1. Educate via your experiences/story.
Education is key to explaining mental illness to your loved ones. The key is to figure out/feel out each one and see the best way to discuss it. And yes, I know that loved ones should come to you like they would if you were diagnosed with a physical disease. But the reality is, for most people, the stigma is strong in their head. They may not know what to say, and unfortunately, compassion and common sense tend to fly out the door as separation comes to the forefront. So, it is important to try and educate the people you love the most and want to be a part of your life. Sharing your experiences can be very powerful. From there, you may see that your loved one can understand you more, and you may be surprised at the similar experiences they have in turn. These are the best bonding moments. However, there is a catch. This way of educating your loved ones is not for everyone. In fact, and in my opinion, only a few people can handle or even want this type of emotional bonding. It may be different for you, but for me, this was my experience. I hope you all have one person you can share your story (and that’s up to you, of course!) and experiences with. It will be scary, but it will be so worth it! 😊
2. Educate via Materials.
Sometimes, we are not up for telling our story. We may not be ready. We may not feel like this is the person we want to tell our story too, but he or she is important to us. This is where using a variety of materials can be helpful. This works best for someone that is more facts driven than emotionally driven. There are many sites that have definitions, statistics, etc. for the loved ones of individuals with mental illness. I remember printing out some information and brochures for them and letting them read it on their own time. I figured if they read it and loved me, they would come discuss things with me. If they never discussed it with me, then maybe they are not the type of people I would like in my life. Sometimes, you may feel sad when having to do this process. But in the end, you will know who really wants to be your support, your biggest cheerleaders. Saying goodbye to people is always hard. Finding your people is one of the best feelings in the world. It life-changing, and you will feel so much more confident in who you are when you are loved by the right people! 😊
3. Educate via Others.
So, sometimes when I knew the person cared, but he or she couldn’t really wrap their head around it, I used others’ stories. I picked other people that they knew and respected and had similar stories to mine. It worked well, and it became more real and relatable for that person. For instance, if the person liked sports, I would find a respectable player who was suffering from anxiety and panic. I also shared other’s stories as it shows that I am not alone in this, and mental illness is a very real disease.
4. Educate via Professionals.
Now, this one is a little tricky. I believe this is meant for parents, very close family/friends, and serious significant others. Sometimes, the best way to discuss your mental illness is with a professional. Not only can the professional be knowledgeable about your mental illness, but they can help mediate the discussion. This is also for people that realize that someone having a mental illness affects everyone around them; it is a family problem. There are issues we have that go deeper than the mental illness. The mental illness could have made these issues worse or vice versa. It I important with some people to figure out the foundations of the issues arising. This can be a great way to learn how to navigate with someone having a mental illness, but not use the mental illness as the scapegoat for the real deep and rooted issues.
5. Don’t Educate.
I hate to be this upfront sometimes, but some people will decide that you are a burden and full of excuses no matter how much they are educated on the subject. I know this is hard, but remember, this is not a reflection on you. They have just decided that they are not interested in learning, it is too much of a “hassle,” or they will use your vulnerability and sharing against you as a weakness. We have all had it done to us, and we have done it to others as well. It is never a good feeling. And for some reason, in my experience, these are the people I have tried to educate and convince them I am worth something and not defined by my illness. It slowly killed me inside and made me feel terrible. So, I have learned who to take the time to explain and how I should explain. It took a while, and I learned my lesson a few too many times, but in the end, I know who wants to really know me and who has other agendas. There is no rule book to this, and unfortunately, you must use your instincts and have some trial and error. But once you have your people and they understand and show you unconditional love and support, it will be the BEST feeling, and you will know that no matter what you go through, you have the best support and you will get through it! 😊