“How can anyone love you if you don’t love yourself”.
That’s an affirmation that I’m sure most of us are aware of, yet the idea of loving yourself or even liking yourself is very complicated. I’ve always misunderstood the concept of self-love as arrogant and narcissistic. However, the truth is, that self-love is loving and being selfish is narcissistic. I certainly need to remind myself not to conflate the two. I am still on the early path of recovery, so I’m far from loving myself and as a result of my strong belief in no self-worth, I don’t expect others to like me either but at the same time I desperately want those that I love to love me back.
I wanted to stress the fact that having a mental disorder is not only a constant battle for the sufferer but also for their nearest and dearest. Seeing someone who you care about, struggling to get through each day can be very tough and distressing. So, using my experiences of suffering from anxiety, depression and severe mood swings (and all of those other nasty symptoms of BPD) I have put together some advice, in the hope of helping you, help a loved one.
1. Support us to receive the appropriate help – Nobody can force someone to get help but it’s important to reassure us that it is OK to ask for help.
2. Be open to discussing emotions – Lots of us struggle to open up and share our thoughts and feelings. If we begin to normalise an open dialogue about difficult emotions, others feel safe to share what they’re experiencing.
3. Don’t take things personally – I know that sometimes I can be irritable, angry, snappy and grumpy (starting to sound like I’m naming dwarves), and I know that I can be a pain in the arse because the demeaning critical voice in my head incessantly reminds me and punishes me by making me feel incredibly guilty about it. I’m not saying that you should be our punchbag but please don’t be critical or tell us to “snap out of it!” because in most cases we’re being incredibly harsh and harmful to ourselves.
4. Socialising can be an arduous task – Some days we can be the life and soul of the party and then on others, we simply cannot get out of bed, yet alone leave the house (this is one that I really struggle with to the extent that I was given the delightful nickname, “Granny Zayns” at Uni). When we do go out, we may not stay out for very long as it’s exhausting making an effort that doesn’t come naturally to us. Those of us who have an anxiety disorder can have a panic attack at the very thought of being in public with lots of people and can be rather flakey with planned social events.
5. Taking medication can be tough – A lot of the time we can feel anxious about taking our medication (antidepressants, sedatives or antipsychotics) because it’s another factor that contributes to our lack of control. We usually feel like we cannot control our thoughts and feelings and then we have no control over what the medication will do to us too. Will it change our personality? Will it change my thoughts? Will it change how you view us? These are a few of the anxiety-induced thoughts that roam our minds.
6. Increase your awareness – There is plenty of literature out there to explain various mental illnesses and their symptoms. Once you have a better understanding of what you’re loved one is going through, you’ll have a much better inclination in how to approach them.
7. Accept that sometimes you can’t help us – There will be times, when intrusive thoughts are so oppressive that they just won’t budge and you won’t be able to do anything to help us but that’s OK. It’s during these times, that we don’t even know how to help ourselves but just knowing that you are still there for us is sometimes, all we need.
8. The importance of listening – We can feel extremely lonely or even ostracised (and yes, we do know that we don’t help ourselves by flaking on plans last minute). It seems so simple but the ability to listen to us is so understated. I think that from the outside it can seem like I’m being a “victim” but I don’t want sympathy. Just being present and listening to how we feel or maybe even being a shoulder to cry on (we can cry a lot) is one of the best ways to show us your support.
9. Hugs – (not for those who aren’t touchy-feely) Ok, this one may be subjective but a hug can be so wonderfully powerful. When you hug us, it shows that you’re listening to us, comforting us and most importantly, you’re not judging us.
10. Take care of yourself – YOUR mental health and wellbeing is just as important as ours. Having to look after us can be testing at times so please ensure that you also have someone to talk to and to take the time to practice self-care methods.