Going to the Renaissance Faire with Schizoaffective Disorder

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Every summer, I go to the Renaissance Faire. I’ve been going with various friends since I was 18, but since I met my husband Tom in 2007, we go together but don’t invite other people because of my schizoaffective anxiety. Even just hitting the Ren Faire with Tom can still make me anxious, and sometimes I even experience the schizoaffective symptom of hearing voices. Crowds do that for me. But that can happen anywhere, and I still like to go.

When I Hear Schizoaffective Voices at the Renaissance Faire, I Have to Leave

I like to go to the Renaissance Faire despite my schizoaffective disorder for so many reasons. We head for The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, with the tagline,

“Where Fantasy Rules.”

That sounds good to me. It’s so fun to escape to the Faire and see grown adults dressed up and pretending to be in the first Queen Elizabeth’s court, or Star Trek and Star Wars characters, or pirates. Really, anything goes. Once I went dressed up as the comic book character Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

But, it is a big, noisy event. This didn’t bother me years ago, but now it does. One thing that really bothers me is the guy who cracks whips. He’s very talented, and I can see the attraction, but the sound just really sets my nerves on end. Also, if I hear schizoaffective voices, because there are so many people talking, I can’t just stick it out. Sometimes, when this happens, it sounds like the people are talking about me. Even though I know they’re not, I have to leave. Usually, we’ve made some inroads on the shopping and period eats by then.

Schizoaffective Disorder and Going to the Renaissance Faire with the Threat of the Delta Variant of COVID

The Bristol Renaissance Faire didn’t happen last year because of COVID-19, and Tom buys our tickets in advance, so we got two free tickets for this summer. As they say on their website,

“After The Plague Comes The Renaissance.”1

I didn’t know they had the internet in Tudor court England, but the punchy phrase applies so well to our own times as well as to the pre-Renaissance world of the bubonic plague.

Tom and I went earlier this summer for the first weekend of the Faire. I’m a little nervous to go again because of the delta variant of COVID, even though I’m vaccinated. Since most of the festivities are outside I should be fine, but I’ll wear a mask in the shops. I love to shop at the Renaissance Faire. The most amazing thing happened this year. I dreamed about finding a pendant at the Renaissance Faire, and I woke up thinking that if I saw that pendant, I should totally get it. Well, at the last booth we went to, I saw it, and Tom bought it for me for our upcoming 13th wedding anniversary.

So, there are good things and bad things about going to the Renaissance Faire with schizoaffective disorder, but as long as the good keeps outweighing the bad, Tom and I will keep going.

Sources

          1. renfair.com/bristol/faqs

Tips for Creating a Self-Harm Prevention Strategy

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Recovering from self-injury isn't the kind of goal that you can check off a checklist and be done with it. Getting well is only the first step—staying well requires a self-harm prevention strategy that is both actionable and sustainable.

Creating a Self-Harm Prevention Strategy

My first and arguably most important advice, if you want to create your own self-harm prevention strategy, is this: get help. Even if you've done extensive research—and even if you're a medical professional yourself—having someone in your corner is invaluable during and beyond this process.

Not only will an outside perspective help you keep things in perspective when creating your plan, but a therapist or counselor can also provide support and guidance as you begin to put your strategy into practice. Should you need to tweak your plan at any point, this person will have the experience and expertise necessary to help you find the best way to do so.

However, if you're not ready or able to work with a medical professional at this time, that doesn't mean you can't create a strategy—or implement it—on your own. (And you can always seek out a therapist later to further refine your plan and renew your motivation to stick to it. It's never too late to ask for help.)

Some tips for creating a self-harm prevention strategy on your own:

  • Do your research. Reading this post is an excellent first step, but be sure to read more and take notes on what goals and strategies seem manageable within the context of your own life.
  • Keep your goals realistic. If giving up self-harm forever sounds too overwhelming, for example, start with a small goal like, "I will stop harming myself for the next seven days." You can increase these goals as you build up your resilience.
  • Build in healthy rewards. Celebrating victories large and small will help maintain your motivation over the long term. For example, you might treat yourself to dinner, or to a new book, upon reaching an important milestone.
  • Avoid punishing yourself. Relapse itself is often punishment enough; expecting to suffer more will only make recovery more difficult. Instead, create a relapse plan ahead of time that will help you get back on track if and when a relapse occurs.
  • Be adaptable. If at first you don't succeed, don't assume this means you are incapable of recovery. Instead, revisit your strategy to see what might not be working for you, revise it as necessary, and try again.

