Building Bridges: Reflections on Loving Someone with Mental Health Concerns

loving someone with mental illness

With the car still running, he tilted his head to the side and glanced over to make sure he could look me in the eyes. “Before this goes any further…” I hadn’t considered a him and a me in any other capacity before that conversation, but as I took in his words, I realized that at that point in our budding relationship (because that’s what it was) I’d be fine if he decided to stop “seeing” me if my response wasn’t what he wanted to hear. That would be a first for me. Even if I didn’t like a person, the “people pleaser” in me would not want them to leave…or at least I wouldn’t want them to leave with unsavory thoughts about me and my ‘no thanks’. I carefully thought about what he revealed. Not because it sounded appealing, but because it was the first time I was presented with such a notion. I measured it against the values I’d finally decided to honor and concluded we could not go beyond being just friends. His view of committed relationships were a deal breaker for me as my view of family was a deal breaker for him. Our relationship continued the way it started (at least for me): no expectations, and even though I didn’t want it, still full of hope for genuine connection, acceptance, and honesty even if we didn’t agree or like what was being said. Much the same as any authentic friendship I already had. As the friendship blossomed, I began to learn things about love that I’ve never been present enough to grasp before. I began to understand more about loving someone with mental illness.

When another close friend of mine told me she was diagnosed with bipolar, I being the bookworm that I am, went into research mode. There are books out there about how to love someone with mental health conditions. As much as I fully believe that love is something to be studied, it is in practice that we fully grasp its meaning. As I considered my past, my discovery that I myself was that someone with mental health conditions began to shift how I viewed caring, compassion, and conscientiousness. I became more aware of my default “I” vs “them” I became more aware of the fact that socialization plays a huge role in the “othering” of people. Because of that I wanted to overcome social conditioning and do more “we” and “us” kind of thinking, even if it went against the grain. When I feel a bit more in touch with the “we” and “us” mindset, I think loving all boils down to the same elements whether one has a mental health condition or not. It’s simply that you love someone in a way that speaks to them, not in the way you’ve concocted in your head based off of how you want to be loved. Too often we mentally construct a fantasy version of someone molded from a shortsighted perception of the impression they left with us. Then we cling to the idea of what we should be to that person and how that person should be to us. I’ve been terribly guilty of doing that myself.

Here’s one of the hard lessons I’ve learned so far. The reason something so simple falls apart is because we don’t know how we want to be loved due to not loving ourselves first. How can you accept being loved if you can’t accept and love yourself? People love you based on what they, themselves, learned about love and care and can’t speak your love language and love you the way you want if you don’t show up for the love being given. I didn’t love myself. In fact, I didn’t even know, like, or trust myself. I was never going to be able to accept someone loving a person I couldn’t stand to be around. It only made me feel more inferior and inadequate because I saw more of what was wrong with me, and why I couldn’t measure up. This was the biggest reason my marriage failed many moons ago. And it would be the reason why any relationship I attempted would fail afterwards.

I didn’t think I was capable of love.

A shell of a person, I’ve been that girl before. I didn’t feel worthy of being loved, and I didn’t feel loving. I understood caring enough because I didn’t want “bad” things to happen to anyone, but I thought that was all I could do. I understood possessiveness, I have both been accepting of being a possession and wanting to possess. I understood abandonment and clinging due to fear of abandonment. I understood isolation and avoidance, and even abuse. It would often be accompanied with the words “I love you” but I knew even then that this was not love. My actions, however, didn’t want to cooperate with my knowledge. Even though I’d been hurt (was the “victim”) so many times before, it wasn’t until I became the “villain” that I was finally ready to acknowledge just how empty and dead I was on the inside. You see it’s easy to play victim, you don’t have to change because everyone else is to blame for your life. You can keep on being miserable, complaining about your circumstances, and how they make you feel so low…you don’t have to worry about growth because there’s nothing wrong with you. They are to blame not you. You’re just trying to help.

Love isn’t manipulation so that the outcome is always in your favor even if at the expense of you.

