the work emails and Facebook and chats and phones and just enjoy the company we have in our house. We let our closest friends and family know we are “unavailable” for 24 hours. You’d expect the whole world to stop if I was “unplugged,” right? Haven’t had anything bad happen. Turns out the talking I was doing online was with the wrong people. I needed to be with the people I was physically with in the now.

My last suggestion: write your partner a letter. I was having panic attacks every morning before I started work for a while. I wouldn’t calm down unless I heard him over the phone. This wasn’t feasible as he has meetings and work tasks to do as well. He wrote me a letter outlining breathing techniques and good memories together to ground me. He also wrote about my good qualities and how I was strong enough to get through today because I had overcome so much already. I keep it on my person at all times, and
it is helpful no matter what kind of day I’m having.

My husband is my best friend and my biggest supporter. He does a couple of these ideas on special days (like Valentine’s Day, birthdays, holidays, taco day, etc.) to make my illness bearable. I hope this was helpful to making a difference in you and your partner’s lives. Good luck and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Thinkstock photo by Sok Rom

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To Katy Perry, Who Mocked Mental Health on the Red Carpet

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Dear Katy Perry,

Mental health is not a joke. And someone’s breakdown isn’t something to laugh about. Your not one, but two displays of immaturity during the red carpet were in poor taste.

As someone who openly struggles with depression, and who has been hospitalized on a 5150, like Britney, I find that your comedic answers to the interview questions, saying you were moments away from shaving your head and having a “public meltdown,” are the reason there is a stigma around mental illness in the first place.

I’m not sure what caused you to direct attention away from taking about your own mental health onto someone else. As a celebrity, I trust you know how much power your words hold in creating change… or upholding stereotypes. I trust you know how hurtful words can be.

Next time you’re presented with the opportunity to talk about your mental health, I invite you to answer authentically. Our society is overloaded with sugar coated answers and distractions, and is in desperate need of truth. Next time, please use your words to spread love.

Sincerely,
Veronica Lombo

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Why I Hesitate to Call Myself 'Recovered' From Mental Illness

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Living with mental illness is hard. Sometimes, though, the hardest part is not having an end in sight; in fact, mental illness can be like running a race when you don’t know what a finish line looks like.

I am so much healthier and happier than I was a few months ago. I prioritize self-care more than ever before, I try to look after my body as best I can, and I try so many coping strategies and self-help techniques before reaching out for further support. On not-so-great days, I am still able to treat myself with kindness, and honestly, I never thought that would happen. I learned my favorite self-care is sitting with a good book, some hot tea, and a blueberry face mask. I learned sometimes taking care of your body means looking after your skin, making sure you get enough water, and reminding yourself to eat on super busy days because food is fuel. All of those things being said, I hesitate to call myself “recovered.”

Here’s why:

1) I sometimes think “recovered” means things are the best they are ever going to get. And being a driven person, I always want to strive for better. I am so happy with where I am right now, but I never want to give up hope that things can get even better.

2) I don’t want to be seen as a “success story.” While I love sharing my story and using my own experiences to help others feel just a little bit less alone, I don’t want people to praise me. I don’t want to be seen as an inspiration because it makes me feel like a fraud sometimes. If I call myself “recovered,” I fear people will think their “finish line” is where I am right now, and they need to find their own.

3) If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my journey with mental illness, it’s that it’s not so much being 100% recovered it’s more getting better at managing. 

Basically, I’m still a work in progress. I am finally in a place where I can appreciate how far I’ve come and be proud of myself, but I still need to work hard every day. I still live with mental illness, and that probably won’t ever change. And that’s OK.

Be proud of your little victories, stay humble, and remember you are never, ever alone. 

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Why I Don't Feel Courageous for Being Open About My Mental Illness

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On Saturday, I went with my two brothers-in-law and my father to a beer fest. This was a place where there was a large number of craft breweries letting people sample their beers 2 ounces at a time. And while I was there, I was wearing my Here/Hear t-shirt, mainly because it is one of my comfiest shirts. As I walked around, one of the guys pouring beer looked at me and said, “Here/Hear? I love those guys.” I was a bit taken aback as I did not expect anyone to recognize the shirt as we are still a rather small nonprofit trying to do big things. And then he said, “I love what they do. Do you know what they do?” I said I was familiar. And he went back to pouring beer, and I was left dumbfounded.

