Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk Part 3

So far we’ve talked about how mental illness can interfere with dating, dating as a numbers game, and ways you can shift those numbers in your favor. Today we’re finally going to look at tips and tricks for keeping mental illness from fucking with you too much while you are meeting people/dating.

Pick Your Venue

Going out in public is a problem for many people with mental illness. Social anxiety for obvious reasons, but also depression, PTSD, schizophrenia and other mental illness can make it hard to get out. Going places comfortable and safe places will make meeting people, and especially meeting someone who would be interested in dating, a lot easier.

What this means will be very personal. For some people, it will mean the library and bookstores (join a local book club, attend author signings, etc). For others, it will be that one restaurant you’ve been going to for years and feel safe at. It might be a game store, a club or your friend’s house.

Alternatively, invite people to come to you. If going out is too spoony, start having get-togethers at your place. Volunteer to host a meetup, invite your friends over for game night, plan a summer bar-b-que. Whatever suits you. The important part: invite people to bring other people. For instance, if you invite friends and family to a bar-b-que, tell them to bring their friends and family. If you arrange a game night for your friends, invite their friends to join the game. Or you can call the local gaming store and tell them you’re doing a game night, will they add you to their list of local gaming groups?

Hosting a thing at your home can take a lot of spoons, so it isn’t for everyone. But it does give an alternative. If you can’t go to people, people can come to you.

And of course, we can’t forget the miracle which is the internet. If you are comfortable with long distance dating, dating online becomes pretty easy. Same rules as in-person dating: avoid the “usual” dating sites, find communities you feel comfortable in, get to know people, ask someone out.

Looking to date someone local restricts your options. But you can still find (for instance) a gamers’ Facebook group in your city, a coders’ subreddit in your state or an environmentalist forum in your county.

Get Your Support in Place

Mental illness is hard to deal with alone. This is true whether you are wading through flashbacks or trying to meet people. We tend to approach dating as something we need to do alone. But there are alternatives.

When you are going places where you hope to meet people, a friend can come with you both as emotional support and to help if your illness flares up suddenly. They can:

1) help you ease into the group
2) find a quiet spot if you need some time away from everyone but aren’t ready to leave
3) watch for signs that you are getting overwhelmed so you can slip out before you reach a breaking point

Double dates are a thing! Sure, it isn’t the “norm” for a first date to be a double date. But why be trapped by the “norm?” When you connect with a person who wants to date you, you can ask how they’d feel about a double date. (They are more likely to agree if they’ve met know the friend(s) who’d be part of the double date—another good reason to have a friend with you when you go out to meet people.)

Don’t be afraid to use speed dial. Telephones are beautiful things. When I’m having a panic attack, 90% of the time the first thing I do is call my mother is Israel. If you alone at any point in your journey have a friend or family member on speed dial. Just knowing you can excuse yourself for five minutes and call for support can be a big help.

Remember to be upfront about being polyamorous and to tell your date what they need to know about your mental illness.

Most important: try to relax and have fun.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk, Part II

Last week we talked about the first rule of dating: dating is a numbers game.

The problems for people with mental illness (and many other people as well) are:

1) Mental illness can lower the number of people who are attracted to you

2) Mental illness can make it hard to meet people, making it harder to find people who are attracted to you (and who you are attracted to).

Stereotypical dating involves going out to where a lot of people looking for a date gather—bars, clubs, single’s MeetUp groups, dating sites, etc—and trying to make yourself attractive to people so they will go on a date with you.

For people with mental illness (and many other people) the problem is this makes the numbers work against you. A random group of people looking for a date means:

1) You will have little in common with most of them, meaning your chances of being attractive to them are low

2) The social situation will be designed around a “typical” person looking for a date: young, single, mainstream, etc. Chances are there will be nothing you can do to reduce the impact of your mental illness on your ability to attend/take part in these activities/events.

So what can you do?

Play by the Numbers

In order to date effectively, you need to do two things:

1) Increase the number of people you meet you might be attracted to you.

