Alright, so I have shared some about myself and my mental illness. Now that I have given you some insight to mental illness, let me now offer a few suggestions when working with, living with or supporting someone with mental illness. Know that this is just my opinion. It is what I have found works for me (on both sides of it). And this is in context of adults.
Accept no excuses.
Yes, I have a mental illness. That doesn’t give me permission to be an asshole. Just like every other human on this planet: I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MYSELF. That’s right. It’s not your past, your trauma history, your parents or anything else. YOU make your own choices.
There is nothing right or wrong with the way that you are feeling. It’s alright if it makes no sense or even if you don’t know what it is you’re feeling. It is what you choose to do with those feelings that matter. You always have choices. So, you feel angry? Fine. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t give you the right to hit other people. That is never alright.
So, if you have mental illness: Don’t let yourself fall into the excuse trap. Look at what you have done and ask yourself if the action was alright. Right or wrong, own what you’ve done. We all make mistakes and people are amazingly good at forgiving. It’s OK to explain to others why you did something, but understand that the why doesn’t erase the action itself. If you find yourself frequently doing things that you wish you hadn’t, consider getting counselling for support and to learn self regulation.
If you live with or support someone who has mental illness: Make expectations clear. Don’t assume that they know what you are thinking. When they have done something that you don’t feel is OK you need to let them know. Tell them what they have done, how it makes you feel and why you think it isn’t OK. Don’t accept excuses. “I did it because I was angry” is an excuse. Acknowledge the feeling, but stress that the action is not OK.
Somethings are clearly wrong. IT IS NEVER OK TO HIT OTHER PEOPLE. Alright, alright, it’s OK to hit someone if they are attacking you and you are defending yourself (then seriously, kick their ass!). However, often times things are not as clear and require compromise. That is why it is important to talk to each other. The single most important thing that you can offer someone is communication that is honest, kind and timely.
Be Honest! Do not avoid saying things that are important because you might hurt their feelings. Sometimes you will hurt the feelings of the people you love. And sometimes, you need to in order for them to know what you are thinking, feeling and what your needs are. If your loved one really has a strong odor and you think they need to shower before you go out, say so. Yes, it is likely that this will hurt their feelings. But it will help them build self awareness. It will give them a chance to shower so they can go out without being embarrassed.
Be Kind! Do your best to say what needs saying without being mean. Just state the facts: “I think that you need to take a shower before we leave.” If they respond with anger or express that their feelings are hurt, express the rationale behind your statement: “I don’t want us to get embarrassed” or “I don’t think you want to go out when you have a strong body odor.” This may seem mean, but I promise you that it is much kinder then feeling that people are misleading you.
Don’t Wait! If something is upsetting you, tell the person at the time it happens. Waiting will make it harder to talk about. For one, the details get fuzzier as time goes by. For two, you don’t want to let yourself stew over it before you talk about it. Yes, give yourself a chance to cool off and collect yourself. But don’t go over it in your head a billion times before having the conversation.
These kinds of conversations can be hard, but with practice you will get better at them. And even more importantly, people we see that you care and are trying to help them. It will help build trust. This goes a long way.