Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hiatus notification

                                                                                                                    Hi, everyone!

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting as regularly as I used to. I just wanted to let you know that I'm doing well, but am very busy because I'm in the middle of starting my own business. It's very exciting, but a lot of work and that has given me less time to spend on personal projects. I am going to try to keep doing sporadic posts when I can, but it will be a little while before I can give this blog the attention it deserves.

Thank you for your patience at this exciting time in my life.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

20 things not to say to someone with a mental illness

Mental illness is hard enough to handle on its own. Having other people make insensitive comments just make it even worse. It is, however, important to acknowledge that these remarks are generally not meant to be hurtful. They often reflect a lack of understanding mixed with a desire to seem helpful or comforting. Still, words can hurt. Here are 20 things to avoid saying when speaking with someone about their mental illness (and what I’m thinking when you say it).

“Just snap out of it.” If I could, I would.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Mental illness is a legitimate problem and it’s okay to have feelings about it.

“I promise it will be okay.” You have no way of knowing that.

“Why are you like that?” That’s for me and my therapist to figure out.

“Can’t you just try to be different?” I’m pretty sure I have.

“Yeah, my brother has depression, too.” Everyone experiences mental illness differently, so I don’t want to be compared to someone else.

“That’s weird.” I know. I don’t need to hear you saying it, though.

“You’ve been doing it long enough now. Stop.” There would be no need for therapy if we could go in and out of mental illness at will.

“There are others who have it worse.” I know, but suffering is not a contest.

“At least it’s only depression/anxiety.” Even the most common mental illnesses can be extremely difficult to handle.

“That’s just how you are.” Mental illness is not a character flaw.

“You brought this on yourself.” Even if I did contribute to the problem, I did not ask for this. 

“I know how you feel.” No, you don’t, and I’m offended that you think you do.

“Things will change soon.” Timing is always a big question mark with mental illness.

“It’s all in your head.” That’s why it’s called mental illness. But it affects physical health, too.

“Do something to distract yourself.” This is not nervous anticipation. It won’t just get better if I wait.

“Don’t be so negative.” I am entitled to my feelings. Besides, I’m pretty sure you would be “negative,” too, if you were in my shoes.

“It could be worse.” Yes, it could, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t difficult.

“But you have so many things to make you happy.” That doesn’t change that I’m also struggling.

“You don’t seem to have a mental illness.” Mental illness is not always apparent on the outside.

Sassy remarks aside, feel free to share this post with someone who might need a little perspective. For things you can do that are actually helpful, read this post.

What have people said to you about mental illness that you have found hurtful? How do you respond? Tell us in the comments.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dating violence and your mental health

One of the saddest situations is hurting someone under the disguise of love. Unfortunately, abuse in the dating setting happens much too often. A third of adolescents are victims of abuse by a dating partner, while 43% of college women experience violent or abusive dating behaviors. Clearly, things can go sour long before moving in together or saying, “I do.”

Dating violence happens in many ways. Most commonly, there can be physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse. This doesn’t have to be extreme behavior in order for it to be legitimately abusive. You don’t have to break bones – a slap or a shove is physical violence, too. Rape is one form of sexual assault, but unwanted touching is as well. Verbal abuse may escalate to threats, but can start out with name calling or simply making you feel bad about yourself. Before controlling everything you do, an emotional abuser may start with something seemingly minor, like insisting you dress a certain way or constantly asking about where you are and what you’re doing. Abuse is abuse, no matter the degree, and abuse is wrong.

David Castillo Dominici/
There is a high emotional and psychological toll to dating violence. It sets up a pattern that allows for future abuse. It increases the risk of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as risky sexual behaviors. These things, if unchecked, can lead to a lifetime of pain. It gets so bad that half of all young people who experience both dating violence and rape attempt suicide. 

You can also experience mental illness as a result of dating violence. Depression, anxiety, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder and sexual concerns are but a few of the potential results. Even if no specific disorder manifests, therapy may be necessary due to the stress and distortion resulting from being in a violent relationship. 

