Many people in my audience are here because they are attempting to better understand mental illness, help a mentally ill loved one, or better help themselves. The ups and downs associated with the process are emotionally taxing and difficult to handle. So today, I want to share an important tip that can significantly ease a lot of the stress and emotional turmoil that goes along with not only this process, but several other aspects of life.
That is: work to reduce the amount of emotion you invest in the process or outcome.
What the hell does that mean?
In trying to help a mentally unwell person, their instability can be a great deal of stress and anxiety. It’s only natural to start letting hope peek in when they appear to be balancing off. Maybe this time they will finally be ready to seek help? Maybe this time they’ll listen to reason and their doctor? Maybe this time they will take their medication as directed?
In a situation like this, it’s also possible that they don’t make the right decisions, aren’t ready to commit to their wellness path, or have a bad reaction to the medication they do take. Investing hope into that situation is fruitless because the pursuit of wellness and stability is not a straight line. It has it’s ups and downs. It’s a long road to travel and there are many obstacles that can knock a person off their course. And most people, I find, have to learn things the hard way. You don’t want to find yourself getting angry, frustrated, sad, or depressed because things didn’t resolve how you thought they would.
That is not to say that you should never be emotional. You’re human. You’re going to be. You should celebrate successes and acknowledge failures; just don’t celebrate or mourn until you have an actual, tangible reason to.
Work to maintain neutrality and it will make things much easier in the long-term. The ability to last long-term is important because the realization that one needs help and the pursuit of wellness often takes years. You can’t compromise your own mental and emotional health in the process of trying to help someone else.
And really, it applies to most other areas of life as well. It dramatically reduces the emotional impact of the process of pursuing your goals.
Far too many people look at things like failure and rejection as an end all, be all. They’re not. They’re just part of the process of succeeding. That’s why you can’t let your emotions dictate a setback, failure, or rejection as a devastating end.
Let me frame it in one of the most common examples that people write to me about.
The mind of a Bipolar spouse runs screaming into an unwell cycle. The cycle is burning hard for months with all of the “fun” that goes along with it. Eventually, the cycle ends and the Bipolar spouse reaches back out because their perspective is finally starting to clear up. So, what is the Supporter spouse now feeling? Hope since it appears the person they loved is back and clear again? Anticipation that the situation is changing for the better? Relief? Happiness? Comfort? It can be any number of things.
What happens to the emotional state of the Supporter spouse if a few days later, Bipolar Disorder takes off into another drastic swing and all of those relief-based emotions are yanked out from under them? What happens if the Bipolar person realizes they need help, but can’t get in to see their doctor before another cycle takes hold and convinces them that they are fine? That it’s everyone else that’s fucking crazy!!! Not me!!! And then you find yourself back to square one after months of suffering with little to show for it.
You must work to maintain your wellness, balance, and stability while trying to love and help a mentally unwell person or their instability will destroy your emotional health. It is very common for Supporters to develop their own mental illnesses as they try to cope.
I use a very simple process myself.
1. Identify what the long-term goal is.
2. Temper emotions by keeping your eye on the long-term goal.
3. Force yourself to not dwell on the immediate successes and failures.
4. Repeat until you reach the long-term goal.
Seems simple, right? It’s not. At all. It takes time and practice to get used to; and you’re not going to get it right all of the time. I mean, you don’t need to look too deeply into my work to find anger or frustration. I definitely have it and experience it still. But, it’s a lot less intrusive than it used to be. Even a small gain in control over these emotions can make the overall journey much easier.