2) Find places and ways to meet people that work around or with your mental illness, rather than conflict with it.

Moving from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100

Let’s say, on average, 1 in 1000 people will find you attractive. You can either run around meeting hundreds or thousands of people hoping to find the one who wants to date you (and who you want to date! Don’t forget that part!) or you can change the numbers.

So let’s look at how you do that.

Increase Your Attractiveness

Yes, a person who loves you should love you for who you are. Newsflash: someone you just met doesn’t love you. Yet. They need time to get to know you. In the meantime, you need to show them why you are worth the time and energy they spend getting to know you.

This means doing your best to take care of your appearance, developing hobbies and passions so you have something interesting to talk about, learning more about the ways people interact and your culture’s social customs.

Taking Care of Your Appearance

I want to focus on this one for a minute because it’s the most likely to get people up in arms against me and/or down on themselves.

Now, this is hugely important: taking care of your appearance does NOT mean trying to be conventionally attractive. It doesn’t mean trying to stay “in style” or spending hundreds of dollars on makeup to cover up your “deficiencies.”

My partner Michael describes my fashion sense as “granny style.” I have rosacea that makes me look like a red raccoon (especially in the summer). I wear hats everywhere, all the time. And some of my hats are…unusual. When’s the last time, outside of a historical docu-drama, you saw someone walking around in a snood?

But twice this month random people have complimented me on how I look. And not in a creepy way. In an “oh I love that outfit,” kind of way. I’ve been working on my wardrobe for over three years, slowly finding clothes I like at thrift stores and clothing drives, putting things I love but can’t afford on birthday wish lists for the folks who want to spend money on me. I’ve finally reached a point that as long as I keep up with the laundry, I can wear an outfit that I like and look good in every day of the week.

Taking care of your appearance is about finding ways to express who you are and what you love about yourself. And yeah, that’s one of the things that mental illness can make hard. It’s hard to love yourself when you are struggling with mental illness, and it’s hard to find the spoons to care about your appearance when you can barely drag yourself out of bed. At the same time, and speaking from experience, being able to look in the mirror and like what you see can be a big help in fighting mental illness. So if you have the spoons, showering, caring for your hair, slapping some moisturizer on your face, and putting on clothes that make you look and feel awesome can be a major win.

And if you can’t?

That’s okay! Yeah, these days I can generally reach into the draw and find clothes that look good on me. Before I built my wardrobe I lived in 10-year-old t-shirts, “nice” shirts with holes in them, and whatever pants I could find that fit. You do what you have too. There are still days I go out without brushing my hair. (Pro-tip: the right hat can hide a LOT of bed head.) This isn’t about putting more pressure on yourself or shaming you. This is about giving you ideas on things you can do to change your numbers in the dating game. If taking care of your appearance isn’t an option right now, focus on other things.

Now, it is completely true that with this advice I’m going against a lot of other good advice. No, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, we should take all people as they are. There are people doing good work to push for acceptance of others regardless of how they look or talk. But they are fighting an uphill battle against human nature. We form a general impression of people within seconds of meeting them. We have a solid impression within the first few sentences of a conversation. If you don’t make that impression a good one, either with your appearance, your conversation, or your general attitude and presentation, you will be fighting an uphill battle against an initial bad impression.

By working on growing and changing, you can increase the total number of people who will find you attractive.

Selective Filtering

Okay, that’s how you can change your numbers by making changes in yourself. Since I consider growth a good thing, I don’t have any problem changing myself, as long as the changes are ones I like. (And yes, I do like walking out the door thinking “Damn I look good today!” just as much as I like how much I’ve learned about social justice and intersectionality the last few years.) If you don’t want to change yourself this is another approach that can help.

Or you can combine two approaches and get even better numbers.

So, selective filtering.

When you are looking for people to date, try to filter out as many people as possible that you will not be attracted to and who will not be attracted to you. Go where people who will be attracted to are likely to gather.

