Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Abuse Culture Tips: Questions and Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Updated version of an article originally published on Medium.

When it comes to abuse, there’s much confusion surrounding what to do, who to blame, etc. In polyamory, this can be further complicated by the amount of people involved and how they are involved. But never fear; there are some things to keep in mind no matter what. While they may not prevent abuse, these tips can go a long way to ensuring the victim’s ongoing safety.

  • On abusers and repentance: If you want to “help” someone who’s transgressed, you only need to offer it once. Then move on. They know where to find you if they need to. Like, the problem is their overabundance of options, not lack thereof. Where’s the support and restoration for the people who actually need it? That’s what matters. Be wary of a continued focus on the perpetrator to the victim’s detriment.
  • And we do need to consider context for who to trust and inform and maintain ties with: those who don’t know what was done, those keeping an eye on perpetrators to actively keep them from doing harm, and those who just dgaf.
  • Speaking of harm: I’m thinking of that scene from The Craft: I bind you. I bind you from doing harm against yourself and others. That is basically the goal and requirement for bystanders who need to become anti-abuse agents. The point is massive harm reduction, barring healing (which takes forever, and often never)

Ask Some Questions of Yourself and Others:

1. Is there a power imbalance?

The difference between hurting and abusing is always power (as opposed to responsibility and accountability).

That’s why it occurs nearly everywhere, even within “social justice” and “feminist” spaces. Colonization and evo psych have distorted our thinking to the point where people assume hierarchies, competition, and barbarism are natural, normal, and the default for humanity.

It is absolutely not! But that’s an exploration for another time.

The point is that concentrated power inevitably will draw abusers and will lead to abusive dynamics and systems. It doesn’t matter if you call it democracy or utiliatrianism or communism or socialism; if you are concentrating power, you are building a foundation for an abuse culture to arise.

I’ll discuss ways to avoid that elsewhere.


Abuse is power gained — nonconsensually — at the expense of another. It is not hurting someone’s feelings. It is not merely rudeness; some of the worst abuse is perpetrated via niceness. Abuse is inertia. A limit. A purposeful distortion and delusion imposed upon reality.

It is the opposite of emotional intelligence; it is making other people responsible for your feelings instead of dealing with your own shit. It is projecting your expectations onto human beings and demanding they comply. It is a harmful erasure of reality.

2. Has someone been hurt? If so, is that hurt harmful? Is it ongoing?

Tend to the hurt appropriately. Some hurt is inescapable, some is to be dealt with by the individual (ie, yte guilt, rejection, etc are personal issues and are not matters of abuse).

Harm, on the other hand, is where abuse begins. Harm is senseless, meaningless, petty, unnecessary, and the only goal is to gain the upper hand. That is the bedrock of abuse culture.

3. Can you tell the difference between a trauma response, mental illness (usually a trauma response of a specific kind), neurodivergence, assholery, and abuse?

4. Concentrate on the victim(s). What do they need to feel safe? What do they need to BE safe? (By safe I simply mean having the space to heal and/or recover organically)

If you’re not constantly and consistently keeping the most vulnerable safe (giving them room to exist), then there is no ethical or moral fiber to whatever it is you think you’re doing, whether you call it restorative justice or not.

5. Is the person, idea, or system more based on appearances (reputation or other surface concerns) rather than actual efficiency or effect?

Abusive dynamics are all about control: controlling the narrative, controlling reputations, controlling choices.

Control is not discipline. It is not responsibility. It is not accountability. Control is about power.

A loss of control experienced by someone with mental illness or disability is best dealt with by grounding that person or having them ground themselves. Illness is not abuse; abuse is a choice to take unearned and unagreed upon power by any means necessary (by force). Abuse is not self-defense or maintaining or reclaiming boundaries.

6. Is the focus on soothing hurt feelings or on solving the actual problem?

7. What are the actual consequences for being abusive? What is the ongoing cost to the victim(s)?

8. When considering letting people or systems who’ve been abusive remain or “come back” or whatever: does the power imbalance still exist? Have they been held accountable? Has the victim been compensated and/or restored (which may never happen fully, but should still be aimed for)?

9. Consider the wider context: Are you considering intersectionality and an integrated view of the situation?

Yes, the marginalized and oppressed and disabled, etc, can abuse. Some do. That doesn’t change the overall overarching systemic abuse in the form of oppression that happens. In general, and overall, it is far more likely that someone benefiting from the oppression (macro-level abuse) is abusive.

Yeah, that means cishet yte abled dudes are the most likely to be abusers. That information gained from the sources in power is not reliable. It is what it is.

Hurt people don’t hurt people. That is emotionally unintelligent bullshit. Taking power is always a choice. Feelings are not actions, nor are they reasons to make certain decisions. To be abusive is to decide your comfort/desire/delusion is more important than the other party’s right to informed choice.

Such myths leave the most vulnerable fending for themselves. And what the fuck is the point of talking about justice or human rights or a better world if you blame the victim or kill the messenger?