Sustainability is Vital for Your Self-Harm Prevention Strategy

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, because it bears repeating: Recovery is not a destination. It is a road, one many of us may walk for the rest of our lives. I have been self-harm free for over a decade, but even I still struggle with intrusive thoughts and cravings from time to time. I don't know that these things will ever go away, but I do know this: they get easier, with time and (more importantly) with practice.

So when creating a strategy to prevent self-harm, keep in mind that what you're building is not a short-term plan or a quick fix. You are paving a path to the future—your future. Ideally, you will be walking it for a significant amount of time, perhaps the rest of your life.

So pave that path with kindness and understanding. Make it easy to follow and to return to if you should stray. Don't be afraid to have fun with it, even. Recovering from self-injury may be serious business, but no one's stopping you from planning playful, even silly rewards like "Dive into a ball pit" or "Buy a mermaid tail to wear by the pool" if that's what will keep you motivated.

There's no one right way to plan your future—it's just a matter of making a plan that's right for you.

Gut Problems Can Cause Anxiety: Role of the Gut-Brain Axis

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Anxiety is complex with many causes, none of which are personal flaws or weaknesses. In fact, researchers have discovered and are working to understand yet another reason anxiety is not your fault. Anxiety (depression, too, actually) is well-known as a mental health experience. It turns out that anxiety and depression are very much physical health conditions, too. As scientists learn more about the gut-brain axis, the more they understand that problems in the gut can cause anxiety and depression1,2

What Is the Gut-Brain Axis?

People used to understand the brain as a sophisticated organ that controlled the rest of the body and was the only part of us involved in thoughts and emotions. The digestive system, or the gut, was understood as a collection of things like organs and glands that digested our food. When the brain needed fuel, it told the gut to feel hungry. That was once thought to be the extent of the interaction between brain and gut. 

Our knowledge is ever-changing, though, and we're beginning to know how very limited and wrong this original understanding was. The brain and the gut are each highly complex, and together they are both directly responsible for how we interpret and react to our experiences and how we feel both mentally and physically. The highly sophisticated connection and communication between the gut and the brain is known as the gut-brain axis, and it has an important role in our mental health. 

The gut has its own nervous system (called the enteric nervous system), and while it doesn't think the way the brain does, our gut and ENS have nonetheless been dubbed our "second brain"3. The ENS is independent yet intricately connected to the central nervous system (CNS). It produces hormones and neurotransmitters (including the well-known mood neurotransmitter serotonin), and substances connected to the immune system. 

The gut also has its own living ecosystem of numerous species of microorganisms, including many types of bacteria and yeast. This system is the gut microbiota, and it influences our physical and mental health and overall functioning. 

The gut and brain constantly (as in every second of our lives) send messages back and forth along the gut-brain superhighway. The gut-brain axis is largely responsible for how we feel, including our moods and our stress levels. 

What Does the Gut-Brain Axis Have to Do with Anxiety and Depression? 

The gut-brain axis has a great deal to do with our mental health, including anxiety and depression. While researchers are still studying this complex system and how it impacts us on every level, it is now widely accepted that stress and emotions cause problems in the gut, and, separately, problems in the gut can cause mental health disorders.

A few things we know when it comes to the gut, anxiety, and depression:

  • Gut dysbiosis can cause anxiety and depression. Gut dysbiosis is a disruption in the balance of the microbiota. This change, this imbalance, can happen because of stress, diet, and/or medications. Changes in this living system impact every cell in the body and brain and are directly linked to mental illness (not just anxiety and depression, but schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental conditions like autism, too). 
  • Inflammation in the gut can cause anxiety and depression. An inflamed gut releases cytokines and neurotransmitters into our total system. Cytokines are a variety of substances secreted by immune system cells (which are part of the enteric nervous system) that affect other cells in the body. Elevated levels of some cytokines are associated with a compromised blood-brain barrier. As unwanted substances "leak" into the brain, problems like anxiety, depression, and memory loss can develop. Cytokines can also stimulate our stress reaction, causing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to activate and, among other things, flood the body with stress hormones like cortisol. This negatively affects mental health.
  • Stress and emotions affect both the brain and the gut. Distress and emotions are experienced by both the brain and the gut. When one is under any type of stress, it signals the other to react. Whether anxiety and stress originate in the brain or the gut, both "brains" are impacted. The result is often a loop of distress between the CNS and ENS that causes, perpetuates, and intensifies anxiety, depression, and other challenges. 