For instance, if you, like me, are a geek and a nerd, but not a big sports fan, going to a tailgate party will not be a good way to meet people. Sure, if football is big in your town dozens of potential dates might turn up. But how much good does that do you when they are huge football fans wanting to talk football and you don’t know the end zone from the goal posts? (I actually do like sports, and can talk the talk, but not something I’ll spend hours of my life on. On the other hand, hitting the local gaming store and joining the gaming group may only introduce you to a half-dozen people, but they will be people you have something in common with. And people you have something in common with are more likely to find you attractive.

You, as a person, have an automatic membership in a bunch of communities. If you are reading this blog you are probably polyamorous, so you can claim membership in the poly community. Fandom communities are (theoretically) always open to fans. The crafting community is always open to crafters. People who are mentally ill have our own community, mostly made up of people who are mentally ill and a few people who have someone they love who are mentally ill and are trying to learn and be supportive.

If you haven’t claimed membership in your communities, doing so is a great way to meet people who are more likely to be attracted to you. If you can find community overlaps (for instance many poly people are geeks, and many geeks are neuroatypical) even better!

This works online too. Michael and C met because there were both part of the Twitch gaming community.

The important thing about joining these communities is you can’t jump in and immediately start looking for a date. While they are better places to find a date than typical dating scenes, not everyone in them will be looking for a date. You need to take the time to get to know people, find out who is interested in new relationships, who do you enjoy talking with, maybe do a little flirting, and asking only the people who are A) open to having a new relationship, B) you are attracted to, C) you think might be attracted to you. If they say no, DON’T make a big deal out of it. Go back to enjoying the community, participating in discussions and activities, etc. Sooner or later you will find someone else to ask.

Okay, this has turned into a longer post than I planned on, so we’ll stop here. Next week will finally look at ways mental illness directly interferes with dating and what you can do about it. For now, remember: dating is a numbers game, and you can shift the numbers in your favor.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk

Hadn’t meant this to be a two parter, but overdid it last week and paying for it. Other posts this week may be very short or delayed depending on long my recovery takes.

I like spending time on Quora. It’s an interesting site with a lot of good information, and I’ve wrangled myself a spot on the Polyamory Top 10 Writers list.

One question that comes up a lot on question in Dating and Relationship topics on Quora is how to find someone to date. People with mental illness and/or who are neuroatypical seem to struggle with this question a lot. My regular readers know this is a topic I usually wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. But it is relevant to polyamory and mental illness, and I’m here to try to help folks. So here we go.

Before we get into details specific to mental illness and polyamory, I want to review the first rule of dating.

Dating is a numbers game.

It really is that simple. There is some percentage of people in this world who will find you attractive when they meet you. There is another percentage of people in this world who will find you attractive when they get to know you. The way you find one of these people is you meet a whole bunch of people, get to know the ones who interest you, and sooner or later one of the people you meet will be one of those people who find you attractive.

The rest of dating is just ways to shift the odds in your favor.

Okay, now the challenge for poly folks with mental illness is 1) being poly lowers your numbers of possible dates, 2) mental illness often lowers your numbers of possible dates, and 3) many mental illnesses make it hard for you to get out and meet people.

The ultimate secret to dating success is just go out and meet a lot of people. Unfortunately, that “secret” is well nigh useless when your depression keeps you frozen to your couch or anxiety makes you afraid to answer the door, never mind go out in public.

Next week we’ll look at how you manage to find poly partners anyway.

 

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory and Psychotic Disorders, Part 3

Continuing our review of the psychotic disorders and the way symptoms of psychotic disorders impact polyamory.

Disorganized thinking (speech): communication is the key to any healthy relationship. And when someone can’t speak their thoughts it’s hard to communicate about relationship needs, problems, or just get clear consent.

Some people find ways around this. For instance, the part of the brain that controls speech is very different from the part of the brain that controls writing. So some people whose thoughts are disorganized when they speak can be very clear when they write. (I don’t know how sign language would fit in here, would be very interested in anyone who has information on it.)

Another option is to be patient. Spend enough time with someone that you learn to understand their disorganized speech. For this, polyamory can actually be kind of helpful. Prior or current poly partners can help new poly partners learn to understand.

Grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior won’t have much direct impact on relationships. You will need to get used to judgmental shitwads staring and making comments when you are out with your partner. Also, I can see this symptom sometimes making sex more complicated until you are both learn to make your bodies work together. Someone with abnormal motor behavior may not be able to control a vehicle (car, bicycle or other). If that is the case, they may be reliant on their partners to pick them up for dates and such.

Negative symptoms (lack of emotional expression, lack of speech, inability to motivate or direct oneself in completing tasks, not being able to feel pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences, and lack of motivation to socialize/interact with other people). Some of this is the executive dysfunction we discussed last week. A lot of it isn’t. And this stuff can really mess with a relationship. When you can’t express your emotions, or speak, or motivate yourself to call your partner, it doesn’t do good things for a relationship. Not being about to feel pleasure can make it had to even want a relationship.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory and Psychotic Disorders, Part 2

We’re going to do something a bit different this time. We’re going to look at the main symptoms of psychotic disorders and see how they each impact polyamorous relationships. This is pretty involved, so Polyamory and Psychotic Disorders is going to end up as a 3 parter. Today we’ll be focusing on delusions and hallucinations.

Delusions

Delusions are fixed beliefs that cannot be changed by evidence that contradicts them. That’s the official definition, I’m going to add the qualifier I learned from my abnormal psych teacher. In order to qualify as a delusion, a belief must be abnormal within your culture. Sorry, atheists, your theist friends don’t qualify as delusional because they believe in an invisible sky man. Nor do people of the opposite political party qualify as delusional because they believe that obviously idiotic thing you can prove is wrong without even trying. You may be right—their belief may be categorically wrong. But if their culture supports their belief, it isn’t a delusion. The cultural matrix itself functions as “evidence” supporting the belief.

A stereotypical delusion is the belief that the someone, usually the government, is spying on the person. One real delusion I’ve run into—someone who believed that one day ninjas would sneak through his window and drag him back to live with his parents. These two together illustrate something I’ve noticed about delusions—they tend to have a basis in reality. While it is extremely unlikely that the FBI is monitoring your partner to keep them from revealing the secrets of the mole people, the FBI does spy on people. The person who feared ninjas coming through the window had run away from an abusive home as a teenager and been forcibly returned to it. The delusion is false, but built on something real.

Most delusions won’t directly impact your relationship. Having a partner who lives in fear of ninja’s coming through the window (or fearing ninjas yourself) isn’t going to have much impact on dates, meeting people, or communication. It may make your partner tired and grumpy in the morning from sitting up looking for ninjas. Other delusions, like a delusional belief that your poly partner is plotting against you, will have a large impact on a relationship. Someone with this delusion will have a hard time letting their partner out of their sight and will want to monitor everything they are doing. Not a recipe for a healthy monogamous relationship, never mind polyamory. (Side note: NEVER plan a surprise party for someone who believes people are plotting against them. It will not end well.)

Delusions are easier to deal with when they are recognized. An old shrink told me that all mental problems are easier to deal with when you know they are there. Anyone else remember the old G.I. Joe cartoon that always ended with an “educational” skit and Sargeant Slaughter saying “And knowing is half the battle!” ? Think about jealousy. A person who knows their jealousy is irrational will try to deal with the feeling without making demands of their partners. They may or may not know what will help, but they know they need to work on their own feelings and it is not their partner’s fault. Someone who is irrationally jealous but doesn’t realize they are irrational will blame their partner and try to fix the relationship by demanding their partner make changes.

Someone who believes their partner is plotting against them but knows they are delusional will need reassurance. They may ask invasive questions about your schedule and conversations with other people. But they know the problem is in their head. They will not be interrogating you to prove that you are after them, but will be seeking reassurance to quiet their delusion.

Someone who believes their partner is plotting against them and doesn’t realize it is a delusion… honestly, I don’t think you can HAVE a healthy relationship in that circumstance, no matter how willing you are to be supportive and try to work with them.