Unfortunately, leaving these types of relationships can be risky. If someone can hurt you while claiming to love you, you bet (s)he can retaliate if you try to end the relationship. Timing and safety are very important when leaving abusive relationships. This is one reason professional help is important. Creating a safety plan can honestly be a life-saver. If you are experiencing dating violence, talk to your therapist. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, a list of some additional resources are below.

Text loveis to 22522
Chat available on website

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Chat available on website

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
Chat available on website

Have you experienced dating violence? Share your stories and advice in the comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

7 reasons I speak up about mental health

I grew up with a perception of mental health that was skewed in the way I assume it is for a lot of people. I thought you had to be really crazy to see a therapist. I believed that you either did or you didn’t have a mental illness and it didn’t occur to me that it’s really a spectrum that everyone is on. I reckoned that I probably knew a few people with some kind of “mild” mental illness, but didn’t know that one in four Americans struggles with a mental illness in any given year (NAMI). 

Boy, was I wrong about a lot of things. But I didn’t know that until I sought treatment myself and had years of experience in the therapeutic environment. As my progress with mental health increased, I also took classes on psychology in order to better understand what was going on both with myself and with others. And here I am, running a blog about the very topic that I so deeply misunderstood when I was younger.

So what changed for me to go from a stigmatized and uninformed perception to being a voice for the mentally ill? There are a few major factors.

1. I was so confused and even hurt by the mental health system that I didn’t want anyone else to have to navigate it alone and uninformed. I am empathetic and I truly just want to make this process easier for even just one person. 

2. I heard the stories of others. Whether through reading, classes or conversations, I learned about other people with struggles similar to my own. I realized that I am not alone and that when I speak up for myself, I am also standing up for a whole invisible community.

3. I realized that the mentally ill are underrepresented in society at large. Because there is so much stigma, people don’t always speak up. But silence will not change things and I feel like it’s the right path for me to be vocal about this topic. 

4. I was sick of hiding who I am. Trying to keep up a front of everything being okay was exhausting and just made me feel even worse. While I had a lot of fear about being open, everyone who is close to me now knows that I struggle with mental illness and have (eventually) been great in their responses.

5. I want to do my duty as a citizen. They say that when letters and phone calls are being made to politicians, they estimate that each person speaking up represents over 1000 people who feel the same way. I want to bring another 1000 people’s struggles to attention.

6. I want to live in a world where I can say I have a mental illness the same way others can say they have diabetes or a broken leg. I don’t want a negative, judgmental, uninformed and awkward response. I want the same courtesy and sympathy that is given to those with physical illnesses.

7. I don’t want my mental health issues to be meaningless. These are the cards I have been dealt and I choose to play them in a way that can bring hope and healing to others. 

I acknowledge that it’s a difficult topic to speak about and that not everyone wants to do so. I didn’t either, for a long time. That changed and now this is a large part of who I am.

I'm Blogging for Mental Health 2015.But you don’t have to create a whole blog to be a part of the conversation. Even a single post on your blog draws attention to the topic. Today is Mental Health Month Blog Day, sponsored by the American Psychological Association. If you submit your post about mental health here today, it will be added to a list along with other people’s posts. Even if you don’t submit anything, check it out to see other people’s contributions. The more informed you are, the better you will be able to address the topic of mental health both personally and publicly.

Why do you speak up about mental health? Or what stops you from doing so? Join the discussion in the comments.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Taking risks in therapy

We all have something that we don’t like to talk about. While therapy is an appropriate setting to explore these issues, we sometimes hold back on certain things — even in that context — out of fear. “Will I sound crazy?” “Will I be believed?” “What will my therapist think of me?” “What are the consequences of saying this?” “Will my therapist think less of me?“ These questions and more prevent us from being completely open in our treatment. 

But if you never take risks, you won’t progress when it comes to those issues. In fact, they may become worse as feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, hostility and unworthiness fester inside of you. The fact that you won’t talk about the topic becomes an issue in and of itself. 

