When People Can No Longer Support You With Mental Illness
I am the boy who cried wolf, except that I never lied about the wolf. Every time I cried wolf, there was actually one, inside my mind, chasing me and haunting me in every waking moment and in my dreams. My wolf is my mental illness, my struggle with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD). It has taken over me and put me in the front lines of a battle I am not even sure how to win. I am in the eye of the storm and I have no idea how to get out. In the beginning, my partner and my loved ones believed me and tried to support me, yet with time, things have changed. It is not like they stopped believing me, but they got used to the idea I am always struggling; it has become the “normal” and they no longer had the ability to help me or support me.
I am going to be as honest as I can be here. In the beginning of my marriage, my partner always came through for me, every time I cried, every time I had anxiety and struggled with depression. However, with time, I drained him and he is no longer able to support me because I have dragged him too much into it and it negatively affected him. Some marriages fall apart because one party has been drained too much and they are no longer able to go on. Yet, my partner was able to put up some boundaries and he managed to tell me he is no longer able to help me through this.
Honestly, I was mad at him in the beginning, I felt abandoned and alone. I felt betrayed and I felt like he left me in the middle of my struggle. I would be crying and he would take space away from me. I would try to express my emotions and my issues, he wouldn’t want to listen. I was livid, I thought he was willingly choosing to abandon me, to be mean to me, to invalidate my feelings and ignore my struggle. Until one day, everything clicked: he has his own issues, too. I realized had he went on being drained, our marriage was probably not going to survive.
While putting up boundaries was strictly for his benefit, it somehow saved our relationship. In a way, I am grateful he did that instead of just staying quiet and letting a buildup of resentment occur. For I have completely drained and exhausted him, much like I have exhausted my family and some of my friends.
This realization did not come easily to me, it happened when I became consistent with therapy and gave myself a chance to see where I went wrong. I have put blood and tears into my recovery process to finally reach that realization that showed me a big distortion of mine: If they can’t be around me when I am down, they must not love me. Yet, now I know they love me, but they are tired, they did not abandon me, but they had to distance themselves to take care of their own mental health.
“Hurt people hurt people.” Despite my love for them and my good intentions, I have hurt my loved ones without meaning to. I also hurt myself because without knowing, I was halting my own recovery and delaying it. If I am depending on others to feel better, then my recovery isn’t really happening.
While it is fantastic to reach this realization, I still need to set goals and have a plan. My goal is to be self-sufficient, to not cry wolf every time there is one, to be able to regulate my own emotions and self-soothe without reaching out to anyone every single time. My plan is to keep being consistent with therapy and actually use the skills and the methods I learn in it and apply them to my life.
I am not an expert and I am still far from recovery, but recently I have learned some techniques to help me with my set goal. If you are like me, and you cry wolf every time, the following ways might be of big use.
1. Observe your thoughts, name the feeling that comes after said thought and counter-argue this idea.
My therapist always tells me anxiety happens because of a thought. A thought occurs, then feelings follow. My advice is to do this exercise in writing. With time, your brain will pick up this technique and you will do it without having to write it down.
2. Have compassion toward yourself.
We tend to be harsh on ourselves. We talk to ourselves in a way we wouldn’t to friends or family members. We try to be supportive and empathic toward other people, so why not do ourselves the same courtesy?
3. Stay in the here and now.
We often dwell on the past and worry of the future so much so that we can forget to live in the present moment. With time, it can become a vicious cycle you are unable to break. The solution to this is to be mindful. Remind yourself to stay in the moment, focus on what you are doing. If you are eating, for example, focus on the taste, on the texture, is it hot? Is it cold?
4. Do mindfulness exercises and meditate.
More often than not, we forget to breathe properly. Take 10 minutes every day to focus on your breath. It is not easy because your mind will try to drift away. What helps me is saying “in” and “out” in my mind as I am inhaling and exhaling. If 10 minutes is hard, start with three minutes and as it gets easier, keep increasing the time. This will train your mind to stay in the present moment.
Having the ability to self-soothe and regulate your own emotions does not in any way mean you cannot reach out to your loved ones when things are critical. It is simply a balance we should reach with time and hard work between helping yourself and asking for it from other people. Eventually, you will feel self-sufficient, you will be in control of your own thoughts and feelings and you will protect your loved ones from any pain you may cause them. You will no longer be the person who cries wolf.
Unsplash image by Myles Tan