Hallucinations

A hallucination is seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing something that isn’t there. From people I have spoken with who have delusions, they can be obviously false or impossible to distinguish from reality. Delusions can range from seeing Barney dancing on the lawn in a Richard Nixon mask to hearing your poly partner call your name to having the entire world turn into goo.

Someone who suffers from hallucinations and knows they have hallucinations will put a lot of their mental energy into telling what is real and what isn’t. They may be a bit fanatic about always being right—if they are wrong about where they left their coat they may also be wrong about what is and isn’t a hallucination. If they are wrong about things, like thinking they left their coat on the chair when they actually fell asleep wearing it, this can feed into delusions in scary ways. If they left the coat on the chair, and they woke up wearing, someone must have put the coat on them, right?

Hallucinations can have some interesting impacts on a relationship. For instance, if someone is constantly hearing a voice whispering in their ear, it can be hard to get their attention. They will have trouble following a discussion when Barney pops up and begins dancing in the middle of the room. Waving to get someone’s attention doesn’t work very well when their view of you is blocked by a hallucination of someone else. These all have huge implications for communication.

When hallucinations mimic reality that adds another layer. If you see your partner come home from a date and go straight to bed completely ignore you, you are likely to be hurt and angry. But what if your partner is still on the date? Their coming home was a hallucination. A half hour later they walk in and you are an emotional mess about how they ignored you—when it wasn’t even them! The hurt doesn’t magically disappear, you saw them ignore you, you lived through it. To your partner, you are upset over something that never happened.

As with delusions, someone who knows they have hallucinations and works to try to recognize them will do better in a relationship than someone who believes all their hallucinations are real.

Disclaimer

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory, Schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders (Part 1)

This post and others discussing specific mental disorders will reference the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Psychiatry and Psychology, Edition Five (DSM-V). Apologies to my international readers, I’m just not familiar enough with the ICD to use it as a reference.

Please note: everyone’s experience of mental illness is different. This is general information meant to give you an idea of what to expect. Nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat. Please see a psych professional if you or someone you love may be suffering from a mental illness.

The Psychotic Disorders

  1. Delusional disorder
  2. Brief psychotic disorder
  3. Schizophreniform disorder
  4. Schizophrenia
  5. Schizoaffective disorder
  6. Other

Delusional disorder, as the name says, involves delusions specifically. Brief psychotic disorder is for what seems to be an episode of schizophrenia that lasts less than a month. Schizophreniform is if it lasts less than 6 months. Schizoaffective disorder is when the primary diagnosis is mood related (primarily depression or bipolar) but there are psychotic symptoms. And of course schizophrenia a long term disorder manifesting multiple symptoms of psychosis.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia and Psychotic disorders

There are five features that define psychotic disorders in DSM-5. Delusions are fixed beliefs that cannot be changed by evidence that contradicts them. Hallucinations are sensing something (usually seeing and/or hearing, but sometimes tactile or taste/smell) that isn’t there. Disorganized thinking (speech) means not being able to follow a conversational topic, lack of coherence in speech, or loose associations. Grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior (including catatonia) is when the body doesn’t move right and/or doesn’t move at all, when there is no physical illness to explain the problem. Finally what are called negative symptoms–lack of emotional expression, lack of speech, inability to motivate or direct oneself in completing tasks, not being able to feel pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences, and lack of motivation to socialize/interact with other people.

Interestingly, the way symptoms manifest can change depending on the culture a person is living in. In the US today, hallucinations from psychotic disorders are often terrifying experiences. Voices telling you to kill someone else or kill yourself, threats, personal attacks, and other really nasty things are common. However, 100 years ago most hallucinations where benign. The voice of your dead relative, or a saint, or an angel were common. And in other parts of the world, hallucinations often continue to be benign, usually harmless but sometimes actually supportive.