The first obstacle you need to pass is trusting your therapist. You can read more about that here. In short, developing a strong therapeutic alliance in a safe relationship allow you to be more open. Keep in mind the ways in which your therapist has been trustworthy in the past. If you remind yourself of these things, opening up might not seem quite as impossible.

Still, even with trust, it can be hard to explore certain topics. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to talk about a series of events that happened a few years ago. I had been seeing the same therapist I’m seeing now at the time these things happened and my irrational fear was that I’d remember things wrong and become discredited. But I have yet to find a way around those fears. So what could I do?

It got to a point where my only options seemed to be to keep quiet and never heal or to take a risk and see what happened. After years of deliberation, I decided to just go for it and see what would happen. For me, that meant telling the story regardless of my fears. So I did. 

I was not prepared for how well that went. At first, I addressed my concerns about how he might remember things differently than I did. I asked my therapist to not go back and read his notes from the time in question and he agreed to follow my request. This removed a lot of pressure. 

It’s going to take a while to get through everything. And that’s okay. Breaking the larger story into smaller segments allows me to do a little each week. This way I get insight into each part, which helps me understand the larger context at play. While the content is very difficult and, at times, triggering, I’m feeling better about myself and am more realistic about my role in those events.

Jumping in is not always the solution, but I’m pretty sure that at this point in the post, you have a specific issue or situation in mind. Test the waters. See what happens. Be honest about your concerns. You can discuss them before you get to the actual content. But when you’re ready, opening up despite fear can be extremely healing. I know it has been for me.

What risks have you taken in therapy? How did it work out? Tell us about it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 techniques for the moment you are overwhelmed

We all have those moments where we are hit with something overwhelming. Whether it be an argument, a panic attack or a piece of bad news, our gut reactions aren’t always the most helpful. That’s why it’s important to have coping strategies for those first few moments. Try one of these techniques the next time you need to stay calm while dealing with a big emotion.

1. Use breathing techniques

There’s a breathing trick I have been using lately to help calm down and refocus. First, you close your eyes. Feel everything that’s inside you and pick a word that best describes your emotions. Now, forget about that while you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts and breathe out for eight counts, thinking only of your breath (or, if you’re like me, the counting). Do this three times, then check inside again and label your emotion. You should be seeing at least some improvement. Keep doing this as many times as you feel necessary.

David Castillo Dominici/
2. Accept the situation

There are things we simply cannot change. They happen and we have to deal with them. Instead of thinking thoughts like, “This can’t be happening!” or “That’s completely wrong!”, try just accepting it. Your outrage is not going to change the situation. Accepting is not the same as agreeing. Accepting means facing reality for what it is instead of delving into your own pathology. By trying to make something different than what it is, you are wasting your time and mental resources. Make the decision to accept whatever happened and then see how you can have a helpful reaction.

3. Take a break

There are some situations that have to be dealt with immediately, but often you don’t actually have to respond at once. When you are overwhelmed, step aside from the incident until you can gather yourself. You can tell the others involved that you need a moment, but you can also take a timeout without letting on why. Just go to the bathroom or say that you need to check that you turned off the stove. Anything is helpful. Another trick for smaller breaks is to have a drink with you. When you need a moment, just take a sip. It’s amazing how big of a difference a few seconds can make.

4. Ask for help

If someone else is in a position to be helpful, just ask. If it’s difficult for you, it’s often difficult for someone else, too. They’ll understand and do what they can. You can call a sister and vent, go out on the town with a friend or simply ask your therapist to hand you a tissue. Feeling alone in a situation can make it so much worse, so showing yourself that you are loved and cared for can be very calming.

