All across the internet you will find articles and advice on dealing with the damaged in a loving and kind manner. That is well and good in many cases. However, there are many people that have no interest in understanding themselves, their mental illness, or how it affects those around them. These people think that because they have problems that everyone else should cater to their issues and treat them with kid gloves. The person may also feel that they don’t need to change. Whatever the reason- understand that these people can and will pull you under the surface with them if you let them. They may not mean to, but they can.
So how do we deal with these types of people? In my opinion, the answer is quite simple. You establish rules, boundaries, and then enforce them like you would a child. The reason is the way mood disorders work. I often speak of my brain in an adversarial nature. “I didn’t want to do this but my brain decided it was a good idea.” That’s because my unwell brain is nothing like my well brain. My unwell brain may scream at me to take a swing at someone who won’t shut up; but I would never do that if I was in a well state of mind.
Rules and boundaries act as solid anchors to reality. The person CANNOT go this route without repercussions. It’s been clearly stated, they know what will happen otherwise, and these types of anchors can actually pierce through the turmoil by forcing an unwell person to stop and think about their actions. The more the person is forced to think about their actions; the better chance they have to realize what they are doing is a result of their illness.
The most common response I get to this line of thinking is “I can’t be harsh to my friend/loved one”. I would counter that by pointing out the person running wild in their instability is not your friend or loved one. It is a warped version of that person who is sick. Your loved one is in there somewhere; but for whatever reason they are presently losing their battle (not the war) with their mental illness. If anything, it should be viewed as taking drastic steps to try and find that person and haul them back to the surface.
I’m going to give some examples of what I’m talking about. It would be impossible for me to include a comprehensive listing; but if you have a specific situation you would like some input on, email me. Contact info will be at the bottom of the post.
*I have a friend who calls me incessantly to the point that it fills my voice mail and even cost my a job interview.
ex. “All friendships and relationships have boundaries and you are overstepping ours. Your actions cost me at least one interview and who knows what else because people couldn’t leave me a message. Do not call me more than once a day. If you do, I will call the phone company and have your number blocked.”
*I have an adult relative who lives with me. He does nothing but idle, won’t take his medication, won’t go to the doctors, and won’t get a job.
ex. “I am willing to help you if you are willing to help yourself. This isn’t a hotel and you’ll never get well unless you actually do something about it. So you can start making an effort to take your meds, visit your doctor, and (if capable) get at least a part-time job; or you’re going to have to find another place to live.”
*I have a loved one who is verbally and/or physically abusive while they are unwell.
ex. “Mental illness is no excuse for being abusive and will not be tolerated. If you persist on being verbally abusive, I will remove myself from the situation. If you persist, I will remove you from my life and get a restraining order if I have to. If I feel like I’m in danger, you hurt me, or you threat to kill yourself or me; I will notify authorities.”
As you can see, each one is very clear and concise in approach. It puts the choice in the hands of the mentally ill person. That way when they come around to blame you (and they will), you can point back at it and say “I gave you a choice and you made it. This was your decision.” The goal is to try and break through the mental illness to the rational part of their brain. A mood disorder unwell thought process is very similar to a tsunami. The further it is allowed to go, the bigger and harder to stop it becomes. There has to be something solid in the way to break up that wave (or thought process). By introducing such harsh measures with clear repercussions, we are hopefully putting sturdy walls in the path of the wave.
Reintegrating such a person into your life should be handled the same way. “I’ll let you move back in, but you must maintain your medication and go to your doctor. If you do not- then you’ll have to find another place to live. Entirely your choice.”
To all the friends, parents, supporters, and loved ones of those with mental illnesses like Depression and Bipolar Disorder- I know that many of you want to understand and help your loved one. The fact of the matter is, the only person that can truly help your loved is them. They are the one that needs to go to the doctor, take their meds, monitor their moods, and most importantly- realize there is a problem in the first place. The greatest way to help these people is to force them to realize that their way of conducting life, their way of thinking is damaging. The sooner, the better- which is why I advocate strong measures even early in the process. It could be the difference between lost months and lost decades.
Yes, it’s probably going to be difficult for you to establish limits and stick to them. Even if they storm away and you end up separating from that person for awhile; you are actually still helping them. At some point their brain is going to hit rational thought processes again and think about those circumstances. It may very well contribute to their moment of clarity even if you haven’t heard from them in months.
Unfortunately, there are people that can’t or won’t help themselves either. These people will draw you to the bottom like an anchor. They will drain you of all of your emotional energy and bring the chaos of their lives into yours. It’s one thing to be there for someone who is trying to get themselves together; it’s another to be constantly victimized or treated badly by someone who is just fine with it. Look at the entire picture of the situation. Is this person trying to help themselves? If the answer is no- put distance between you if the person is damaging.
Many people with mood disorders and mental illnesses can reach a point of management and live a mostly normal life. Unfortunately, getting the person to realize that and fight for it is often an extremely difficult road. It can take years of suffering and loss before that person realizes they have to be the one to take control.
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