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Friend Relationships

Juliana Sabatello
When we aren't at our best emotionally, it can help on a nervous system level to just have someone be with us to co-regulate our emotions. I was definitely one of those children who needed a hug when I was upset. I have always responded strongly to the negative and positive emotions of others. I also respond very well to a calm person comforting me when I am anxious or stressed. I work mostly with children, so I am used to hearing the term "co-regulation" as it relates to parents and caregivers helping children calm down when they are upset, but it can be just as powerful for adults in relationships.
Juliana Sabatello
Fulfilling social connections can provide a feeling of belonging and a support system that benefits our mental health, but mental illnesses often cause us to isolate ourselves from others, making the mental illness worse by depriving us of the basic human need for connection. I talked about my experiences with social anxiety in a previous article, "How I Overcame Social Anxiety by Acting As If," and I want to talk a little more today about how, although mental illness and isolation go together, connection is a path toward mental health.
Juliana Sabatello
Many people are much more open to the idea of mental health counseling nowadays, but I still encounter people who don't understand the point of paying someone to listen to them when they have friends who will do that for free. They might make jokes about their friends giving them "free therapy" or call therapy a pointless waste of money. Not only is that opinion based on misinformation, but using a friend as you would a therapist can put an unfair burden on the relationship.
Juliana Sabatello
Despite all of the progress we have made in society toward mental health awareness and understanding, mental illness is still a taboo topic in many circles, and many people continue to struggle alone. The stigma surrounding mental illness adds an extra layer of shame to an already difficult problem, and that shame can lead us away from relationships, deep connections with others, and fulfilling social lives with people who might truly understand, accept, and value us if we gave them the chance.
Juliana Sabatello
Let's talk about this scenario: You meet someone new, you're hitting it off, and you think you want to get to know this person better. Your mental illness is a big part of your life, and if they are going to be a part of your life, you know you want them to know about it eventually, but you don't know when or how to bring it up.
Juliana Sabatello
Boundaries can be difficult for anyone in relationships, but emotional boundaries can be especially challenging for those of us who struggle with our mental health. I identify myself as a highly sensitive person (HSP), a term coined by Elaine Aron to describe people with sensory processing sensitivity. Sensory processing sensitivity involves processing sensory information more deeply and feeling emotions more strongly than the average person. Sensitivity applies to all experiences: Sound, sight, touch, smell, taste, internal sensations like hunger or pain, and both our own emotions and the emotions of others.
Juliana Sabatello
People who know me describe me as friendly, and it's funny for me to hear because I wasn't always -- I had social anxiety. Connecting with others is at the core of who I am as a person, but social anxiety held me back from belonging for the first two decades of my life.
Juliana Sabatello
Love is a powerful force, but when it comes to loving someone with mental illness, we have to think about how to love through a different lens. We all likely have seen this type of story before where someone with mental illness or trauma falls in love, finds happiness, and suddenly all pain and hardship disappears for good. These stories put the emphasis on the partner as some type of savior, valiantly rescuing a "broken" person through the power of love. These savior stories create unrealistic expectations of what it's like to love people with mental illnesses as if the right person can rescue them from their darkness and pull them back into the light.
Juliana Sabatello
Unsolicited mental health advice can contribute to the judgment and stigma we face as people with mental illnesses, even when it comes from a place of good intentions. Opinions about what we should or shouldn't do for our mental health can come off as judgmental, especially when those opinions minimize the time, effort, and research we have put into our choices.
Juliana Sabatello
Anxiously overthinking a social interaction is a common event. We all have likely experienced a time when we couldn't stop ruminating over a conversation we had, thinking about everything we said or what we could have said differently. For those of us with anxiety disorders, this anxious overthinking can spiral out of control, affect our social lives, and even make our anxiety worse. I personally have a problem with overthinking. I often ruminate on these questions: Is that person mad at me? Did I say something wrong? Did I talk too much? Should I have said something different? Maybe these thoughts as familiar to you as they are to me.