The relationship is so complex that it can be hard to tease out which comes first. Does emotional stress aggravate the gut, or do problems in the gut aggravate the brain, mood, and mental health? At this point in our understanding, it seems like it can be both. Mental health is also gut health, and vice versa.

Therefore, it is important to care for your entire self, your whole bodymind together. To treat and manage anxiety, then, tend to your gut as much as your mind. 

Sources:

  1. Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., and Wakefield, S., "Gut Microbiota's Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis." Clinics and Practice, September 2017. 
  2. Harvard Medical School, "The Gut-Brain Connection." Harvard Health Publishing, April, 2021. 
  3. Hadhazy, A., "Think Twice: How the Gut's 'Second Brain' Influences Mood and Well-Being." Scientific American, February 2010. 

Can Children Outgrow ADHD?

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I like to joke that my child has had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) since before he was born. The little guy never sat still in the womb--ever--and that didn't change once he waltzed into the world. Then he learned how to walk and talk, and he hasn't sat still or stopped talking ever since. As the exhausted mother of a child with ADHD who sometimes feels desperate for one moment of elusive silence, I often wonder: can he outgrow this?

Well, my friends, I did my research, and although the verdict isn't quite what I hoped for, there was good news, too.

Children's Bodies Can Outgrow ADHD, But Their Brains Usually Don't

CHADD, a charity that offers support, information, and advocacy to people with ADHD, gave me the answer to the question I've asked myself so many times, even if it wasn't the answer I wanted to hear: symptoms of ADHD persist in 50 to 86 percent of adults who had ADHD as children. It just looks different later in life1.

"Many children who display the predominantly hyperactive form [of ADHD] can grow into adults who no longer display hyperactivity," CHADD went on to explain. "Often these children were thought to have outgrown ADHD simply because they acted more calmly in daily life, even though symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and disorganization remained."

So, basically, my child might sit still for longer than two and a half minutes one day, but his brain will probably never outgrow his ADHD. He'll just (hopefully) learn how to cope with it better.

None of this surprises me. I always hoped my child would someday outgrow his ADHD, but I also suspected he wouldn't. As I've said before, his dad has ADHD, too. Even though he doesn't ricochet off the walls all day long like he did when he was a kid, if you talk to him for longer than five minutes, you'll probably notice that paying close attention isn't one of his strong suits. He might get distracted by something shiny in the near distance, and every once in a while I might have to ask, "Are you listening to me?" More than once his answer has been, "I didn't even realize you were talking to me."

It's the same conversation I've had with our son, and he's so much like his dad that I wouldn't be at all shocked if we continued to have that conversation well into his adulthood. He has a busy little brain, and I don't think that's going to change.

Whether He Outgrows His ADHD or Not, My Child Needs A Lot From Me

That busy little brain means that I'll undoubtedly be a very busy little mom for at least the next fifteen years (and probably much longer). I've said before that my child requires--even demands--constant guidance from me, and I mean that in a mental, emotional, and physical sense. Yes, he needs help navigating the wide array of feelings he seems to feel so strongly, just like he needs help calming down his mind enough to focus on one thing for longer than forty-five seconds. He also needs help with not bolting across the grocery store for a reason only he understands or not getting so absorbed in his own little world that he gets lost in the crowd.

There's a silver lining in all this, though. There's a good chance my child will outgrow his hyperactivity, which, for me, is one of his more exhausting traits. There's also a good chance he'll keep that quirky, goofy, positive outlook on life that I love about him so much.

Do you think your child might outgrow his ADHD one day? How do you feel about the possibility of his not outgrowing it? Let's have a conversation in the comments.

Sources:

  1. CHADD. "Grow Out of ADHD? Not Likely." December 2020.

Boundaries Are Crucial in Eating Disorder Recovery

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In my own experience, boundaries are frequently talked about in the mental health community as pillars of self-care, but all too often, it's unclear how to create and reinforce those healthy boundaries. I define the practice of boundaries as an instruction manual for which behavioral dynamics, communication habits, and interpersonal treatment I either will or won't tolerate in my relationships—and life overall.