5. Express yourself

Sometimes, feelings demand action. Some of the options that occur to us are healthy; some are not. Pause to make sure your action is appropriate before you act. Punching a wall might sound therapeutic, but you can hurt yourself and/or the wall.  You could hit a pillow a few times instead. If appropriate, you could also respectfully state out loud what you are feeling and experiencing. If you don’t have the option of expressing yourself in the moment, make a mental note of how you will do it later. This could be journaling, exercising or talking to your therapist, for instance. Knowing that you have an outlet later can help you better focus in the moment.

What do you do in the moments you are overwhelmed? Give your own tips in the comments.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mental health myths: Intelligence

Sometimes, I take the opportunity to discuss mental health myths and the truths behind them. There is so much misinformation out there and we all need to do our part to help others see the truth about mental illness. This time, I’m talking about intelligence.

Myth: People with mental illnesses are less intelligent.

Fact: Mental illnesses, learning disorders and intellectual disabilities are not the same thing.

While psychologists diagnose mental illnesses, learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities, they are not the same thing. What we commonly refer to as “mental illness” generally means the emotional disorders, with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and so on. These are what I talk about most of the time on this blog. They don’t, however, have anything to do with how intelligent you are.

Learning disorders are when you have a problem with your cognition that leaves you on unequal footing with your peers when it comes to your capacity to learn. These include, for instance, dyslexia, math disability and, depending on who you ask, ADHD. These are caused by the way your brain processes information. But they still aren’t a measure of how intelligent you are, just the way you learn and what you struggle with.

Intellectual disabilities are about intelligence. While the actual diagnostic criteria are a little more complicated, they are generally considered to be associated with an IQ of 70 or lower. Since the average IQ is 100 (more or less), this puts someone with an intellectual disability at a serious disadvantage. For comparison, above average intelligence is generally considered 110 and higher. That means that the difference between average and gifted is smaller than that of average and intellectually disabled. An intellectual disability therefore means that you have very real struggles in your day-to-day functioning. 

So how do they all relate? 

• Mental illness is not correlated with IQ.
• You can have a learning disorder without having an intellectual disability.
• Intellectual disabilities and learning disorders can influence each other, but one is not a measure of the other.

Think of the whole “crazy genius” archetype, if nothing else. There have been enough people with extraordinary intelligence and a mental illness for that idea to even exist. Anecdotally, some of the smartest people I’ve met have struggled with some form of mental illness or even a learning disorder. People considered intelligent are just as likely to have a mental illness as those who are less intelligent. 

Intelligence is also not measured perfectly by IQ testing. Artistic aptitude, for instance, is not measured on standardized tests. Neither are your ability to build something with your hands or your social intelligence. The truth is, intelligence comes in many forms. And here another archetype comes into place: the idiot savant. There are people who struggle with overall intelligence, but are geniuses in a specific area. These individuals can have just as much to offer as anyone else, just in a very specific way.

Whether someone has a mental illness, a learning disorder, an intellectual disability or none of these at all, everyone deserves respect. Don’t treat others as if you assume they are “stupid.” Differences in intelligence are a part of human existence, just like race, sexuality, religion, physical illnesses and so on. And remember that emotional disorders have nothing to do with intelligence. They happen to the best of us.

What has your experience been with mental illness and intelligence? Share your stories in the comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

100 ways to improve your mental health

We’ve reached a milestone today – this is my 100th post! To celebrate, I decided to make a list of 100 things. The most helpful idea that came to mind was ways to improve mental health, so here it is. I have broken the list down into categories so that you can find the ones that are the most relevant for what you are working on. (Another milestone: Happy birthday, A. You’re my favorite.)

1. Honor your emotions for what they are and accept them fully.
5. Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.
6. Know when to back out of a situation.
7. Stop your thinking and ask yourself what you are actually feeling and why.
8. Use a feelings chart to identify what you are experiencing.
9. Surround yourself with little things that make you happy – flowers, art, scented candles, etc.

11. Stay in the present.
13. Eliminate bad habits. 
16. Reward yourself for doing difficult things.
17. Take a break when you need it.
18. Find new ways to do things.
19. Stop and consider other perspectives on what you’re experiencing.
20. Use good common sense.