Now, for those that do not know, which is probably most of you, I am the founder and Executive Director of Here/Hear. I run it out of my house as we have no need for a building at the moment. I do the work while I watch my youngest son, a 4-year old little boy that we inappropriately named Ryder — because he is never just the “rider” but usually the driver. My dog is currently sitting on my feet as I type. It’s a small set-up, but we are able to accomplish our goals. So, yes, I am familiar with what Here/Hear does. I do almost everything, but I did not want to tell the brewer that.

This surprise from the brewer struck me because I was not expecting it and I still feel like what we do is somewhat small. It has not lived into my ideas yet… which is probably a good thing.

But this brewer’s mention of our good work came after I had recently talked to some people who said I was “inspirational” and “courageous” for talking about my story and starting Here/Hear. Their thought was it is hard to talk about things like mental illness and it must have taken much courage for me to begin speaking up and talking about my own struggle with bipolar disorder and anxiety. And they found this courage to speak up inspirational; maybe they would share their own story and do something about what they cared about in their lives.

Can I tell you a secret though?

Nothing I have done has been courageous. I’m not courageous for telling my story. I am glad it has inspired people, but, really, I feel like kind of a coward. You see, I had a job where I was told I would be fired if I talked about my mental illness, that people did not need to know about it and that I would be judged for it. The fact that I could not tell people, especially some of my friends I worked with closely, really ate me up. It hurt me and caused me pain to live with such a large part of my life in a private closet. It was not fair or right, but that’s what I did: I just kept things private. I was afraid and let what my boss told me drive a decision to stay quiet.

Eventually, I came to the place where I was writing and working online and people were going to find out I had a mental illness. So, I told my boss I was going to tell and I started to tell people. And my boss was wrong. He was very, very wrong. People accepted me, they cared about me, they embraced me, they asked why I had not told them sooner. You see, with the right people around, it is not courageous to share your story: it is simply what you do. You share life together. I found this quite empowering, and if I am honest, I got a little prideful and “puffy-chested” about sharing my story. It made me feel really good.

So, it was never courage that resulted in me sharing my story. It was other people’s courage to accept me despite not understanding what it means to live with bipolar. I’m not courageous because it makes me feel good to tell my story, to allow other people into my life. I’m glad that might inspire people, but this is therapeutic for me and gives me purpose to my life, something I might not have otherwise. And, honestly I loved the fact that people love and embrace me in this story. It’s not altruistic: I speak and share because it helps me too. I will never go back to the place where I was forced to live where my story had to remain silent.

No, I share my story and I talk about my illness for me. It’s not courageous, but it is necessary.

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A Challenge to Try (Instead of Getting Mad) When People Invalidate Your Mental Illness

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Lately I’ve been seeing something that disturbs me: people with mental illnesses bashing people without mental illnesses. I’m a person who has ADD, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder, and I’ve had my fair share of people who just didn’t understand my illnesses/disability. Trust me, I know what it’s like to have my struggles thrown to the side and invalidated, and it hurts severely every time it happens. This happens a lot to people with mental illness because it’s hard, almost impossible even, to really understand what it’s like unless you’ve gone through it yourself.

I’ve seen so many posts on social media angrily lashing out at those who don’t understand mental illness, and it makes me sad. If we do that, are we any better than they are? It is our job to educate those without mental illness, not to bash them! Now granted I know not everyone with mental illness does this. So here’s my challenge to you: the next time someone says or does something that invalidates your illness, just say “oh” and let it go. Take a deep breath and try to educate that person who doesn’t understand. If they don’t want to listen, you don’t need to be around them anyway. You never know, someone may be willing to listen. And if they don’t, forgive them anyway. What good are you doing to yourself my staying mad at them? Being bitter is like drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person.

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