Society has a long history of demonizing people with schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. We need to remember that, like all mental illness, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders grow out of healthy (or at least normal) mental processes. Most people have had that time walking home at night when they would swear someone was following them–but if you turned around you were alone, many of us got home and locked the door “just to be safe” (delusion). Almost everyone, at one time or another, has heard their name called when no one was calling them (hallucination). Everyone I’ve ever met has had days where their thoughts are disorganized and they can’t follow a conversation. For most of us, these things pass in a few moments or a few hours and laugh at ourselves and go on with our lives. We all have days when we just don’t want to deal with other people or have trouble motivating ourselves to get shit done (I know I’m not the other person who procrastinated my entire way through Freshman year.)

People with psychotic disorders can be scary. Not gonna lie about that. But the world they are living in is far more frightening for them than they are for you. So if you do meet or know someone who has a psychotic disorder, please start with compassion.

Treatment

Medication

Medication is the primary treatment for psychotic disorders. Antipsychotic medications are divided “conventional” and “atypical.” Conventional antipsychotics are older medications with a higher rate of severe side effects. Atypical antipsychotics are newer medications with significantly reduce side effects. Unfortunately, conventional antipsycotics are much cheaper. When dealing with a medication which will likely be lifelong, price can be a significant concern.

Therapy

So far, no therapy has been found that helps the symptoms of psychotic disorders. However, therapy has been very effective in helping people manage their symptoms. It is especially important for people with schizophrenia to recognize when stress in their life might trigger an acute phase. Preventing the occurrence of an acute phase by managing stress and recognizing early warning signs can be key to successfully managing schizophrenia.

Social skills training and vocational rehabilitation can be important treatments as well, especially for people with long term psychotic disorders.

Other treatments

I don’t know enough about alternative treatments (either alternative therapies such as art and music therapy or alternative medicine such as meditation, herbs, and massage) for psychotic disorders. If you or a loved one wants to explore alternative treatments, start by talking with your psychiatrist and psychologist.

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

I don’t know what the relationship is between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Officially, there isn’t one. But there has to be some reason they are so consistently misdiagnosed as each other. Again, culture seems to play a role–an American diagnosed as schizophenic who moved to Britain will usually be diagnosed by a British doctor as bipolar. The opposite often happens when a British person comes to America. With in America, it is very common for someone to go years thinking they have schizophrenia, make little or no progress in treatment, then have a new doctor diagnosis them with bipolar and the treatments for bipolar start working. Again, the opposite (someone diagnosed bipolar gets a new diagnosis of schizophrenia and stars seeing improvement) happens just as frequently.

If you look at the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia and bipolar this makes no sense. There is nothing in bipolar about hallucinations or delusions or general motor problems. And nothing in schizophrenia’s criteria about mood swings. I don’t get it. But it’s something to be aware of.

 

Okay, usually I’d start talking about the impact of psychotic disorders on polyamory here, but that’s gonna be a very long discussion, so we’ll save it for next week.

Thanks to Richard Sprott for providing the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Your Polycule Isn’t Your Relationship Counselor

There is a reason marriage counseling is a thing. Sometimes you and your partner(s) need help understanding each other and working through problems. Mental illness can increase the (actual or perceived) lack of understanding as well as clashes of personality and/or communications styles.

Many people will turn to friends or family to help them sort through these things. I’ve ended up helping out this way fairly often, and I call it being a translator. It’s (usually) less sorting out problems and more
Me:What X is saying is 123. Is that something you can work with them on, Y?
Y: Why didn’t X just SAY that?!
X: I did, but you never listen!
Me: And this is why you need a translator. Getting back to the point, Y, can you work with X on this?

In poly relationships, it can be tempting to go to another member of your polycule to help you and one of your partners sort out these kinds of things. After all, if someone is going to help you, it needs to be someone you both trust, who you are comfortable talking with about very personal and private issues, and aren’t afraid to say potentially embarrassing things in front of. If you are trying come up with someone who both of you will be comfortable talking with, a member of your polycule will probably fit the bill better than most.

Bluntly: don’t do this to your poly partners. If they volunteer to step in, well…that’s on them. But don’t put it one them. In most cases, and especially when dealing with the irrationalities of mental illness, having a member of your polycule try to mediate is juggling a live bomb.

