Seeing as it is a holiday week, what with Thanksgiving coming up, as well as the start of the holiday season in general, I thought I’d write up a little bit about getting ready to talk to other people about your mental illness. Specifically, let’s look at talking to family or people you don’t see very frequently.
If No One Really Knows…
Of course, you may not have told anyone (family or friends) about your mental illness. In this case, you may dread the holidays as a time where you have to hide how you are feeling and whatever habits or compulsions (if you have active OCD) you perform as a result of your mental illness. Many people with OCD and other mental illnesses are actually quite skilled at covering up their “out of the ordinary” behavior so as not to attract extra attention. Still, feeling the need to do so in order to keep up appearances can be draining and frustrating.
Consider the pro’s and con’s of keeping your mental illness a secret. Is it worth it? Is it easier to maintain this facade? In some cases, it very well may be. In others, it might be more beneficial to get it out in the open. Take some time before you see everyone to decide. Prepare yourself for situations so you aren’t caught off guard. Make sure you are still following any professional, medical advice you are being given. Sometimes we like to “cheat” on diets during the holidays, but it’s best not to “cheat” on psychological advice or treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect with this. We all slip up. But don’t purposefully derail progress if maintaining it is at all possible!
If They Know and You are Dreading the Questions…
If your friends or family members know about your mental illness, just the anticipation of having to deal with conversations or inquisitions about “how you are doing” can be overwhelming. Rather than fearing these conversations, it might be helpful to prepare for them. Usually we know our family members and how they will approach such a topic, even being able to anticipate the very words or phrases they may use. Be ready for them.
If you are stumped at how to appropriately respond, ask your therapist or doctor for advice. If someone asks you, “how are you doing? Are you better now?” be honest but set a limit for how in depth you want to or can respond. Some people may be ready and able to understand a long description of your illness and treatment plan, where others may need or want the short answer of “oh, I’m working with a therapist and getting the help I need right now, thanks for asking.”
Give People the Benefit of the Doubt
We’d like to believe that people ask us how things are going out of genuine concern and interest. If these people are your family and friends (and you have had good relationships with them in the past), assume that they have good intentions. It can be awkward for people to talk about mental illness, especially if they don’t currently struggle with it. They may say insensitive things without even realizing it. Be ready for those types of comments and try not to get angry or offended.
Take Some Time
Also, remember to schedule in some downtime during the holidays, especially if you are visiting family, etc. Recharge. Do what helps you to focus, center, and keep your sanity in check. Maybe bring and write in a journal. Read a book. Listen to music alone. Do yoga or meditate. Take an afternoon nap. Go on a solo walk. Rest your mind as well as your body. If we run ourselves ragged, we aren’t going to be able to handle life as well as we could otherwise.
Good luck everyone, and do what you need to do to keep yourself well….And eat lots of rolls (or whatever is your favorite holiday treat)!