This rulebook protects my emotional and mental health, while enabling me to build safe, positive connections with those I care about. Moreover, I continue to learn that boundaries are crucial in eating disorder recovery as well.    

Why Boundaries Matter for Those in Eating Disorder Recovery

The main reason that boundaries are so crucial in eating disorder recovery is because they bring personal needs, values, and priorities for healing into sharp relief. When I am clear on my boundaries, this creates self-awareness which then illuminates what I need to help further my commitment to eating disorder recovery.

Boundaries shelter the mind from toxic messages that can fuel destructive beliefs. Boundaries insulate the body from unwelcome contact, objectification, or scrutiny that can lead to dangerous patterns of behavior. Boundaries allow the space for emotions to be processed in a secure, constructive way.

Boundaries keep wellbeing at the forefront of all encounters, activities, and interactions. When my boundaries are intact, there's less opportunity for triggers to entice me back onto an unhealthy course. That's the power of being in tune with personal needs, refusing to sacrifice them, and pursuing a life of emotional, mental, relational, and physical integration. This is why I maintain that boundaries are crucial in eating disorder recovery.            

The Boundaries I Practice to Maintain Eating Disorder Recovery

Boundaries are unique and specific to each individual, so it's worth mentioning, the boundaries that work for me might not resonate with someone else. For boundaries to be healthy, effective, and sustainable, they must align with a person's value system and center wellbeing as the focal point. My own boundaries help me communicate to friends or family members how to interact with me in a way that honors my commitment to healing.

Here's a list of boundaries that I have found to be crucial in eating disorder recovery:

  1. I ask nurses or doctors at all medical appointments not to inform me of what I weigh. 
  2. I request that my parents hide their bathroom scale before I come to their house for a visit.
  3. I change the topic—or in some cases, exit the conversation—when food, weight, exercise, or body centric talk arises. 
  4. I know which people I am comfortable eating in front of, but I will not share meals with those I feel too anxious eating around.
  5. I allow safe, trusted members of my support network to hold me accountable for the health of my actions and choices.
  6. I am not afraid to say, "No," if an interaction, decision, or situation feels like it would compromise my own mental wellness. 
  7. I hold space for those I care about who need a listening ear, but I don't make myself responsible for their emotional burdens.  
  8. I ensure that my self-care needs are met before I offer advice or help to anyone else.
  9. I do not take on any commitments or obligations that could interfere with therapy sessions. 
  10. I strive for realistic expectations of others, while still continuing to protect myself from harmful, non-negotiable treatment.

Are boundaries crucial in your eating disorder recovery? Which boundaries do you practice on a regular basis? Is it an easy or difficult task for you to establish and reinforce boundaries? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.  

Anxious? How to Survive the First 5 Minutes of Anything

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Living with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health challenge can make doing almost anything exceedingly difficult. Recently, we explored how to do things when anxiety and depression interfere, including setting a time limit for yourself so you know you won't be trapped. Starting by promising yourself you'll try something for just five minutes can feel less daunting and intimidating. While this is true, the act of arriving somewhere and enduring those first few minutes can seem impossible and stop you in your tracks. Read on to discover four tips for surviving nearly anything for just five minutes.  

Help Yourself Survive Those First 5 Minutes: Acknowledge What You're Facing

Mental health disorders are real, and they have serious effects on people's lives. Whatever you're facing, it isn't something you're making up, and it isn't a sign of weakness or laziness. 

Worries, fears, automatic negative thoughts, fatigue, and self-doubt are some of the things that create huge barriers between you and the life you want to live. Going to work or class, attending events both large or small, or even running to the store can all feel overwhelming when you're experiencing difficulties that disrupt your mental health

Trying to ignore them or, worse, berate yourself for experiencing them, keeps you stuck in them. It's similar to ignoring a flat tire and driving on it while you yell at yourself for getting a flat. These actions would only serve to damage the car (and you), and it wouldn't solve the problem. 

Instead, identify what, exactly, it is about what you have to do that is difficult. What are your thoughts and feelings about it? Acknowledge them, and give yourself permission to feel them. Your fears and doubts don't have to disappear, nor do you suddenly have to feel a burst of energy, before you do something. Recognize how you're feeling and what you're thinking, and then pledge to do it anyway. 

An attitude of "anyway" can be empowering and encouraging. You're communicating to the reluctant part of your brain that you've got this. It will still be hard, but you can face it. 

