I unfortunately completely forgot to respond to last week’s mental health prompt with travelling and starting back to school and work but I’m back! Here’s the original prompt if you would like to participate.
“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love me and you simultaneously“. – Mike Foster
1. How would you describe your relationships with family and friends?
I’m not incredibly close (emotionally) with my family yet this kind of connection is really important in my friendships. In fact, I think it’s because I felt starved of it as a child that I’m so attuned to it in my relationships now, having recognized how important it is to me.
2. Have you ever had to set boundaries with family and friends?
Certainly. I live with my boyfriend who has provided an incredibly safe and compassionate environment for me to explore recognizing and expressing my needs while I have been navigating recovery and I couldn’t be more grateful.
It’s hard to know exactly “what” my boundaries are and when I have or haven’t set them (something I’m still working on) but being able to notice and safely communicate when I feel hurt or upset has been only helpful.
3. Do you believe your boundaries are respected by your families and friends?
Yes! Come of think of it, I cut off a few previous relationships where I felt like my boundaries weren’t respected that caused me to ended up feeling manipulated and like I was being treated unfairly. I would say I’m a sensitive person and one of my few redeeming tendencies appears to be that I actually don’t tend to gravitate towards people who exploit that or make me feel worse.
4. Are you treated differently because of your mental illness/disorders?
Currently – not so noticeably. Previously – Definitely.
I’m still somewhat selective about who I discuss my personal health with (ironically aside from the entire internet I guess…) probably partly in fear of being perceived differently at school or work.
In the past it was pretty obvious that I was hardly functioning due to my mental illness and it became clear that people didn’t quite know how to act around me. My poor loved ones had to watch me suffer and self-destruct relentlessly, not knowing what they could do to help. Occasionally there were confrontations that resulted in me being treated differently however I acknowledge I probably treated others differently too. Of course, there were also times when I wasn’t capable of making healthy decisions for myself so the role of some friends drastically shifted then too.
All in all I can say that I certainly have been treated differently because of my mental illness (still deal with occasionally hurtful things from friends, family, acquaintances, and health care workers) yet I find most of my relationships are currently more healthy and stable than they have been.
5. Are your family and friends supportive and understanding of your mental health?
I have a few friends (and a boyfriend) who I think have been instrumental in getting me here today. Of course, none of them would likely take any credit for it, but nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful to have them in my life. They stuck by my side through the worst of it and continue to do so today, even when I don’t feel like I’m worth it. They have always seen beyond the crap I have to deal with and stayed to support the person underneath it all. I’m still discovering who that is for myself but I can only hope that one day I’ll think that I’m enough for them.
6. Describe a “For instance” of how you handled setting boundaries with family or friends?
As I mentioned before (if there’s any logic to my attempt to maneuver a topic I’m not well-versed in) I have kind of just been bumbling through this whole process. Recovery, boundaries, discovering who I am – I’m truthfully just making it up as I go along and boundaries aren’t something I’ve really explored much in treatment. While I have a few concrete words to identify coping strategies and other skills, boundaries are something that I really only have a more abstract idea of so it’s hard to identify a particular moment of myself setting boundaries.
I will say that I have noticed with an increasing sense of self-awareness and confidence to express myself, I have begun to start sticking up for what I want or need more often. Sometimes it’s small things, like telling my boyfriend I would really appreciate the last piece of chocolate I had been saving for myself or vetoing a movie selection I would prefer not to see. Other times it’s prioritizing my counselling appointment over a weekly meeting or a family dinner. This time last year I would have dropped myself as a priority in a heartbeat.
It hasn’t been easy to get here, and I don’t really know how I did, but the empowerment that comes with being able to stand up for yourself and prioritize your needs breeds more of the same. And no, it’s not selfish because no one can do it for you – everyone has the responsibility to take care of themselves. Some days maintaining these boundaries feels like that one soldier in the movies who’s trying to ward off a swarm of angry enemies – as if it would just be easier to lie down and roll over. But I didn’t come this far to give up now and other days it feels like sitting down to rest your feet and watch TV after a long day and realizing that you made this time for yourself.