Ep. 50: When Someone You Love Has A Mental Illness

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I grew up with parents who both had mental health diagnoses: PTSD, depression, schizoaffective disorder… and it was FAR from easy. I remember how scared and embarrassed I’d be when my dad would be found walking around the block of the ‘hood naked. Or the time he slipped a knife under my mattress telling me I had to be protected “just in case.”

I remember how unloved I felt and how scared I was when my mom would hit me.

I also remember the inner struggles of wanting to love them so much but finding it so difficult at times. I’d scream and yell and pull back … and sometimes, I’m embarrassed to say, I’d shame my father for the things he did. I was too afraid of my mom to do the same to her.

I was not proud of how I showed up. 

This week is about cultivating practices that help us come to these challenges with more love, compassion + wisdom.

Because everyone deserves that. And I believe we all want to show up for the people we love from a place of integrity. 

Having this type of relationship with BOTH parents was exhausting, among many other feelings, and I know I’m not alone here. 

In the U.S. an estimated 1 in 5 adults has had a mental illness at some point in their lives. Worldwide that prevalence is estimated to be 1 in 4 people. So the odds are that every person reading this will know someone who has a mental illness or may even be diagnosed with one themselves. I myself have had really hard times with depression and anxiety and have seen this from both sides. 

So this is an important topic, and one that I’m sure to just touch the tip of the iceberg since there is so much more to it.

This pod is about some of the things we can do to help us show up as our best selves when there is someone in our life who has a mental illness. Maybe you have a parent who struggles with anxiety or OCD and their habits are wearing you out. Or your partner suffers from depression and you just can’t relate to their mindset or the days when they can’t even get out of bed for food. You know you want to help them and continue to love and support them, but how can you do it without compromising your integrity?

First, it’s important to remember self-compassion. I want to remind you of its basic components – there are THREE:

Mindfulness of our suffering

Common Humanity 


Without this it is hard to move from a stress response onto the next steps of how to show up in a way that we are proud of in the relationship. 

Once self-compassion has helped us move to a place of centeredness and calm, THEN, from this place, we’ve come out of the stress response and can open up to a more wise way of being, a more compassionate place. 

We can next start to investigate our expectations for those we love – we all have a way that we expect people to behave if they love us and respect us. And in general, it doesn’t help when we make our happiness dependent on everyone following our rules.  

And when someone is acutely struggling with a mental illness, you bet your ass they are not likely going to be following your manual as much as you’d like. In fact, most people – with or without a mental illness diagnosis – will let you down in this department if you hang out with them long enough. 

With more awareness of our expectations, we can then practice letting go of them and of the idea that things will miraculously change. Then we can see what is available to us when we can accept our loved one as they are. 

Loving them unconditionally.  

It’s important to remember that this is not condoning hurtful behavior, but rather accepting that our emotional wellness does not have to rely on whether someone meets our expectations or not, and that we can still love someone even if we don’t like their behaviors. Understanding this will allow us to be more likely to respond with compassion

When we have someone we love that does something that feels hurtful because of their mental illness, we also need to remember that it is not personal. Again, this is NOT condoning hurtful behavior. Just understanding where they are coming from. 

Ultimately, one of the simplest things we can do is to love them. 

Because love will always feel better than anything else. 

In this episode I’ll also give some practical things to do like creating better boundaries and creating a self care practice that works for you.  

The biggest gem though: you’ll learn how to see this relationship as a spiritual practice. And that, my friends, is a game-changer. 

Topics in this week’s podcast: 

// 3 ways to practice self-compassion
// The importance of creating boundaries
// How to change your outlook on your relationships
// Relationship as spiritual practice
// ONE thing you can do to help you show up as your best self 


// Blog post: Does self compassion make you a wimp

// Episode 16 – Here I discuss our expectations for people and how it leads to suffering –  and how to let go of those expectations

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life. 

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