21. Exercise regularly.
22. Take time to relax.
23. Eat three meals a day.
25. Stay at a healthy weight. 
26. Get enough sleep.
28. Choose healthy food.


33. Be a helpful friend.
34. Respect the needs of others and expect that they do the same.
35. Engage in volunteer work.
36. Eliminate negative influences in your life.
37. Set and keep healthy boundaries.
38. Make time for yourself.
40. Be considerate.

Sira Anamwong/
43. Study things you genuinely find interesting.
44. Study something you know absolutely nothing about.
45. Do mind exercises like sudoku, crossword puzzles and word games.
46. Talk to other people about what they do.
47. Take an evening or community course.
48. Think up funny jokes and witty responses.
49. Take notes when you are learning about something. Refer to them later.
50. Do calculations in your head instead of using your phone.

51. Practice mindfulness
52. Meditate and/or pray.
53. Eliminate unhealthy beliefs.
54. Rely on a higher power.
55. Learn about the beliefs of others.
56. Journal about your spiritual experiences.
57. Share your spiritual experiences with open-minded loved ones.
58. Forgive.
59. Find or decide on your life’s purpose and live it.
60. Stay true to what you believe.

                                                             61. Surround yourself with beautiful things.
62. Hang up motivational posters.
64. Keep your home clean.
66. Support any environmental causes you believe in.
67. Use your resources well.
69. Repair broken things so they don’t continue to frustrate you.
70. Stay organized.

71. Do things you love.
72. Know your limits when it comes to work.
73. Develop schedules and routines.
74. Simplify your work.
75. Get support from colleagues when necessary.
76. Keep good boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
77. Compliment coworkers on a job well done.
78. If you are unhappy in your job, look for a new one.
79. Multitask less.
80. Take a day off when you need to.


82. Go for a walk.
83. Make your favorite meal.
87. Keep a gratitude journal.
89. Respect yourself.

91. Stand up for yourself.
93. Keep a beginner’s mindset.
94. Learn from every experience.
95. Keep some money in savings.

Do you have any tips to add? Please do so in the comments!

Friday, March 20, 2015

My top 10 posts

The next post I make will be number 100 and I have a special post coming up for that. Here at number 99, I figured I’d look back at my top 10 most popular posts. They cover a variety of topics and exercises to do at home.

Stuart Miles/
10. Lapse, relapse and recovery
Part of recovery is relapse. It's almost expected. At some point, after things have gotten better, they'll probably get worse again. The truth is, though, that your attitude towards relapses will have a big impact on how you handle them and whether you can use them to grow.”

“Not every therapist is a good match for every client. This means that sometimes, finding someone else is the best thing to do to progress in your recovery. There are, of course, reasons to stay with the one you have. By working through your differences, you develop a stronger bond and learn how to manage relationships outside the therapy room. But if any of the following points are a problem, then it might be time to find someone new.”

“Journaling is a very powerful way to explore yourself and come to a better understanding of who you are. I thought we’d look at some other ideas to write about. This time, we’ll take a look at questions that can help you improve your relationships.”

“It’s hard to make progress in therapy if you don’t trust your therapist. Trust is essential to the therapeutic relationship, which in turn is essential to recovery. But for many people, it’s by no means easy to open up to a complete stranger and talk about the most personal parts of their lives. This is where trust building comes in.”

“There are a lot of symptoms of mental illness, more than anyone can list off the top of their heads. But some are more severe than others. Here are a few of the ones where you should immediately seek advice from a mental health professional.“

“You might have certain beliefs that invalidate your mental illness. They might be reasons why you shouldn’t be mentally ill or why your illness is not that serious. You may even feel guilty for seeking treatment. One of the biggest causes for these thoughts is comparison to others.”

The entertainment industry has a tremendous power in shaping the public view of mental health topics. With Silver Linings Playbook, a romantic comedy featuring a protagonist with bipolar disorder, up for eight awards at tonight's Academy Awards, attention is currently being focused on the challenges faced by those affected by mental health conditions.”