People say that love hurts. I think that love is simply hard work. It’s hard work not to get attached to someone and get wrapped up in fantasies of what you think your life should be with them by your side. It’s hard work to hear someone say ‘no’ and not take it as a personal assault on your character and self-worth. It’s hard work to believe someone the first time when they tell you and show you just who they are- that they are simply not that into you. Understand that their rejection has nothing to do with you. It’s hard work to walk away from someone who says they love you but are not loving when they can’t honor the commitment of your togetherness by respecting your body, mind and soul. It’s hard work to stay with someone who accepts you when you see yourself as worthless and not contributing due to lack of finances, mental unhealthiness, not being socially acceptable enough, beautiful enough, smart enough or strong enough, feminine or masculine enough. It’s hard work. It’s hard work to have loved and lost due to illness, or a life well lived, to cherish memories and not sink to a place of “I can’t go on without you.” It’s hard work to learn to love again.

I wondered if I could love “him” if given that opportunity again. I wondered if I could love them, the men I called brothers, the men I called friends. One day not too long after our car conversation, I glanced over at his smiling face. I saw him. This man who dealt with meds, and days of despair, and pain, and loss, and shame, and feelings of unworthiness. Who shut me out, perhaps thinking to protect himself, maybe even to protect me. When we 1st met I’d become love avoidant, careful not to make the same mistake of being so desperate to escape myself that I allowed someone undeserving access to my body without my heart and soul. I figured that if I only had mere friendships and casual acquaintances I could easily let them go and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. With him, with the love I’ve received from those I’ve called friends. I throw down the gauntlet. The glass casing surrounding my heart shatters into a thousand pieces. Yeah, the scars are there, but I’m still here, unbroken. Shedding shame, reclaiming my freedom.

Hope is an interesting thing. For as my heart swells with hope, I hope for true belonging, I hope I can accept as is, I hope for the experience of happiness even though it’s fleeting, I hope for the strength to endure the times we don’t agree and that even if angry we can still come back and get along, I hope for the best in you, I hope that we see the best in each other and think “how wonderful” “wow you’re pretty awesome even if you’re a dork” I hope that my worst doesn’t scare you and even if it does that your hope for the best still lingers and you decide to be forgiving and compassionate. I hope that we both have the courage to have boundaries and honor them. I hope that we can encourage each other without trying to control each other. I hope that we can be kind and understanding, that we can tell each other that we believe in the other and that we hope the other believes in themselves too. I hope that I will honor what I’ve learned about filling my own cup 1st by being responsible for my own emotional well-being so that I don’t unrealistically demand that of you. I hope I remember what I’ve learned about impermanence, and nonattachment, and still show up to love fully and from a place of wholeness with openness and trust.

I’ve come to realize that I had friends who gave those kind of gifts to me, and I wish I treasured them more back then. I can honor the friendships and relationships I once had now by how I treat myself and others. I’m thankful for reflective friends who remind me of that powerful lesson in life today.

I’ve come to realize that love has the capacity to grow in places you forget exists.

If love is truly energy and energy cannot be destroyed, then love has no limitations. It is only our limited ideals of what love looks like to us that confines it. I’ve wanted to run from love and loving, and even being loved because I thought that would mean a sense of control, security, and protection. I wanted to believe that love didn’t call out to someone like me, someone who took relationships for granted, someone who stayed in relationships long past their expiration date, someone who didn’t know how to even be a friend. To be presented with people, beautiful souls who fear the things I’ve feared, and hurt the way I’ve hurt, who hope despite it all the way I still hoped despite it all is no coincidence. As they learn from me, I learn from them. We all learn from one another.

And with this I am learning that I can learn to love again, and again, and again and again. And I think…no, I know that we’re all going to be okay.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Kelly Master

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 4 – Featuring: Kelly Master, Nonprofit Founder and Speaker

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/9Hf1DGxs7Ik

About
Kelly Master is Founder and Director of “For Dignity” a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen our communities against sexual exploitation and empower victims and survivors with hope and dignity.

She is a dynamic, tenacious Leader who is fiercely committed to advocating for the sexually exploited and to educate others.

