Am I at the Right Party?
The world of mental illness is not a party that most of us want an invitation to attend. It's a shock when we suddenly realize, “Oh, here I am at a party I never asked to be invited to or planned to attend.” The next thing you’re asking yourself is, “Hmmm…now what? I had no time to prepare for this. I thought I was going to a BBQ and I ended up at a formal ball. How awkward is that? I don’t feel welcome here. Why did this happen? What did I miss?”
Yes, when your loved one presents with symptoms and behaviors of mental illness, it can feel exactly like you are at the wrong party wearing the wrong attire. Cut-offs and a T-shirt when you should be in a gown or tuxedo.
Then there are the holidays. Your world suddenly becomes a 140-mph wind in your living room. And there you are again, another disastrous holiday when you are supposed to be celebrating God’s grace, family, and loving each other.
Your loved one feels alone and abandoned and so do you. They need help, but just as importantly, so do you. Perhaps they are not getting the therapy they need. You want to get them medical and therapeutic help, but they may not want it, and they especially don’t want to hear advice from you.
Again, now what? It's a very real question, with difficult answers to be sure. What you want is someone to just tell you what to do, or what the right thing is to say. You already know the wrong things to say, because you have said them so many times, and now it feels like you are even worse off than when you began.
Can I say it again? Wrong party, wrong attire.
In his book, I am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help, clinical psychologist Dr. Xavier Amador, provides a way to talk to our loved ones. This book contains an invaluable tool for those of us who have loved ones with mental illness. But frankly, it's a tool we would do well to use in all our relationships. It’s called the LEAP Approach. It’s simple really, and it goes like this:
L – Listen. Effective listening is where you just sit back and listen to your loved one’s frustrations, fears, hopes and dreams, and then repeat back your understanding of what they said, no advice or opinion.
E – Empathize. Identify with their feelings. Convey your empathy with… “I would be hurt too if someone said…” or “That would be so hard.” or “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
A – Agree. Discuss only the issue or problem they see, talk about the possible solutions and agree on the helpful benefits of the solution. It doesn’t need to be the only solution; you just want to find a solution that works for them and will benefit them the most.
P – Partner. Partner with them to work on the solution or goal together. Encourage and cheer them on. They need to know that you are on their side.
Could you use a little encouragement and support as you figure out your "party invitation and what to wear?" We would love to walk beside you on your journey with a loved one who has mental illness. The support group, Supporting Loved Ones with Mental Illness, meets every second Thursday of the month at 6:30 PM in Room 209. You may still feel like you are at the wrong party, but at least you’ll have on the right attire.