4 Tips for Surviving Anything for 5 Minutes

Enduring something you dread for just five minutes can, in reality, feel like an eternity of misery. Try these for tips for doing it.

  1. Focus on the bigger picture, your values. The first five minutes of something you have to do are a tiny portion of your life. Instead of focusing on the reasons you don't want to do it (this is a natural thing to do, but it isn't very helpful for anyone), think about even one reason you are going to do it. How will showing up align with your values for who you want to be and how you want to live your life? What strengths do you have that you can draw on to get you there and help you stay for five minutes? 
  2. Keep your greater goals in mind. This is also part of "big picture" thinking. What is at least one thing you have to gain by showing up and putting up with the situation for a few minutes? How does it fit into your goals for yourself, your relationships, or your hopes and dreams in general? Sometimes, you might have to work a bit to connect these dots, but it's quite likely that your positive action will help move you forward even just a notch. 
  3. Have a beginner's mind. This is a mindfulness concept that helps people drop judgments. A beginner is brand new to a situation and as such has no preconceived expectations. This is especially helpful when anxiety's is being loud with its tendency to mind-read, jump to conclusions, bring up past problems, and predict disasters. Remind yourself that these thoughts are ideas drummed up by anxiety and have no real bearing on your current situation. 
  4. Use a focus object to ground yourself in the moment. No matter how open you are, how much of a beginner's mind you adopt, chances are high that anxiety and/or depression will interrupt and try to fill your mind with negative thoughts. When that happens, focus on something tangible with as many of your senses as you can to pull yourself out of your anxious thoughts and into the present moment. You might concentrate on something you see in the room, or you might have a small object with you in your pocket or bag. Note as many details as you can: how it looks, any sounds it makes (such as the sound of your fingernail scraping the surface), textures, or even smells and tastes if applicable. Bring your attention to this object over and over again as a way to redirect anxious thoughts. 

Remember, too, that you can leave after five minutes if you need to. It's okay. Before you rush out, you might want to experiment to see if you can endure one more minute. Regardless of how long you stay, acknowledge and honor your accomplishment. It took strength. Instead of focusing on how early you left, actively celebrate the fact that you got yourself there and stuck with it. This is build your confidence for next time. 

When Anxiety Stops You From Moving Forward

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Anxiety can be paralyzing. I know that there have been many times when I have experienced anxiety that has stopped me in my tracks, and I have felt that it was physically impossible to move forward.

However, anxiety can be more than just physically paralyzing. Sometimes, anxiety can be mentally paralyzing. Think about times in which maybe you've found that all of the symptoms of anxiety you were experiencing at the time were just terribly overwhelming that you felt you couldn't work, sleep, or attend to other daily responsibilities.

Why Anxiety Can Stop You from Moving Forward

But maybe your anxiety keeps you from moving forward and accomplishing goals you have set for yourself. There have been goals that I have tried to accomplish in life that I've put off simply because I felt paralyzed.

For example, I have often had a hard time with procrastination. When I was in graduate school, I struggled with procrastination and, as a result, I would often find myself rushed to meet deadlines. I would often see the amount of work needed for a particular project, and, after finding the work daunting, I would find it physically impossible to take any action.

Then, self-doubt and fears about what-if would creep in. I would reflect on any instance that I could relate to the task at hand in which I failed in the past. I would also look at the task as a mountainous task that, if not completed successfully, would essentially result in terrible consequences. So instead of confronting the task and trying to deal with the anxiety, I would simply avoid it and do whatever I could to keep from dealing with it.

When it comes to procrastination, this can sometimes be related to anxiety because maybe you feel overwhelmed by the task you are trying to complete or other tasks that are associated with it.

How to Move Forward

Since learning about and figuring out ways to cope, whenever I recognize that I am beginning to stop in my tracks instead of moving forward, I tell myself that I need to use the tools in my toolbox.

  1. The first strategy is one I teach students, which is to break down tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. Breaking down a task into smaller pieces can make it seem less daunting, and it can keep you focused on each piece as you work on it. This can help you stay in the moment rather than letting your mind dwell on all of the possibilities.
  2. This leads to the second strategy. Anxiety can often lead to catastrophic thinking, where the worst-case scenario is imagined. But, unless I can tell the future, I know that I don't know what is going to happen. So, approaching a task or goal one step at a time, one day at a time, and reminding yourself of this, can help you feel less intimidated by all of the possibilities of what can happen in the future.
  3. Practice self-care strategies such as meditation, exercise, or journaling. Using self-care strategies is a great way to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed. And it is helpful to be mindful of the reason that you are using these strategies. For example, you can journal about the anxiety you are experiencing surrounding a task you are confronted with, your procrastination, and the difficulty you are having moving forward to complete it.

