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Why Treating a Mental Illness Is Like Renovating a House


My mind is a newly purchased renovation home. Upon buying, it was known work would need to be done. There was peeling paint for anxiety, broken windows for depression, leaking roof. The house is habitable, but not ideal. When demolition began, walls were torn down and floorboards removed. An inspector came into assess the interior guts of the house, and this is when borderline personality disorder (BPD) was discovered. The house is structurally sound, has strong bones and is standing tall, but professionals will be required to repair the recently unearthed diagnosis.

The wiring needs replaced, mold was discovered, roof is leaking, windows need repaired. A growing list of repairs becomes daunting. I know I can fix and replace them but am doubtful of my skillset. This is where professionals come in; I will call an electrician for the wiring, like attending group dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for borderline personality disorder. My toolkit can handle day-to-day operations, like painting or replacing outlet covers. Sometimes the tasks are too overwhelming and require a professional with the proper tool to offer for the job at hand. This is OK; it doesn’t mean I am bad at renovating my house, it just means I recognize I do not posses all the skills required and sometimes reinforcements need to be called in.

Renovating a house will always be an ongoing process; the house will never be perfect. The perfection of a house is not what makes it a home. There will be challenges, problems and complications. Overcoming these challenges and using the proper tools are what make the renovations worth it. Sometimes the change will be as simple as rearranging the furniture in a room or as complicated as building an addition. Things are going to be messy, sawdust will fly everywhere, but there is also a vacuum in the corner to clean it up. This allows for the mess to be made, processed and forward movement with the project.

Renovations are not done in a day; they require vision and patience. You don’t start installing a sink in a new location without first doing research on plumbing lines. Renovating a house means making mistakes, like measuring incorrectly. Mistakes happen with renovations; it’s how the process works. Making these mistakes mean you learn and in the next project you will measure twice, cut once. You can prepare your blueprints and bring in all brand-new tools, but you won’t use a screwdriver to break down drywall.

People in life are your neighbors; some have fully renovated houses, and some are looking to buy a house. Some might even be in the middle of the renovations. Fully renovated houses may need minor work, like a fresh coat of paint or new landscaping. These people have experience, knowledge, and resources to offer help. If they are not willing to help you with your renovation, you do not need to keep pestering them or have them in your life. You can’t make neighbors help you, but you can choose if you interact with them or not. The difference is knowing when a neighbor is willing to help, but not have the time for the project in that exact moment and a neighbor who slams their door in your face when you ask. If a neighbor cannot dedicate the time to a project in that exact moment the project requires, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about your house renovations. They can lend you tools or advice to help. Some days they can come over to help you replace drywall; some days they will give you the drill bit and send you on your way. Each is help in its own way. There will be days your new neighbor who just bought their house will need your help, but they do not have the same tools you possess to tackle their project. There will be days when you reach out to your neighbors for their tools. Finding balance between giving and taking is key.

Relationships are like bringing in crew members to assist with the renovation. You won’t bring in a stranger from the streets and expect them to start working on a project as fully dedicated as you are. You do not know them, they do not know the project, they do not know what is expected of them. They feel overwhelmed; how can they know where you’re at in the project to assist? Then you feel irate; how could they not know? Pause. You brought a stranger into your house expecting them to be fully devote to the project without speaking a single word to them. You can’t expect them to know or blame them for failing to meet expectations when expectations were never communicated.

Instead, you bring in a person and show them the house. You explain your projects, visions, workload. You get to know them, see if they are also as passionate about renovations as you. You build trust, you begin to work together. Just as you make mistakes, so will they. That’s OK; they didn’t intentionally forget to lay plastic down before painting to hurt you, they were excited to paint the walls your favorite color. You fix the mistake together, cleaning off the hardwood floors and laughing at the silly mess. The house still stands tall. Nothing is damaged: just because the floors have some paint on them doesn’t mean you’re going to sell the house and move out.

Now you have an established relationship to work on the renovations with. It’s exciting, thrilling, fun. You laugh together while you work. There will be a point where the person needs a break from renovations, just like you do. This is OK; you wouldn’t work on renovations 24/7 and shouldn’t expect them to either. Just because they need a break from renovations and working doesn’t mean they value you any less. You have built a solid relationship. Maybe some days they want to work on their own renovations and will need your help. It’s a give and take process; you borrow their tools and they need to borrow yours sometimes. Communication is essential to completed renovations, otherwise you may end up undoing each other’s work. You cannot control their process or actions, and their actions might make a mess in your house but to them, it was the best way to complete the task.

Getty Images photo via kitzcorner