5 Critical Steps to Reduce the Stress of Chronic Mental Illness [Series Introduction]

Are you afraid to talk about your (or a family member's) mental illness? I was for many years. Finally I decided it’s time I be transparent and help #EndTheStigma. Change is possible and together we can make a difference!

The hairs on my arm grew taller as the noise got louder and faster. My frozen body gave permission to my eyes to scan the darkness for what I thought was a rattlesnake.


"Robyn." A sharp voice pulled me from my faceless dream.


I looked up to find the goose-neck light casting a shadow of my boyfriend on the wall. I was relieved when I realized the rattle I heard was from the bottle of medication he held in his hand.


He shook the pills and said in a firm, flat voice, “Good thing you are going with Brian to see his therapist tomorrow.”


The paralysis returned. And the silence in my brain was deafening.


(Excerpt from my work in progress #WIP.)


The Question


How does one respond to their boyfriend talking about himself in third person?

Prior to this event, emotional eruptions were a part of our daily life. Check out this POST to see how I compare mental illness and popcorn. I consistently searched for explanations. The large time gaps in Brian’s memory (amnesia) were more and more common. Therefore, it seemed reasonable to entertain the possibility of dissociative identity disorder (#DID) - formerly known as multiple personality disorder (MPD).


I researched his symptoms.


Scoured the internet for possible resources.


And talked to my therapist about what was happening.


The Answer


I didn’t say anything.

When Brian began to lecture me about himself in third person, I froze - pretended it wasn't happening.



The Problem

Denial.

At that time, I honestly believed things couldn't get worse. So when one of Brian’s alters reached out, I didn’t know what to do. There was no room for DID. It was not an option.


I pushed the thought out of my brain. I told myself that it was absurd. Convinced myself that DID was something you only saw in the movies.


I let denial course through my veins and wash away any possibility of what my gut told me was true.




The Solution


Radical Acceptance.

Flash-forward 10 years when many swirling variables crashed together in an inevitable ball of fire. I couldn’t keep DID packed in the neat little box I shoved under the bed.


Thankfully, many years of therapy allowed Brian to extinguish the flames in a reasonable time-frame.


Keeping in mind that reasonable is relative when you are navigating DID.


Brian and I had to move past denial and accept our new reality.


The real recovery began when we BOTH came to terms with radical acceptance. Full and complete submission to the diagnosis of DID was mandatory for healing.


Before reaching the point of radical acceptance, Brian frequently said, “How can I accept something that I’m not sure if I believe is real?”



Here is a brief introduction of what radical acceptance looked like for us. Stay tuned for more details, tips and strategies in the upcoming blog series.


Part 1

Acceptance


  • Stop hiding. This was both the hardest AND the most empowering thing we had to do.


  • Acknowledge the long road to recovery. There is no miracle drug or quick fix for DID. Thankfully, I have already navigated my own recovery and can provide a different level of support.


  • Realize that it's OK to ask for help. Finding qualified therapists who are experienced with DID was not an easy task.



Part 2

Trust


  • Develop new levels of trust. Complete amnesia is common for people diagnosed with DID. Brian relies on me to give him unbiased accounts of what happens when he dissociates or switches or shifts personality states.


  • Recognize that we were (all) in this together. A HUGE part of radical acceptance was coming to grips with the fact that Brian has (many) alters.



Part 3

Communication


  • Develop basic ground rules for communication. There were (are) times when Brian struggled with basic daily functions and I needed to figure out the best way to help without hindering, support without enabling. (#ThinkTalkDo) I needed to learn how to communicate with him when he didn't know what he needed.


  • Give each other permission to be angry. Brian had to give himself permission to feel ANYTHING. His emotions were suppressed for years. I had to understand that the rage he housed inside was a direct result of years of #trauma - it had nothing to do with me.


  • Learn to cut each other some slack. We were (and still are) constantly trying to figure out when to push and when to back off. Sometimes we just need space. We both know that is OK.



Part 4

Self-Care


  • Encourage each other to practice self-care. #SelfCare is a mandatory part of trauma #recovery.


  • Work not to get sucked into a never-ending pit of doom. This can be a difficult task. Some days the shit is just deeper. Plain and simple.


  • Discover laughter in the mundane. It REALLY is the best medicine.



Part 5

Moving Forward


  • Accept that some people may not believe us. The first thing one of his psychiatrists said was, "You are responsible for your own actions." STIGMA much? I get angry just thinking about it!


  • Continue to educate ourselves on #anxiety, depression, cPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), #dissociation, etc. Unfortunately there isn't much information out there on identity disorder, especially for partners of people with #DID diagnoses. (Hence this blog.)



Over time Brian and I agreed that this process is a joint effort. We have moved forward and backward down the road of recovery. Usually, we are slowly laying one brick at a time. Sometimes we have to remove a brick (or more). It’s not uncommon that I lay a brick and he removes a brick, or vice versa. Often we move sideways. And sometimes we stand unnervingly still, holding the weight of all the bricks. The road to recovery isn’t finished yet, but now we can see where we’re going.


Radical acceptance is not exclusive to DID. It is necessary for #recovery in all areas of chronic physical and mental illnesses.


Lets end the stigma together! ThinkTalkDo and share your thoughts and comments.


About the author: Robyn's career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) together with her graduate education in psychology gives her a unique perspective of cognitive-linguistic (thinking-talking) difficulties associated with cognitive stress and mental illness. #ThinkTalkDo

More about Robyn.


Disclaimer: Content in this blog is for informational purposes only. Statements are Robyn's thoughts and opinions and should NOT be used to diagnose or treat any disorders related to cognition, communication, or mental illness.


For mental health concerns please contact your doctor or therapist. If you need a mental health provider, Psychology Today is an excellent resource.

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CogniCoach 2018