Try these strategies to help you move forward when you feel paralyzed by anxiety. Share any techniques that you find helpful in the comments below.

Five Ways to Avoid Saying Something You'll Regret

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Have you ever wished you could take back something you said to someone? Maybe after a stressful day, you took out your frustrations on a family member, friend, or partner. Maybe you said something inappropriate to a colleague or teacher. In any case, saying things you regret can have negative consequences and cause lasting feelings of guilt. Here are five ways to avoid regret from your words.

Five Ways to Prevent Yourself from Saying Something You'll Regret

  1. Calm down before you confront someone. When something triggers your anger or frustration, you probably want to unleash all your feelings on someone. Doing so can lead to serious consequences such as ruining a relationship or getting fired from a job. When you feel heated, it's important to calm down. Some ways to do that include taking deep breaths, drinking water, meditating, or distracting yourself with a fun hobby. 
  2. Write a letter. Another way to avoid insensitive words is to write a letter about what you would like to say. This will help you evaluate your feelings about a person or your situation. After you write your letter, you can edit it or decide not to give it to the other person. The important thing is that all your feelings are released somewhere.
  3. Consider the timing. Sometimes a person's response to your words is about timing. If someone is busy or in a bad mood, wait to talk to them privately at an appropriate time. Doing this will allow the person to give you their undivided attention and process the information with a clear mind. One thing that can help you find the right time to talk to someone is to ask to schedule a time to have a conversation. This might require you to wait a few days, but it will help show the other person respect and patience.
  4. Show empathy during a difficult conversation. There is not always an easy way to say something. If you know that what you have to say will hurt someone, admit this and say that you hope the person will understand. After you relay the message, apologize and emphasize that you care about the person you're talking to. They will see your empathy and hopefully develop a sense of empathy themselves.
  5. Apologize if you say something hurtful. If you did all the above steps, it's possible that you still said something hurtful without realizing it at the time. Apologizing is a way to restore trust and express care and compassion. It can save friendships, relationships, and jobs. Make sure your apology is sincere by clarifying what you are sorry for saying. Then admit that it was wrong. Then try not to say it again.

Hopefully, these five steps will be effective for you. Do you have any of your own strategies to help you avoid saying something you'll regret? If so, share them in the comments.

No, Your Friends Can't Be Your Therapists

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Many people are much more open to the idea of mental health counseling nowadays, but I still encounter people who don't understand the point of paying someone to listen to them when they have friends who will do that for free. They might make jokes about their friends giving them "free therapy" or call therapy a pointless waste of money. Not only is that opinion based on misinformation, but using a friend as you would a therapist can put an unfair burden on the relationship. 

Therapy and Friendship Are Just Not the Same

Relationships between client and therapist are not the same as friendships. I talk more about the differences in the video below. It is the job of a therapist to focus on and care for their clients, keep good boundaries, and help clients reach their goals. Friends (ideally) want to support each other, listen, and encourage each other to be their best, but friendships are a two-way street.

There is also a very different dynamic between friends and between therapist and client. Friends can tell you what you want to hear just to keep you happy and avoid conflict. Friends also tend to give advice based on their own experiences, which therapists are trained not to do. Friends can make us feel worse even with the best of intentions.

Considerations and Boundaries for Healthy, Emotionally Supportive Friendships  

I have been in both the therapist's chair and the client's chair. I have also been on both sides of this type of friendship, both asking too much of my friends at times and acting as a therapist for my friends when it wasn't my place. You can be supportive of your friends and seek emotional support from them while respecting boundaries. Here are some tips from my experience:

  1. Be considerate. Before you vent to your friends, make sure they have the emotional space to hear it. Consider asking "is this a good time?" before unloading a heavy topic onto someone. I know I always want to support my friends, but sometimes I'm already so stressed out that I don't have it in me to take on anything else at the moment.
  2. You can also let friends know where you're at emotionally if they want to vent to you. "I had a bad day and I don't think I'm in the right mental place to help with this right now. Can we talk tomorrow?"
  3. Be sensitive to your friend's emotions. Complaining about your job to a friend who just lost hers might be insensitive, for example. Think about whether the topic could be a trigger for your friend and either ask or go to someone else to talk about that subject.
  4. Ask friends what they need at the start of the conversation. "Do you want advice or just someone to listen?" 
  5. If you notice yourself venting to friends repeatedly about the same topic, consider taking action to change the situation or seek professional help. If your friends keep venting about the same issues without making any changes or taking steps to fix the problem, encourage them to seek professional help. There's no shame in making an effort to better yourself.