10. Are you conflating ability to abuse with personality?

It’s not about likeability. It’s not about who the people involved are on an individual level. It is about the tether between them, and whether it lends itself to unfairness, inequality, and harm. The only way to end it is to place and enforce rational boundaries — even up to the point of banishment in egregious circumstances — until the abuse stops!

That means the abuser has to actually stop abusing, folks, before they can be considered nonabusive. Ignoring it just ensures it will continue.

Possible Things To Do:

  1. Speak up. You don’t have to be a jerk but niceness is not required. Don’t accuse; just state what is.
  2. Remember that abuse doesn’t go away on its own. Something has to change; usually this means giving the victim space to recover. Yeah, that means the abuser may have to go away for a bit, or a while, or forever. So what?
  3. The victim owes nothing. They determine the terms because they know what they need. Give space for their agency in the matter because your opinion is not relevant, especially if you haven’t actually survived shit.
  4. The survivor is the expert so defer to their judgment. They were actually on the front lines.
  5. Be vigilant. Work on your own emotional intelligence. Dismantling and stopping abuse is a never-ending active process, not just something that’s done once.
  6. Provide space — if necessary and feasible — for the abuser to reflect and be accountable, but fucking do it AWAY from the victim(s)! Don’t fucking put them in therapy or some other shit together if it’s serial abuse!
  7. If the abuse is just one singular instance, that’s a sign that the person in general is not an abuser but was just abusive. That means they’re more likely to be successfully rehabilitated.
  8. For serial abuse, that person tends to be an actual abuser, and rehabilitation is counterindicated. Rather, harm reduction measures are required. That simply, practically, means limiting their access to those they tend to victimize. Like, don’t fucking put them in charge of the vulnerable populations they abused. Don’t put them in positions of power period.
    Abusers (as opposed to people who’ve been abusive) are opportunists. Recall the above: it’s about power. They will absolutely exploit it.
  9. If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t matter how much you study; you don’t know shit. As a bystander, you are a support and your job is to help create, place, and maintain boundaries between the victim and the abuser. Not protecting, but taking direction from.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mean or nice person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re oppressed.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your intention.

It doesn’t matter what they did to you.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t realize it was abuse until it was too late.

It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as romance or social justice or parenting.

You cannot force anyone to do anything!

No one is entitled to anything. No one is owed anything. No one “deserves” anything.


Agency is what we have to nurture and focus on within any context. Situations and practices that remove or inhibit agency (ie, these are all examples of abuse). This list is nonexhaustive:

  • rape by deception (like that recent shit about amabs pretending to wear condoms)
  • gaslighting (more likely within polyamory due to societal factors, though not inherent to it)
  • bullying
  • hazing
  • assault
  • control of finances/resources
  • delays and interference not contingent upon survival (ie. consistently making someone late for work, blocking access to family, friends, or other support sources, etc)
  • denial
  • lying
  • stalking
  • spying and other invasions of privacy
  • racism (any ism, really, but the current incarnation of abuse culture houses everythin under racism, anyway)
  • belittling
  • nonconsensual spanking (or hitting, biting, etc)
  • manipulation
  • yelling
  • pressuring
  • ongoing negligence
  • artificial selection (not just genetically — yes, I mean the holocausts, eugenics, and breeding — but also actively seeking to limit someone’s choices to things that impact their ability to care for themselves and live)
  • fetishizing
  • dehumanizing
  • rape
  • molestation
  • theft
  • policing
  • brainwashing
  • imposing religious or personal ideas
  • constantly interrupting or speaking over
  • facilitating abuse or abuse by proxy (ie. selling your kid to an abuser)
  • avoiding informed consent
  • unjust and/or discriminatory laws/policies
  • redlining
  • medical abuse/experimentation
  • victim-blaming
  • surveillance
  • negging
  • ‘splaining
  • cruel and unusual punishments
  • declaring anyone “illegal” or treating them as such
  • false reporting
  • harassment
  • tone policing
  • evasive projecting
  • extortion
  • silencing a victim or marginalized perspective
  • demanding unpaid emotional/intellectual labor
  • anything else that interferes with agency and power in a nonrational, unnecessary, controlling manner

Note that self-defense, mental illness, neurodivergence, and/or ongoing stress is often mistaken for abuse. I can’t get into it in more detail here, but there are ways to tell and different processes for dealing with it. Nevertheless, having a disability or mental illness is NEVER sufficient to excuse abuse. Disabled or neurodivergent people can and do abuse, as stated above, but the issue is still the abuse itself and not their disability or neurodivergence.

The Polya Bystander: I Just Want to Be Left Alone

Updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

If there’s one thing that helps keep polya people from experiencing discrimination like other minorities, it’s that there’s often some sense of privacy.

For many people, they can practice their non-monogamy in relative peace. They can simply spend less time with any possible family that disapproves. They can’t be picked easily out of a crowd. And even when others discover they have multiple partners, most might simply assume it’s cheating but it’s not like they kill people over it.