Assuming it is a situation where neither of you are in the wrong and really do just need a translator, the two of you in the disagreement may still feel that your loved one who is trying to mediate is, in fact, being biased or taking the said of one person over the other.

If it’s a situation where one of you is in the wrong, then your loved one actually needs to take sides on this issue, or it won’t get resolved. Especially when mental illness involved, this can lead to feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and a great deal more.

Finally, your loved one may not feel able to speak their mind freely because they don’t want to be perceived as taking sides or choosing one of you over the other.

It’s a shitty situation to stick someone you love in, and may make the whole mess worse instead of better. Just don’t do it. If you can’t afford a relationship counselor, consider reaching out to a community leader, peer counseling group, respected elder, or hell, this is one place where the anonymity of online can seriously work for you. Sometimes going on a forum together and saying, “Help, we’re having problems, is anyone willing to be a sounding board/suggest solutions,” can help.

This post is (sort of) part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: “You Control Your Emotions”

Standard Poly Advice: “You Control Your Emotions” (or sometimes “You can’t control your emotions, but you can always control your actions.)

Bullshit. You don’t have to be mentally ill to lost control of yourself–either your emotions or your actions. You can be high on pain meds, you can so stressed or exhausted you aren’t thinking clearly, you could be feverish and out of it. Lots of things make us lose control. That’s why so many drugs come with warning labels “Do not operate heavy machinery.” That’s why having sex with someone who is drunk is often considered rape.

In theory, it’s great to say “You control your emotions, they don’t control you.” In reality? Unless you are a Buddha, I’m not buying it. Sometimes we all lose control. Mental illness just makes it more likely.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: You Are Responsible for Your Emotions and Actions

There’ two parts to this one.

You Are Responsible for Your Emotions

No one else is required to help you with your emotions. If you get jealous of your partner, it is not their job to help you not be jealous or to stop doing whatever is making you jealous. It is your job to deal with the jealousy.

This extends to other areas. If someone–including a partner–does something that triggers a panic attack, you are responsible for dealing with your own panic attack.

That doesn’t mean other people have an excuse to be assholes. Someone who knows that talking about X triggers panic attacks, but keeps talking about X around you is an asshole and no someone you need in your life. Similarly, in a healthy relationship your poly partners are going to want to help you deal with your jealousy. They don’t need to break off a date so you don’t get jealous, but if they say “Your jealousy is your problem” and refuse you support and/or understanding, they are not good for you.

It does mean that sometimes you will need to deal with your emotions on your own.

Last night I had to leave Michael alone while he was having an anxiety attack. It was after midnight, my PTSD has been flaring up, and I knew the kids would be up before 7 this morning. For my own heath and for the wellbeing of our kids, I had to give him a hug and walk away. He didn’t beg me to stay, he didn’t tell me I needed to help him. He didn’t say it would be my fault if he was up all night. He gave me a hug and said he loved me.

You are responsible for your actions

Terrorist: You’re in control here.
Negotiator: No, I’m not. It’s the devil’s bargain between control and responsibility. You are in control of the situation, I am in charge. You can imagine how much this thrills me.
–Paraphrased from Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Sometimes, our mental illnesses are in control. These times suck for us and everyone around us. However, sooner or later we get control back. And that’s when the hard work begins. Whatever damage we did when our mental illness was in control, it’s our job to repair what can be repaired and make reparations as best we can. We may not be able to control ourselves all the time, but we are always responsible for what we do.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: “Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations”

I’ve written a fair bit about boundaries in the past. There is a fair bit of theoretical discussion in polyamory about the benefits of using boundaries or agreements in relationships. Theory aside, no matter which you use for relationships, we all have personal boundaries. For instance, many people have a boundary about respect in relationships. They will not be in a relationship with someone who does not respect them.

According to the Big Book of Poly, it’s important to have clear boundaries. Unclear boundaries lead to miscommunication and people accidentally infringing our boundaries. Which is why clearly stating our boundaries is important.

