Episode 15 – Mental Illness as a Strength, Coping in the Moment, and Parents

Episode 15 – Mental Illness as a Strength, Coping in the Moment, and Parents

Are you wondering whether mental illness should be considered a weakness or a strength? In this week’s episode we answer questions about how to frame mental health struggles, how to manage intense emotions while at work, handling difficult relationships with parents, and the difference between CBT and DBT.

Introduction

Chris and Christine discuss that they’re glad to be back to recording the podcast after a short break but that both are just feeling “OK.” Chris notes that often for him “OK” means putting on a brave face but overall actually a bit worse than neutral. He shares that even though he’s stressed, keeping up his regular routine helps him cope. Christine comments how this is a form of opposite action, and that it’s often helpful to push yourself to get up and get going. Chris agrees that it can be helpful to face the day even when you don’t feel like it.

Question 1

I was wondering about how you would view a mental illness: something that’s more of a weakness that you can work upon, or if you do it more as like a health condition beyond  your control. Personally, I kind of see it as both. It can be kind of hard to tell people about your mental health if it’s viewed as kind  as  a weakness. How would you see someone with a mental illness if they came to you and told you, would you view it as something that’s kind of a weakness?

  • Christine describes that she views mental illness as a health condition. She feels that it’s a bit unique amongst health issues. It can be treated with medication but also has aspects that feel more like a pattern of behavior which can seem like a choice.
  • Chris agrees that it’s not a weakness. Especially if you are seeking help and trying to get well, there’s should be shame in it and it’s not something he views as a weakness. Chris notes that behaviors or choices can contribute to difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that experiencing mental illness is a  personal failure.
  • Christine says that she views behavior as a combination of genes and environment. She elaborates that typically what we do is based on what we have learned over time. Whether it’s the experience of trauma, what we were taught by our parents, or just generally what we’ve noticed themselves as we move through life. Christine feels that it’s not the person’s fault that they have the disease, but that it’s their responsibility to seek treatment and try to get well.
  • Some things may be more difficult for people with mental illness, but in the long run, overcoming those challenges can build resilience and help you develop new skills that you might not have otherwise.
  • Chris and Christine agree that overcoming adversity can help you build strength and empathy for others. They discuss how someone who views mental illness as a weakness is probably not someone you want to spend a lot of time with. Comparing it to a broken arm, Chris notes that we don’t judge others for physical ailments, so it’s not fair to do that people coping with mental health challenges.

Question 2

I suffer with depression and anxiety. When I’m at work, in particular, I often will find myself triggered and when I use the little tactics that I’ve been taught to reduce my reaction in a public space, they are very effective but what it kind of feels like is that the feeling gets pushed down in a way so that I can behave appropriately in the environment I’m in. But I find that later while the anxiety goes away for the moment, it seems to resurface later in the day as anger. And then by the time I’ve gotten home the anger usually morphs into very depressed feelings. So I’m wondering if there’s a way that I can process my feelings whether in the moment or if there’s an appropriate way or effective way to do it at home later in the day. I’m wondering what the most effective way to process my emotions is so that I can leave the past in the past and not have huge reactions to small problems or triggers in my present. Thanks so much for your help. Keep doing what you do love the I love the podcast. Take care guys.

  • Christine gives that caller kudos for her positive coping strategies. She guesses that the caller is using grounding strategies when she is triggered at work, and then when she gets home she reflects on her experience and gets angry with the fact that she had to experience the trauma in the first place.
  • Chris notes that sometimes when he is in social situations he uses specific strategies to get through challenging moments. He describes that it’s been helpful to stop trying to fight negative emotions but instead tries to let them just be, and co-exist with them. He feels that resisting or pushing back against negative emotions gives them power and makes them more intense. Instead of trying to avoid anxiety or even trying to manage it, he forces himself to just experience the negative emotions, which then paradoxically reduces his fear in the moment.
  • Christine agrees that it could be helpful to notice and accept emotions rather than trying to combat or change them. She describes the caller trying to notice her frustration with the unfairness of her experience of trauma and then moving forward by making some sense of it, if possible. She comments that we can get bogged down with trying to figure out the why when often it’s not possible.
  • She encourages the caller to notice and label her emotions and validate her own experiences. She could take a 5 minute mindfulness break, and validate her emotional experience. Christine notes that the caller may be ready for trauma-focused therapy to work through her prior trauma.
  • Chris elaborates on his personal experience that attempting to change emotions often makes them grow; Christine and Chris agree that the goal is not to wallow in or focus on negative emotions, but rather to simply notice and label them, and then let them go, in order to move forward.

Question 3

I have two parents that I have loved all my life and they have decided not to speak to me anymore. I’m really struggling to see if you have any advice for someone who has has parents would disown them. There’s not too much fault here on my part, but I really had no chance for some reason with my parents.  So it’s just hard to get along in life without your mother and father in it when you had them your whole life. So I wondered if you have a lot of people that this happened to because I feel like I’m the only one. 

  • Christine shares that it’s not that uncommon for people to have difficult relationships with their parents, though it may not be often that parents explicitly disown them.
  • Christine encourages the caller to decide what sort of relationship she wants with her parents. It depends on the caller’s value and whether she thinks the relationship is damaged beyond repair or not.
  • One option is to be assertive. This would include sharing your emotional experience and asking for what you want the relationship to be like in the future.
  • Christine notes that her own mom would probably suggest apologizing and trying to be the bigger person, though she isn’t sure of that advice without more context.
  • Chris likes that suggestion given how the caller noted that her relationship with her parents is very important to her.
  • Christine feels that the caller should evaluate what’s most important to her in the situation. Whether to get her objective, whether to maintain the relationship above all else, or whether her own self-respect is most important. The caller could then decide how to proceed based on what she values most. It may be that apologizing would undermine her self-respect, so she might not want to do that. How the caller ultimately handles the split with her parents, what she says, and when, depends on what is most important to her in the situation.
  • It may also be that the caller needs to let some time pass so that the intensity of the emotions fade a bit before the caller starts to repair the relationship.

Grab Bag

What is the difference between CBT and DBT? 

  • Chris describes DBT is a newer spin-off of CBT. He tends to think of CBT as more “scientific” and “logical” whereas DBT has more of an empathetic feel to it.
  • Christine describes the 3 waves of therapy: psychoanalysis, behavioral and cognitive-behavioral, and then DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).
  • Christine agrees that CBT feels a little more cold than DBT as far as the process of challenging thoughts, but notes that a good CBT therapist is as warm and empathic as any other.
  • Christine notes that the D in DBT stands for “dialectical” which refers to balancing or combining two apparently different concepts. In DBT those are acceptance and change. For example, “I accept you as you are, and there may be some things you could work on doing differently to make life a bit easier on you.” She feels that CBT has a little less of the “acceptance” component, though not none.
  • Chris asks about whether in DBT a person would accept a thought. Christine describes that mindfulness and acceptance and important parts of DBT but that there is also a focus on behavior change to make oneself more effective.
  • DBT is technically a type of CBT but is generally thought of as a unique and separate form of therapy.

 

Do you have questions about mental health for the podcast? Call and leave us a message: 415-855-0553. You can also record an audio note of yourself and email it to info AT thinkpacifica DOT com.