Art therapy is a form of treatment that allows for expression beyond words. It gives you a chance to look at your problems in a different way and learn more about yourself. Today I thought I'd share three different exercises you can do at home. I've included examples of my own work.”

“First sessions with therapists can be kind of like first dates or job interviews. You want to find someone who is a good fit for you, so you ask a lot of questions. Figuring out what to ask, however, might not be the easiest thing to do while you’re in the moment. Pick whichever of the following questions are the most important to you and bring a list to your fist session. It’s better to know sooner rather than later if your therapist is the right person for you to be working with.”

“Journaling can be a great way of expressing what is going on inside of you. Writing forces you to slow down your thinking and be more mindful of your words, leading you to reach a deeper understanding of what you are going through. This can help you gain insights that let you progress on your journey towards healing.”

What have your favorite posts been? If you tell me in the comments, I can write more like them.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A case for family treatment

We cannot escape family. Their presence or absence will always impact us on some level because family is interconnected in a way that nothing else is. It’s foundational to who we are. A family can be composed in many ways – with blood being only one possible tie – and we will all have different “families” throughout our lifetimes. Sometimes we may be more alone than others, but we all started in a family and that is paramount to the people we become.

There’s an analogy that compares a family to a mobile or a wind chime. There are independent units, but you can’t move one without moving the others. Everything we do impacts our families – and everything they do impacts us. For instance, if a child graduates high school and moves out to go to college, the family has to readjust to the environment without that person. This can mean practical changes, such as redistributing chores, or emotional ones, like when the sibling closest to the one who moved feels left out and has to form new bonds with the remaining family.

There’s a concept in psychology called the “identified patient” (IP). The IP is the family member who has a “problem.” This could be an alcoholic parent, a child failing out of school or someone struggling with physical or mental illness. Everyone else in the family can convince themselves that they are okay because they are not the IP. In this way, all the problems of the entire family get shifted on to one person. 

This isn’t done with bad intentions. Often, the family has benevolent or fond feelings for the IP. A wife will make excuses for her partner’s absences due to a drug problem in order to save face or get him off the hook. A parent gives a child lots of attention because she’s acting out at school. A teenager is happy to have an ill brother because he distracts the parents so she can rebel. This isn’t the family being mean. It’s the family adjusting.

These adjustments that are made for the IP do, however, have consequences. The wife is saving the husband from the repercussions of his drug problem, enabling him to continue to use. The siblings of the “problem child” feel like their parents don’t care about them. The sister gets in trouble because the parents were busy caring for the sick brother. Trying to cover up the problem is just creating more problems, but because they aren’t the IP, the other family members eschew their own troubles in favor of those of the IP.

Remember that mobile? One person “moves” by having a problem and everyone else shifts their problems somewhere else. 

This brings up the question of where the real problem lies. Is the identified patient of concern, or is it the family as a whole? What starts out as an obstacle for one family member can set off a chain reaction wherein everyone becomes involved.

So what happens when the IP gets better? First of all, the family often stands in the way of the IP improving. If her problems are resolved, then theirs become real again. While the family wants what’s best for the IP, they also want to retain the balance they have established. They might even fear becoming the next IP because the family doesn’t know how to function without one. 

This is why family treatment is so important. It allows all the cards to be put on the table, making it easier to notice connections between family members and their various problems. Sometimes, having a mental health professional take a look at your family unit as a whole can help all of the family better understand what is going on and how to make the family healthier. Everyone’s problems get a chance to be addressed, not just the IP. A good therapist will know not to blame the IP for everything.

Family treatment can cause upset, though. It’s a time of change as new habits and coping skills need to be put in place. It will bring out all sorts of things that no one knew were there and things might even feel worse for a while. But having the family unit heal both individually and as a whole is worth it. There is no price for having stronger, healthier bonds and better problem management. 