She wrote her first published book SHINE, Uplifting Words for Girls in Stilettos as a sacrifice of love, and gave thousands of copies away for free to women working in strip clubs, adult book stores, or prostituting on the streets. She also sent copies to women in prisons across the country which ignited speaking invitations from Chaplains and Wardens in many places.

The City of Camden, NJ, S.Jersey Psychological Association, and A Woman’s Business have separately honored and commemorated her passion and dedication to help victims and survivors.

She is passionate, sought out the speaker who has a beautiful gift of translating life’s trials into opportunities. Kelly is a champion of hope and ignites crowds everywhere she speaks.

To book Kelly for your conference or speaking event, please email info@fordignity1.org.

How You Can Help

Donate to For Dignity at: https://www.fordignity1.org/donate/

Receive updates to get more involved: email your contact information to info@fordignity1.org

Resources mentioned

Polaris Project

National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888

Kelly talked about her presentations during our interview. Check her out in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B48hlobKdQ

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Emily Wu Truong

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 3 – Featuring: Emily Wu Truong, Motivational Speaker and Mental Health Advocate

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/-yfTJoGvX8M

About

Emily Wu Truong is an award-winning motivational speaker in Los Angeles, who works tirelessly to address the misconceptions of individuals who struggle with mental illness. As a suicide-attempt survivor diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she transformed her adversities into wisdom, inspiring others to face their fears and find value in their own life struggles. As a mental advocate, she uses her voice to advocate for children in communities of color whose voices are often under-represented. She also collaborates with other organizations to create safe spaces to encourage informative discussions on equipping community advocates with the resources they need to improve the quality of life in their communities. In recognition of Emily’s efforts, Senator Ed Hernandez honored Emily with the 2015 Woman of Achievement Award, and the following year, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano invited her to be a guest speaker before an audience of leaders in school administration and mental health care. Most recently, Emily spearheaded the establishment of May 10th being recognized as “Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day” in Los Angeles County. In honor of this day, Supervisors Hilda Solis & Janice Hahn recognized Emily for her grassroots efforts in highlighting the struggles & resilience of the Asian Pacific American communities. Emily has become a role model for many, delivering her message that with help, there IS hope, and that helplessness is NOT hopelessness.

Connect with her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MLEWu

How You Can Help

Support Each Mind Matters http://bit.ly/1JCYkC2

Contact Emily regarding a speaking engagement at emily.wu.truong@gmail.com.

Resources mentioned

NAMI https://www.nami.org/

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Vernetta R. Freeney

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 2 – Featuring: Vernetta R. Freeney, Podcaster, Instructor, and Organizer

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cotZK6rjZbM

About

Vernetta R. Freeney is the Creator/Producer of the podcast, ‘A Toast To Truths.’ She teaches stressed individuals how to claim their peace using journaling as a tool. She was one of the Top 100 Young Professionals in Houston 2015 and featured on cnbc.com and EOFire podcast.

When she’s not teaching you how to prevent stress, she’s reading a really good book, binge watching Netflix or cheering on her beloved Dallas Mavericks. Vernetta is a regular guest on blogs, podcasts and other media. She speaks at conferences, workshops, trainings and more across the country with her je ne sais quoi introverted speaking style.

If all this isn’t enough, Vernetta is an ESL Instructor for 10 years and founding Organizer of the Houston African American Bloggers Association.

How You Can Help

Support the Houston African-American Bloggers Association by working with the association’s influencers to leverage your brand message. http://houstonafricanamericanbloggers.com/

Resources mentioned

The Truth Confidant™ Journal 

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Sarah Fader

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 1 – Featuring: Sarah Fader, Mental Health Columnist, Speaker, and Viral Hashtag Creator

Here’s the direct link to the audio recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/MqNKYB1wVXw

About

stigma fighters sarah faderSarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

Connect with her on Twitter or on her personal website at http://www.sarahfader.com/

How You Can Help

Support Stigma Fighters at stigmafighters.com where they publish essays from people living with mental illness.

Resources mentioned

DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders )

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike 

NAMI 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.