News for June 2013

Identity

identity-640One of the things people, myself included, struggle with is maintaining a healthy and stable identity. In this article, I am going to talk about healthy identities.

Having a stable identity is only one part of the equation, the other, having a healthy identity is equally important. Establishing a stable identity is an important step in healing from mental illnesses like borderline personality disorder, but if that identity is not healthy, it is still a harmful situation.

I have personally had problems with my identity over the years. While I have developed a stable identity the last few years, it is still not truly healthy.

In my case, the fact that I tie most of my identity to a single aspect is what makes my identity unhealthy. I tie most of my identity to the role of caregiver/protector. When you tie your identity to one thing, any challenge to that aspect of your identity risks destabilizing you. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the risk, the bigger the effect on your stability.

Recently, I had a situation at home that left me frantic. I was left in a position where I had to leave my wife alone at home in as potentially unsafe situation. There is a lot to the situation, but the bottom line is it was a challenge to my role of protector and caregiver.

With my identity tied so heavily to this single aspect, it had a massive impact on my stability. It took every trick I knew to prevent breaking down, and it was still a fight for me to stay stable. Had my identity been more diverse, the impact of a challenge to the one component would not have been so devastating.

Edited: June 21st, 2013

I am not Atlas and Neither are You

Do you ever feel like the mythical Greek Titan Atlas, who was condemned to support the weight of the heavens on his shoulders in order to keep the heavens from touching the earth once again?

It is not a pleasant feeling. While everyone feels this way at times, a bigger problem arises when we start feeling like this every day. Eventually the weight begins to crush us. When it starts crushing us, we need to find a way to shift the weight or when possible lighten our burden. The number of ways to accomplish this is as vast and diverse as the number of ways that the problem can occur. There is no one right way.

Here are a few ways that have worked for me.

Lighten the Load:

Stepping back and looking at what you have going on in your life and evaluating the importance of each item in your life is an effective technique. Next, determine if any of the things that you can live without. This should immediately lighten your burden.

A few years back, I had to employ this technique. I was working full time, taking care of my injured wife, taking care of our apartment and cat and going to graduate school.  My job is very stressful and requires me to commute three hours a day, round-trip. I was dysregulated almost every day and getting worse each day. I was engaging in frequent self-harm and each day my depression grew worse.

Something had to give and soon; otherwise, I would have wound up needing to check myself into a mental health treatment center.

I knew I was not about to give up my wife or my cat, I love them both too much. I was stuck at the apartment until the lease was up which was months away. I love my job too much, am paid well, have good benefits and work with good people. I was not about to give that up.

That left graduate school.  I had wanted to get a Master’s degree for years, but I could never figure out the right concentration and degree to pursue. Then finally, a year earlier, I figured it out. I applied and I was accepted. I was so excited. The thought of dropping out scared me. I was worried I would feel like a failure for quitting. I agonized over the decision for months. Then I finally realized it was either graduate school or my mental health. I came to peace with the decision when I realized the stakes, and realized I could always go back to school later when things calmed down.

Once I made the decision, I just felt so much weight vanish.

If you cannot lighten your load for any reason, then another technique to use is:

Share the Load

If you cannot get rid of anything, then look for someone to help you with it. Reach out to family, friends, support groups, anyone that can help. Build a support network. Ask for help. Nothing in the ‘rules’ says you must do everything yourself. Let people know you are overwhelmed.  Remember, you are not Superman/Superwoman.

For example, a few years before I started dating my wife, I was getting ready to enter a relationship that I knew would be difficult at times. One of the first things I did was to reach out to my family and closest friends to start building a support network. I explained the situation to them and told them I would need their help at times.

The final technique I want to discuss is:

Shifting the Load

I am not sure if “Shifting the Load” is the best name for this, so if you have a better one let me know.

If you cannot find anyone to share the load, I know not everyone has friends and family they can trust or rely on, then look for ways to shift things around in your life.

There are two ways to do this. The first is to look for ways to adjust your schedule. This allows you to spread the load around more. If you can adjust “when”, it can make life easier. If you do not need to do everything at one time, it will allow you some down time to breathe, relax and detox.

The second may sound counter intuitive, but look for MORE things to do, BUT they need to be things that help DISTRACT you or give you some form of SAFE and ENJOYABLE outlet. For example, take up a new hobby or if you have hobbies you have neglected, start engaging in them again. The key here is that whatever you choose, it cannot be something stressful. If you join a club, do not take on any responsibilities with it, just participate in it.

Edited: June 5th, 2013

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