In the picture on the next page, we see a moment in Lora’s life. She just received a message from her friend. Think about what is happening in the picture. Next, answer the following questions in your group and note your answers in this worksheet.
My relationships are to a large extent affected by my mental issues, which can be difficult. I’m a person that thinks just too much, and when I am in a bad mood, I get touchy. When I got a message that was not completely crystal clear, I used to think about what all it can mean and what not. And then, others around me paid for that because there were misunderstandings and quarrels. My relationships were affected by my really gloomy mental state in which I felt that nothing’s worth. In such moments, I wasn’t able to communicate with others around me at all, which didn’t bring anything good to my relationships.
Now, I’m able to approach my relationships and myself, too, better. Experiences gained in romantic relationships were particularly useful to me, and later, I applied these in other relationships as well. A lot of them were those clichés that everybody advises you, and we mostly say to ourselves that it’s nonsense. But they aren’t nonsense. For example, that one shouldn’t get angry about silly things or be stubbornly insistent. On top of that, it isn’t good to deal with some things under the pressure of your emotions, and it’s better to take a break to calm down.
Not only thanks to my personal experience but also thanks to therapy, my issues influence my relationships much less. When a person is willing to reflect on oneself and the given situation, they may find out something new about themselves, for example, what they want or need from a relationship. In relationships, for me, it was fundamental to find a way how I can tell others that I am going through hard times and at the same time communicate what I need at the moment. Because for me, the most fundamental thing in relationships is mutual respect and understanding.
We have just read a real story from Lora. Now, let us try to answer the following questions:
The story of Lora thematizes personal experience with mental illness, and how this experience affects the relationship between Lora and her friend. Lora describes her negative mental states, caused by the subtlest stimuli that aroused mental states of uncertainty and helplessness within her. These often resulted in quarrels and misunderstandings. She emphasizes the role of communication; due to her mental health problems, it was difficult for her to communicate her mental states, which was bad for her relationships. She reflects on how therapy has helped her, yet she does not look at her past with bitterness. On the contrary, she stresses that she learned a valuable lesson from her past relationships and that her experience with mental illness continuously affects her personal growth positively.
It is typical for mental illnesses that they are invisible, so to speak. Therefore, at first glance, we cannot recognize if a given person lives with a mental illness until this person tell us so. Our interpretation of the behaviour of people with mental illnesses is influenced by the fact whether we know about this illness or not.
When we know about their illness, our interaction with this person might be affected by the two extremes. On one hand, the inner experience of people with mental illnesses tends to be downplayed; for instance, depressive mental states are confused with a bad mood. On the other hand, the whole person’s existence can be perceived exclusively in the light of their illness; all of their decisions, actions, emotions, and so forth, are perceived to be linked to their illness or to be influenced by it.
If we do not know about the illness, we may unconsciously try to understand a mentally ill person’s behaviour through gender stereotypes. This means that society links certain characteristics, interests, talents, and so forth, to women or men. Women are perceived as more emotional, fragile, caring, sensitive, and empathetic. By contrast, men are associated with attributes such as strength, authority, mental stability, and performance. Based on these stereotypes, the behaviour of a mentally ill person might be misinterpreted. Lora’s behaviour in her story could have been interpreted as hysterical, and since such behaviour is considered inherent in women, it would not have drawn much attention. This can have real implications in the form of neglecting mental health care. Symptoms of mental illnesses in women can be ascribed to their emotional character, and therefore as something natural, due to which it is unnecessary to seek professional care. For men, it may be the case that they are encouraged not to express emotions such as fear, sadness, or uncertainty, and therefore they do not want to seek professional help (see Max’s story).
Although Lora’s story does not explicitly contain the above-mentioned, the described phenomena influence interpersonal interactions of people with mental illnesses. When working with the story, the participants may unconsciously interpret it based on the above-mentioned stereotypes. Thanks to work with Lora’s story, the participants can become aware of the mechanisms that may be behind their behaviour towards people with mental illnesses and reflect on them.