When each family member learns to see what he contributes to the problem, he can learn valuable information about how he relates to others, which will be useful in any type of relationship. As she examines her real issues and how she displaces them, she can learn to take more responsibility and thereby have more control over her life. None of us exist in isolation and none of us can heal that way.
                                                                                                                   Individual and common concerns are intricately

Even if all the family members aren’t struggling, consider getting treatment together anyway. If nothing else, the love and support shown by joining the treatment is irreplaceable. There is work that simply cannot be done in individual therapy. Besides, by learning healthier patterns, you can improve the lives of the generations to come by having and teaching the skills necessary to have a healthy and happy family.

Have you had any experiences with family treatment? Post your experience in the comments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

5 dating tips for those with a mental illness

David Castillo Dominici/
Last week, we talked about dating someone with a mental illness. Today, we’re taking a look from the other side. Dating can be overwhelming and confusing, and having a mental illness just adds to that. But it is possible to have a successful, happy and healthy relationship even if you are struggling with your mental health. It took me quite a while, but finding that balance is possible. Here are my suggestions to speed up your process.

1. Don’t expect her to read your mind.
This is a good tip in general, but especially important when mental illness is involved. Other people don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling if you don’t tell them. For instance, you can’t expect someone to cheer you up if he doesn’t even know you’re feeling depressed. Assert your needs. Be as open about what you’re experiencing as you are comfortable with (and as is appropriate at your stage of the relationship). This will help your partner get a better picture of what you’re dealing with, which makes it easier for both of you.

2. Take responsibility.
Mental illness pushes us to do things we would not otherwise do. There are times when we legitimately can’t help it, but you can’t blame everything on your illness. It is not a crutch and it is not an excuse. You have choices, no matter how much you feel the odds are stacked against you. When you really, truly tried your best and your illness got in the way, say that and explain what happened. But you still need to own up to your faults because you are not possessed. You made a decision. You are still you and we all
                                                                             make mistakes sometimes.

3. Respect his needs.
It can be easy to get caught up in our own needs when we are struggling with our mental health. It feels like too much is going on and a lot of energy goes to managing our symptoms. But your partner has needs, too. Respect that she can’t always answer your call at three in the morning. Be okay with him taking the night off to see his buddies. See how you can be helpful as well. Even if you can’t do everything you’d like to, you can make an effort to show that you respect and value her.

4. Work on your recovery.
Your biggest gift to your partner is yourself. That is one motivation to work on improving. You want to be fully present and available, which can be hard when you are struggling with yourself. Dating someone with a mental illness can be stressful, so the improvements you make help it be more manageable for your partner. A healthy you is more able to meet his needs as well. Just be careful that your partner doesn’t become your only motivation.

5. Love yourself.
Have you ever heard someone complain about herself and thought, “I don’t see that at all”? No matter how unlovable you think you are, there are reasons others like and care about you. Pushing away this love to wallow in self-pity not only is unhealthy for you, but can be hurtful to your partner. Self-image is a huge part of mental health. Focus on what you do appreciate about yourself. You should be doing something to show that you care for yourself every single day. Besides, the more you healthily love yourself, the more you can healthily love others.

What has your experience been with dating while struggling with a mental illness? Talk about it in the comments.

Friday, February 6, 2015

5 tips for dating someone with a mental illness

It’s February, so romance is on everyone’s minds. Love is such an important emotion. It can change lives in a way that nothing else can. We all need love, and that includes those of us with mental health issues. Here are some suggestions to help you if you are dating someone with a mental illness.

1. Ask appropriate questions.
You need to be reasonably respectful of your partner’s privacy, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Preface them with, “You don’t have to answer this, but I’d like to know…” so that he doesn’t feel like he is being pressured. Focus on what pertains to you. “What do you want me to know about your condition and how it makes you feel?” “How can I be helpful?” “What are signs that your symptoms are worsening and what do you need when that happens?” It matters a lot when someone takes the time to find out how she can be supportive.

