This photo is from West Edmonton Mall, it is a statue commemorating oilfield workers. It may seem a bit out of place in a blog about relationships, but one of my strongest and most rewarding relationships have been with people I have worked with. I feel there is something very special about people pitching in together for a common goal that forms strong bonds.
Well, today since Valentine’s day is around the corner I thought I might share a little bit about relationships.
There really isn’t a more sensitive topic than this for people with mental health issues. So many things are up in the air for people who suffer. Quite often, mental health ‘survivors’ have a skewed image of what love is and so little experience that they end up obsessed with a person who doesn’t want their attention. I know in my own case there used to be a couple of females who I felt that way about who didn’t feel that way back. It was very difficult but I had to accept that they weren’t these great wonderful people worthy of my love, just ordinary, perhaps even negative people and move on.
Of course, obsession is another thing and I don’t want to get too far into the topic because I know so little about it, I am not any kind of a qualified person to give advice and it isn’t anywhere near the kind of caring/relationship I want to promote. When I think of relationships, I think more of the ones I have carefully built up and cultivated over the years.
It is hard to say where to start. Just about all of the relationships in our life are important. These may be our relationships with our parents and family members, which are often greatly strained by mental illness, and could also include friendships and romantic relationships. I think the thing to remember is that every person in your life can be extremely important. For a long time I had trouble getting along with my Dad, but when I left the hospital last time after a lengthy and painful stay, he was the only one who was constantly there for me, taking me for walks, talking to me, being that all important listener. As time went by, I was slowly able to rebuild most of my relationships with friends (but not all) and the rest of my family also came back ‘on my side.’
One of the first relationships that I had problems with last time I got sick (I was very ill, extremely delusional and hurt many people who didn’t understand what had happened to me or why) was with the person who is my best friend right now. I really care for her, I don’t want to mention her name here, some may know her pseudonym ‘Debbie’ from my books. Her and I years ago had a short stint as lovers and it was simply the most wonderful experience of my life. Somehow I had managed to hold onto my virginity until I was with someone I cared very deeply for and it was such an incredible experience. Then when we broke up as lovers, we stayed friends. She stopped contacting me last time I was ill, unable to deal with all my problems.
Over the course of time, I gathered up my courage, went to see Debbie and talked to her and kind of wormed my way back into her life. Her and I would often go for soup at a favorite restaurant, and when I really wanted to talk to her I would write a paper letter to her, including in it a poem I had written just for her. Eventually she got married, but we stayed friends and to this day we talk literally for at least an hour on the phone. It feels so good to be connected to someone like that, even though it isn’t a romantic relationship.
So how does a person with a mental illness cultivate a friendship? I have always felt that relationships with others are based on conversation, and all too often people with mental health issues don’t have a lot of things to talk about because they spend a lot of time at home, watching TV or isolating themselves. If a person can get out and start doing more things, not only will they feel better and cope with stress better, they will meet people and have things to talk about to the new people they meet. I am a firm believer in volunteering. When I was alone and having problems, I used to volunteer when I was able to visit aging veterans in an extended care hospital. I did this for some time and not only learned a lot, but I made friends with the Pastor there and spent so much quality time with these wonderful old men who had fought for our freedom. Added to that, I found that a lot of young women really liked the idea that I was a giving and compassionate person and from what I recall my social life improved while I was doing that.
So, if you have something to talk about, how do you approach someone you want to be friends with? This can be a difficult question and there are no easy answers. (I should note here that I am of the opinion that if you make friends with a member of the opposite sex and let things grow naturally from there, you might develop that all important romantic relationship many people seek.) One thing I noticed I myself have been guilty of is forcing a relationship and doing things that only serve to ‘creep out’ the person like trying to anticipate what the person likes or wants and going overboard. My roommate is a very good friend, but often he goes to far, turning on lights for me, turning off the tap for me when I go to get a glass. It sometimes drives me nuts. I think one of the best ways to make friends with others is to be a kind person without being intrusive and also having a good sense of humor is a big help. These traits can be learned, humor often comes from observing others and using things they find funny. Caring comes from always trying to see things from the side of other people. You don’t have to go overboard, just try and notice something about the other person. Did you get a new haircut, it looks good, how have you been doing lately, how are your kids? Simple questions that aren’t too personal can start off a conversation and that is what you are aiming for.
Well, I can’t cover a lot of information in this short blog, I do hope that I have given people some food for thought. Be caring, be kind, think of the other person, try to have a life so you are able to have good conversations. If I can remember, I will try and revisit this subject in the next few days. As always dear readers, feel free to contact me and I always like it when people leave comments. firstname.lastname@example.org