However, the idea that we need to set clear boundaries assumes that are needs and desires are generally stable. Or at least predictable. “I need to be left alone right after work so I can recharge, but after I come out f my room I love to have you cuddle with me.”

Okay, I’m not phrasing it as a boundary, but it is a clearly set expectation, right?

So, for me, most of my triggery issues involve sex. I love to have my breasts played with–except when my anxiety or PTSD are acting up, in which case you can send me into a panic attack just brushing my nipple. Worse, sometimes I don’t know what’s going on in my head. I can think I’m fine for some sexy time, until you touch me and my brain blows a circuit.

How do I set a clear boundary or expectation about that?

“I love it when you play with my boobs, except when hate it. And I can’t always tell you ahead of time if it’s okay or not. So…we’ll play it by ear, okay?

Well, that’s clearly stated, at least. But not exactly a clear boundary.

When our partner’s ask us about our boundaries, or needs, or what works for us, there’s a pressure to find a way to smush all our illness-related unpredictably into a neat box that we can explain and understand. We owe it to our partners, right?

We don’t owe our partners clear boundaries. We owe are partners the truth.

Own Your Randomness

I don’t know anyone with mental illness who doesn’t wish that the random firings of our brains would go the fuck away. It would be nice to be able to predict for ourselves how we’re doing and what we need from one day to the next, never mind our partners.

Since we can’t, the best we do for our partners is the same thing we do for ourselves: own the randomness and try to plan for it.

“I can’t give you a clear idea of my needs and boundaries. I’m sorry about that but what I need changes a lot with how my mental illness it doing. I can promise to tell you in each moment what I need or want to the best of my ability. And I’ll try to explain how my illness affects me and my needs, so you have some idea of what to expect depending on how I’m doing.”

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s honest, it’s respectful, and it’s the best we’ve got.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Mental Illness and Polyamory Recap

This blog series is already one of the longest I’ve written, and I’m about to add a bunch more information. So before we dive back in I decided it would be good to do a quick recap of the key points of the series so far.

Educate Yourself

If one of your poly partners suffers from mental illness, take the time to learn about their illness and how it affects them. This includes both reading up on the general information about the illness and learning about how your partner experiences their illness.

There is No Quick Cure

Mental illness is not something people can just “get over” and there is no fast treatment or cure. Medication can help manage mental illness but is NOT a cure or fix. And just finding the right treatment approach can take months, if not years.

Mental Illness Can Mimic Relationship Problems

Mental illness can mimic jealousy, abuse, loss of interest, and a number of other relationship problems and red flags. Treating mental illness like relationship problems just compounds the problem. Treat mental illness like mental illness and relationship problems like relationship problems.

The Big Book of Poly Doesn’t Always Apply

There’s a lot of great advice for folks in poly relationships. However, some of that advice doesn’t work when combined with mental illness. Following the standard polyamory advice may not work or may even make things worse. If this happens it doesn’t mean you/your partner are bad at poly. It just means advice formulated by and for mentally healthy people doesn’t always apply when dealing with mental illness.

Sometimes Mental Illness Isn’t

Michon Neal shared a horrific experience of being misdiagnosed and having physical illness dismissed as “all in zir head” and mental illness. In Michon’s case the problem was compounded by the way doctors tend to overlook or dismiss all black women’s problems as mental illness.

For Michon this meant, ze was not only NOT getting the treatment ze needed, but was put on unnecessary medications with severe adverse effects. Nearly as harmful is when the wrong mental illness is diagnosed. Depression and bipolar may seem similar from the outside, but the respond very differently to treatment. Bipolar and schizophrenia are often mistaken for each other.

Irrational Feelings Are Still Feelings

Mental illness makes people feel things that have no basis in reality. Telling someone feeling abandoned because of depression “You are wrong to feel that way!” or “how dare you say I don’t do enough!” or anything like this doesn’t help anyone. That doesn’t mean you should try to fix problems that don’t exist. But understanding and empathy go a long way. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you know that I love you and would never abandon you. Would cuddling for a bit help?”

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

Help Support Polyamory on Purpose.