2. Give him space – or don’t.
At a time when your partner is doing reasonably well, talk about how much space she needs and when she needs it. Also talk about when he should not be alone. For instance, someone with PTSD might not want to be touched while experiencing flashbacks. Discuss those boundaries. Alternately, depressed people tend to shy away from others, but it isn’t always healthy. Asking in advance, is it okay to take initiative when these times come? If serious suicidal thoughts are an issue, make sure that your partner has someone to be around at all times. Support and space are equally important and it’s helpful to know when each is needed.

3. Focus on her strengths.
Mental illness can make you feel vulnerable, inferior – even useless. Some people feel like they aren’t contributing enough to the relationship or that they are being a burden. This is why it’s very important to make note of when he does something positive. Notice specific actions and comment on them. Things as simple as “Thank you for making me dinner,” “You look nice today,” and “I appreciate that you spent time with me today,” can boost self-confidence and foster positive emotions. A lot of people with mental illness need reassurance, so knowing they did something right can bring peace of mind.

4. Be accommodating and flexible.
Part of the challenge of mental illness is that it’s unpredictable. Sometimes there’s a reason that symptoms flare up, such as stress or failure, but other times random little things can set off an episode. Work with what you have at any given time. If you had a dinner and movie date planned, but your partner is too anxious to leave the house, order takeout and watch something on Netflix. If physical intimacy is difficult, go slowly and let him take the lead. If she has a hard time being around strangers, don’t drag her to big social events. 

5. Set your own boundaries.
Having a partner with a mental illness can be stressful. At times, you might find yourself in a caretaker role and it can be draining. This is why it’s important that you set boundaries. For instance, make sure you have enough time to take care of yourself. You might need to state that when he starts yelling at you, you will leave until he has calmed down. It might be helpful to make clear that there are some things she can’t blame on her illness (and what they are). It’s important to be understanding, but if you are struggling, you need to have the space to take a break and gather your strength. You can’t be as helpful if you aren’t doing well yourself.

Mental illness is hard on both partners, but it isn’t an impossible barrier to a happy relationship. While your partner might have some challenges, he also has gifts to offer. Living with a mental illness can make you empathetic, brave, considerate, grateful, persistent, thoughtful, strong and any other number of positive qualities. It encourages deep feelings and that includes love. In the end, both of you are just people. You have frustrating qualities as well. But love is beautiful in that it can make everything else disappear, if only for a moment at a time. Love is worth whatever it takes.

Check back on Tuesday to hear about dating from the other side.

What have you found helpful in dating someone with a mental illness? Tell us in the comments.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Daily affirmations

Stuart Miles/
I’ve come up with a little routine lately. It’s simple, but more powerful than I imagined it would be: I say affirmations out loud every single day.

Pick something you do every day that requires minimal thinking. For me, it’s washing myself in the shower (so it’s accompanied by wonderful aromas from my shower gels). It could be doing the dishes, putting on make up, shaving, getting dressed, whatever. Just choose a time where you have a few minutes and make sure it’s something that you do daily.

The way I’ve been doing it is picking a theme each day. Today it was communication for me. In the time I set aside, I say as many affirmations as I can on that topic. I’ve been challenging myself by choosing affirmations that push my belief in myself. This has helped me grow. As an example, here are some of mine from today:

“I have a voice that deserves to be heard.”
“I can speak freely.”
“I show love in the things that I say.”
“I am powerful when I speak my truth.” 

See how they go along with the theme? Sticking to one topic each day allows me to explore what I am talking about in depth. You might want to do something kind for yourself afterwards. I make myself a nice cup of tea and journal. Do whatever works for you.

It sounds like a small thing, but it makes a big difference. It’s made me more comfortable with myself and more willing to do things that are difficult. You believe what you are repeatedly exposed to, so rehash themes as needed. I have a general cycle with a broader theme for each day of the week and then pick a subsection of that day’s message. 

For more information on affirmations, read this. There is also a list here of some affirmations you can try out until you develop your own.

Do you use affirmations? What has changed in your life as a result of them? Share your thoughts in the comments.