Well, only so long as you aren’t already in an oppressed group or surrounded by a culture that closely monitors your sexuality. Polya people like to emphasize that’s it’s not all about the sex but we live on a world in which any sort of intimacy is likely to be sexualized. The vast majority of the world is romantic and sexual in some sense and it’s already difficult enough to understand aromanticism and asexuality.

That doesn’t even begin to cover all of the dynamics that serve to leave the world an extremely unfair place due to the ways we all rank on that arbitrary scale of normality.

In other words, it’s very easy to say you just want to be left alone, and for the most part actually be left alone, the closer to normal you fall. If you already fit into the dominant group and the only not-normal thing about you is that you have more than one sexual or romantic partner without lying or coercing anyone, then you can truly choose whether to be out or not.

There are some who choose to be out. But the only topic they can speak on is their polyamory or other form of non-monogamy. For the most part, they systems of control by normality remain in place. You can see this is in the evolution of the white polyamory movement in the last few decades, where it was (and still is) considered acceptable to exert couple privilege or other forms of hierarchy and controls by default.

Even today, the polya community is overwhelming full of white and well-off voices. There was also that article posted years ago lamenting the lack of diverse voices in what was originally a very queer and colored community (and which does exist, just not within “mainstream spaces”).  The fact that they keep writing stuff like that despite the work myself and others have been doing speaks volumes. I have noticed that many of the online groups, mostly run by white people, are asking about how they can make it a more welcoming space for people of color.

But this question is a red herring. Because the polya community in general – according to many personal stories, and the need for the formation of groups like Intersectional Non-Monogamy and The Creep Shame Hall of Fame – isn’t very welcoming to anyone but straight white men, it seems.

Many women or those who are perceived as female report and complain of creepy guys cruising the polya scene. Anyone can take on the polya label, and without a critical examination or process for ensuring some actual degree of ethical behavior, pretty much everyone is taking a huge risk.

This doesn’t even begin to include further marginalized groups like queer people, intersex people, atheists, and others.

There’s this deep divide between what people think ethical non-monogamy is and what it comes to look like in practice. They may put in the effort to treat their partners well but why should they care about anyone or anything else?

At times, the desire for privacy or for a world away from the world results in the reaction to my experience in an open relationship group over a year ago, where I am told to be quiet because my experience wasn’t “relevant” or was “too political”. Where people wanted to get back to talking about how awesome their polya experience was instead of addressing – or even acknowledging – the discomfort of people like me.

When the desire for privacy and freedom outweighs building a healthier culture or acknowledging the flaws in a system (especially what’s supposed to be a more ethical one), it simply ends up being another way the rest of us are locked out and silenced. In the end, it continues to perpetuate the larger abuse culture and its ills.

It is only recently – some of it from myself and a few others posting about certain issues and some of it from the changing world climate in general – that polya people are starting to realize that maybe it’s not so easy to keep polya a private matter, at least for other people.

Here in the U.S. people are behaving irrationally, spreading hatred, and generally making it an uncomfortable and unsafe place to live for anyone they don’t trust. There are comparisons to Nazi Germany. While I really cannot speak on whether it is or not, there are parallels and Nazis totally learned it from watching us. It is true that witch hunts are explosive and addictive.

There’s that saying that a person didn’t speak up until there were no more groups of people between them and annihilation. It is still true and valid today. You may think that your polyamory has nothing to do with Black people, or with intersex people, or with religious minorities. That’s not true at all.

You can freely practice your non-monogamy because the hounds are busy chasing the rest of us instead. You can live well because of the unpaid labor that my ancestors provided. You can learn about non-monogamy and attend conventions because you’re not trapped in the poverty cycle. You can plan when or if to have children because you aren’t disabled or poor. You can walk down the street holding hands with your loves because you won’t get shot for looking suspicious.

Even when you choose to speak up, you are likely much safer than I am. The more visible I become, the angrier it’ll make those who wished I didn’t exist. And the more likely they’ll respond powerfully (and negatively). I’m already being told that everything that happened to me is my fault, that my aromanticism is the result of shitty experiences, and that I’m exaggerating. How much longer until the threats and physical violence starts rolling in again?

You may think you have nothing to contribute. You may assume that you have nothing in common with us. You may not see the connections just yet.

But if you want to live a more responsible life, if you enjoy loving multiple people, and if you live in relative safety you can do so much to help make that more than a possibility for others.

Listen more. Join Intersectional Non-Monogamy. Check out resources for queer and Black people. Educate yourself.

Even if you fumble, even if you mess up, do your best to step beyond that self-contained bubble keeping you separated from the rest of the world. Your lives may or may not appear to change with the political or social climate. But my life does. And others’ lives do as well.

Be grateful for your privacy. Be in love with your freedom. I only ask that you keep those of us with less of each in mind. And maybe speak up for us and make room for us. And believe us!

Because at the end of the day, I’m sure we all value our freedom and privacy. We all want to be left in peace. Give us that chance.

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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