Depression damaged my relationship with my doctor because I learned I couldn't trust her. Just last year, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune illness called Behcet's disease, but I've had it my whole life. Prior to diagnosis, my doctors treated my symptoms with heavy-duty steroids. It worked. The treatment wiped me clean of mouth ulcers, abdominal pain, migraines, knee swelling, and internal bleeding. It was like magic.
Relationships and Mental Illness
Sexual abuse impacts my life, even today. Around the age of three or four, I had my first experience with sexual abuse. My cousin would lead me into an empty room and initiate "truth or dare" games. He would dare me to undress, then it would start. He was a teenager at the time. Once our parents found out what was going on, they put an end to it, but the experience of sexual abuse impacts me and the decisions I make.
It was not until I experienced a loss that I felt like I truly knew how to support a grieving friend through the grief process. Grief is inevitable and life is riddled with loss, whether it be in the form of death or a devastating breakup. Therefore, there is going to be a point in your life where you are going to be the shoulder to lean on. There are appropriate ways to help someone who is going through a hard time and there are inappropriate ways (such as not being there for someone at all). Here are some helpful hints for supporting a grieving friend.
The therapeutic alliance between you and your therapist is an important one whether you discuss mental illness or physical illness. I started therapy to better manage the mental symptoms of chronic illness, an autoimmune disease called Behcet's. After all, there's plenty for me to work through. Because I develop abdominal pain when I eat, I have developed a complicated, even disordered relationship with food. I have anxiety when I leave my apartment, fearful that I'll have a flare and will be trapped in a less than ideal setting. When I take steroids, there comes an unfortunate depression side effect. The list goes on.
If you want to get on my bad side (for a few weeks, at least), appropriating my mental health is the swiftest and surest way to land yourself there. When I use the word "appropriate" I mean the seizing and claiming of something for oneself, in this context, a mental disorder.
I was a victim of intrafamily sexual childhood abuse. I was three years old when my teenage cousin began sexually abusing me. It would start with a game of truth or dare, during which he would make me expose myself, touch him, and allow him to touch me. It continued for two years. Finally, our parents discovered one of these "games," and put an end to it. But we continued to attend the same holiday parties and family gatherings. I dreaded our meetings my whole childhood. These are the ways it impacted my relationship with my family and the things I wish my family had done differently.
Years ago, I was the queen of passivity, but the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) FAST skill helped me overcome it. It used to be that I avoided conflict and difficult conversations at all costs and refused to put my needs and desires first. I would come up with scripts in my head of what to say; however, as soon as an intense conversation would begin, I felt my self-respect fade away ("Show Yourself Respect: How to Communicate with Confidence"). I wished that I could trade in my copious amounts of passivity for self-respect, but something always got in the way. Fortunately, in the past year, I have learned how to maintain self-respect during a conflict by following a few simple steps set out by the DBT FAST skill.
I wish I knew better when my friend was suicidal. I was 12 years old. My brown curls were cut into sharp bangs that crossed my forehead, identical to the bangs of my best friend who sat facing me. She didn't look any different from the last time I saw her, still pale, still skinny. She wore a sweatshirt. And under the sleeves of that sweatshirt, I knew there were scars up and down the length of her arms. Three weeks prior, my friend was suicidal and she made her most recent suicide attempt. It was not her first nor her last. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Being in a relationship with a partner who is experiencing suicidal ideations can be emotionally taxing and daunting. There is this complicated pattern in my dating life in that the partners I loved most threatened suicide at least once. I am still trying to figure out exactly why I am drawn to individuals who experience such turmoil. Perhaps it is because I had ideations when I was in high school, and I feel like these partners understand me. Maybe I cannot compartmentalize the social worker in me when it comes to dating, and I want to try and "save" everyone I meet. Regardless, here are the things I wish I had known when I dated someone who threatened suicide. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
There are difficulties with mental health therapy that you should know about when being treated for a chronic illness. I thought mental health therapy was going to be easy -- but it isn't. I experienced three difficulties with mental health therapy that I'd like to share.