Life Support

I have found that one of the most important things in treatment – at least for me – is the existence of a healthy support system. In my case, that consists of my friends, my family, my therapist, and any doctors involved – as well as, currently, my co-workers. To a certain extent, a support system has to be nearby. I know that while I was living in St. Louis, my closest friends weren’t nearby, and so while I could talk to them on the phone, I rarely got to see them face-to-face. That was a big pat of my feeling disconnected.

Living in Houston, I have friends who are close by – several of them live in the same apartment complex with me, in fact. We can see each other on a regular basis. That doesn’t make my other friends any less important to me; I still talk to them often. But having people I can see and get together with makes me feel like I am part of the community here, in a way I never really felt in St. Louis. So, while I don’t get to see my family as often as I did when I lived with them, I still talk to them, and I got to see them over Christmas.

It’s important for me to be a part of the support systems of others, too. I know that I’m a friend for Calla, and I view that as a privilege; I view being a part of all my friends’ support systems as a privilege, actually, I just don’t tell them that nearly enough. I also can’t really mention them by name here, which makes it a little tricky. Being part of a community is a big deal, for all of us, since we are social creatures – and many of my friends here in Houston came here from elsewhere, and we have shared experiences which bring us together.

It’s not just friends, though. Having my therapist and psychiatrist is also a big part of things. I can talk to both of them about issues that don’t really come up in everyday conversations with my friends – not that my friends can’t handle them, but talking about variations in medication schedule isn’t exactly a thrilling conversation topic, you know? Also, the support I get from my therapist is different than the support I get from my friends. It’s hard to explain, but both kinds are helpful.

Friends, family, doctors, co-workers, support groups – they’re all important to me in my continuing life. I don’t know that I need all of them, all the time, but I do not that the support system I have formed here has helped me to get where I am now. Which is a far, far better place than I was a little over a year ago. My health isn’t totally due to that – the things I learned in treatment and my medication also play big roles – but the support system is a necessary part.

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Family Connection

So, after my last entry, I signed up for a course through the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder called Family Connections. Basically, it is a class for relatives, friends, and loved ones of people with BPD. Today was the first class, and it was pretty interesting.

I’ve been to support groups before; they aren’t new to me. I go to one for my step-down group, and I try to get over to DBSA when I’m not working on that night. But the support groups I’ve been a part of were for the people who had mental disorders. I knew there were groups for family and friends before, but hadn’t ever been part of one. But after having gone, I can see how helpful they can end up being for those supporting people with psychological issues.

For BPD, while there were a lot of stories about children, spouses, and friends, they all had some things in common; at times it seemed like we were quoting out of the DSM criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder. There was a lot of frustration, a lot of wondering what we could do to try and help our loved ones – not fix them, because that’s not something we can do. Like I remember learning in treatment, we can’t change other people, only ourselves; trying to change others is just a recipe for disaster.

Seeing as how it was our first session, much of the time was taken up telling short versions of our stories and reasons for being there. But at the end, we did get to cover some things, and I think, most importantly, we covered some very good advice for those supporting people with BPD. First, as support personnel (shorthand for family, friends, or loved ones), we should always try to take the things our loved ones say in the most benign way possible. A lot of the time, what they are saying isn’t about us; it’s a reflection of what’s going on in their heads. Taking things too personally just ends up in a messy situation. Second, there isn’t one absolute truth; while a loved one might, in a moment of anger, says he or she hates you, we know that in the long run they love us – the hatred being voiced may be true at that second, but not overall. Third, we are all doing the best we can in the moment; never assume that our loved ones are trying to scare us off, drive us away, or manipulate us – they’re just trying to deal with life the best way they know how. If we can help them with that, then we should do so. Finally, we can always do better. Nobody’s perfect, and every time we interact with our loved ones is a chance to do things better than we have before.

There’s a lot of things I hope to learn at this class, and I hope that my own experience with mental illness can help the people there who haven’t had the exposure to treatment that I have. I know that there are tons of things I can learn from them, because they have had so much more experience with BPD, and had to deal with it for much longer. I also hope that what I learn from this class can help me to be a better friend – and possibly more – for Calla, and others I know with BPD.

Life Support

I’m not so sure how good I am at this whole support role thing. 

I love my friends dearly, and I want to do everything I can to help them out. But one of the instincts I find myself constantly fighting against is the desire to try and fix things. It’s a very stereotypically male impulse, to find out that someone has a problem and to want to try and fix it. But with mental problems, often it is just better for all involved parties to just listen and try to talk things out, to process them together. I know that I should be listening, and I try to do so when I can, but I still feel a strong urge to try and fix things – which sometimes tends to show up at very inopportune times.

I also find that I’m not very good at expressing myself or my feelings in person. I can do it fairly well here; I’ve always had an easier time writing things out than I have talking. But it means that a lot of the time, I don’t say what I am thinking or feeling to whoever I am talking to, even if they mean a great deal to me and I want to be more open. This can be problematic, sadly so, because I think it seems like I am trying to conceal things, or that I am untrusting, when in fact I trust my friends implicitly – I just really suck at expressing myself. Even though I recognize it, it is moving past recognition towards actual expression that is catching me up.

I love spending time around my friends, and sometimes that’s just fine. But I wonder if there are things I could be doing to better express myself, or to be a better listener. I know this might be needless worrying, but wanting to be a better friend and support is, I think, kind of necessary, at least for me – it feels weird to me just accepting things as they are, it feels like stagnation and stagnation feels like the first step to things going downhill.

Yeah, I’m weird. But hey, this is a blog about my experiences with mental illness, so if you were expecting normal, you are clearly in the wrong place.