For more about the differences between therapists and friends, check out the video below. I would love to know what you think in the comments below.

How Biphobia Hurts My Mental Health

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My last post examined harmful misconceptions about demisexuality (lack of sexual attraction without emotional intimacy) and how they are detrimental to the mental health of demi people. In this follow-up post, I want to talk about one of the most prevalent and harmful, yet -- in my opinion -- under-addressed issues in the queer community that causes immeasurable damage to social and mental health: biphobia.

Why Biphobia Is Harmful to My Mental Health

There is a wealth of information available online that examines the causes, manifestations, and consequences of biphobia on the mental (and physical) health of bisexual people, so for the purposes of this post, I'll be focusing on my own experiences with biphobia and how they have negatively impacted my mental health.

I grew up in a very conservative religious environment where I was conditioned to believe that queerness of any stripe was wrong, sinful, and intolerable. Add this to an overall societal misunderstanding of bisexuality and a lack of representation of bisexual people in the media, I did not know that bisexuality was even a real orientation until I was much older. Yet, I remember that some of the earliest crushes I had as a child were on other girls, though I didn't recognize them as crushes at the time.

By my freshman year of high school, I had come to reject the teachings I received growing up about sexuality and queerness. However, I didn't come to the realization that I myself am bisexual until I was 23 years old. I believe it is something that I've always known about myself but was unable to acknowledge until I had put in a lot of work to extricate myself from my childhood conditioning and trauma. Thankfully, I had the support of several wonderful queer folks in my life that made the process easier. It was nerve-wracking to come out, but when I finally did, I also felt an overwhelming sense of joy that I was finally able to accept and be myself.

Unfortunately, there have been times when that joy has been rudely ripped away. I have been on the receiving end of biphobia from both straight people and other queer folks, and have often felt as if I don't really "belong" anywhere. To further complicate matters, at the time of this writing, I am currently in a straight-presenting relationship. Straight people tend to have a hard time believing that I could possibly be attracted to other genders when I'm married to a man, even commenting that I've "already picked a side." On the other hand, more than one queer person has told me (in certain terms or otherwise) that because I did not come out until I was an adult, and because of my current relationship status, I have not "earned" the right to call myself queer.

The feelings of never quite fitting into either realm, that I'm not "enough" for my own community and of being perceived as "greedy" or "confused" does little to help my tendency towards depression and anxiety. Human beings are a social species and need to feel like we belong, that we are seen and cared for. To have an integral part of your identity repeatedly erased or berated attacks the very core tenant of what it means to be human.

Navigating Biphobia and Tending to My Mental Health

I've come to accept that biphobia is something that I will always have to contend with, which -- as with anything -- is the first step towards healthy coping and navigation.

I have made it a priority to, insofar as possible, only surround myself with people who accept and embrace my identity. (Sadly, this has required cutting quite a few people out of my life, which has been difficult at times but worth the effort.) I am happy to help educate folks who are genuinely curious and want to understand bisexuality better, but I do not engage with trolls or people who make demands on my time or emotional labor. Being intentional about who I spend time and engage with has done wonders for my mental health not just relating to my bisexuality, but in other facets of my life as well.

I have also learned over the years not to take biphobia personally. The majority of the time, people who perpetuate biphobia are either ignorant or have their own vulnerabilities, insecurities and traumas surrounding their sexuality that need to be addressed and healed. It is not my responsibility to convince those people that my sexuality is real and valid, and that realization has been incredibly liberating.

Perhaps the biggest thing that helps me navigate and push back against biphobia is by offering myself as a source of support and comfort for other queer folks, bi or otherwise, who are in need of validation, especially for my peers who are newly out or grappling with their identity. Giving others a safe space to be themselves builds strong community ties that make us all safer, and being a part of that process helps me as much as it helps others -- and gives me hope that things can change.