Six weeks ago, I moved from Chicago to Charleston, South Carolina. Moving was a whirlwind decision my husband and I made in about two weeks. I had gone from loving the excitement of the city to hating the traffic, the tension and the constant struggle to find a parking spot. I was beginning to understand that the city was no longer the place for me to be.
Like a lot of people, I assumed we would move to the suburbs. However, I was torn. I lived in a wonderful area and still appreciated much of what Chicago had to offer. It’s just that the stress of it all weighed me down.
They say the world will tell you what to do if you just pay attention.
My indecision was helped along after a bird attacked my head TWICE on one of my beloved nature runs near Lincoln Park. The park had served as a sanctuary, where I could get away from the hum and relentless pounding of my urban environment. Simultaneous to my considering moving, the animals and nature turned on me. A goose chased me, pecking at my legs. A blackbird dive-bombed my head twice in one day. I felt under attack and, it was then, I recognized that I was feeling that way in my urban environment. read more…
When it comes to relationship differences, how often do you think you can change other people?
Most of the time, communicating your concerns is the most effective way to resolve differences. Sometimes that doesn’t work, though. When this happens over and over again, it can lead to frustration and resentment, especially in situations where you are expected to get along with others regardless of their behavior — think co-workers, in-laws, relatives and friends. Going neutral may help.
5 Ways to Go Neutral
1) Take a break from efforts designed to please or impress.
2) Lay off of nurturing, taking care of or focusing on the people causing your discomfort.
3) Take a step back and intentionally stop the cycle of victimization and resentment you experience.
4) Shift your energy to people, places and things that feel good, make you feel appreciated.
5) Nurture your self-esteem and personal growth.
Going Neutral: What Not to Do
1) Do not direct negative energy toward others. Being negative is still effort.
2) Do not make sly comments or hurtful statements, throw mean looks, or intentionally ignore the other person.
3) Do not hurt the other person or try to get her/him to see your perspective.
4) Do not hope your neutral stance will lead the other person to change his or her behavior toward you.
For going neutral to work, you must have no expectations for outcome. Think of it as a rest stop where you can get your bearings and release yourself from resentment and frustration.
There’s Only One Person You Can Change
That’s you. Realizing this is powerful. Enacting this is even more powerful. Have you ever tried going into neutral with a difficult relationship? Tell us about it! We want to hear what you have learned. Or tell us about a relationship where this could help.
Sometimes doing nothing else for a while and working on yourself is a bold and active move.
I like this saying: “Do valiantly, and hope confidently, and wait patiently.” (Carlyle)
A good friend told me her husband was pissing her off. “I can’t stand him anymore,” she said. Sometimes, we adults can sound like the complaints I hear from my kids about school. “She does this! She does that!” And what the moms say, “Don’t think about what other people are doing. Take care of your business.” Or my personal favorite, “Cook on your own grill.” Bing! This isn’t that much different sometimes.
My advice starts with this: Focus on you now.
Fulfill yourself first because when you are fulfilled and feel the security that comes with that, you are much less likely to get annoyed with other people, judge other people, get irritated by other people. This is especially true of an intimate partner.
- Go get your hair done (or something like that). Indulge in beauty treatments that make you feel good about yourself. You are worth the investment.
- Exercise and eat right. What we put in our bodies affects how we feel. Whole, unprocessed foods … lots of vegetables and fruit … and grab an herbal tea instead of a diet soda. See how you feel after a week of that. The better you feel, the better you feel about the world and people around you.
- Get support. A couples counselor is a good idea. An individual counselor for you might be an even better idea. Find a counselor who will be a good listener and offer objective strategies. You can also talk to friends, mentors, ministers or others who will listen and not judge.
- Detach with compassion. When I tell people to detach, they usually think this is a green light to cut somebody out of their life. No, we detach with compassion by emotionally setting up sturdy boundaries with the other person. So, instead of taking personally something that someone says in one of those looping, negative arguments that don’t get anyone anywhere, excuse yourself, take some deep breaths, put on some relaxing music, and then kindly tell yourself that their behavior is their choice, and it is not a reflection of your worth. It’s like putting a golden gate between you and the darker parts of other people.
- Ask yourself hard questions. Are you annoyed and irritated because you are bored or dissatisfied with where you are in your career or your status in life? Are you judging yourself and projecting it onto other people? Or has your partner violated your trust by cheating or abusing … is your partner simply not around physically or emotionally … do you have different or conflicting values and beliefs? The quality of a relationship depends on many factors. Take an inventory of what means the most first. Counseling can help you focus on strengths and balance the view.
Back to my friend and her husband. A lot of relationships move in cycles. Couples sometimes experience predictable cycles of negative issues. You may be in a cycle. In that case, support yourself first with healthy choices and be patient. A lot can shift based on tensions at work and within one’s worldview day to day.
Find hope and encourage yourself. Everybody needs hope and encouragement. When we feel bad (and relationships can feel really, really bad sometimes), you need to mine for hope. Dig and find it.
Difficulties are temporary. You will learn, grow and gain wisdom from your hard times. A better day is around the corner. I think the reason that Joel Osteen and other people who are espousing hope and positivity have such a strong following because people are drawn to that right now. We need it. And there is a lot to be hopeful about, even if you can’t see it at the moment.
After more than 10 years of trial and error during which she was first diagnosed with Bipolar 2, Tina Collins found effective treatment and an accurate diagnosis for schizoaffective disorder, a condition the Mayo Clinic describes as a combination of schizophrenia symptoms such as hallucinations or delusion and mood disorder symptoms such as mania or depression.
Ten years may sound like a long time, but it’s not uncommon for the treatment process to move at a snail’s pace.
“On Pins & Needles: Caregivers of Adults With Mental Illness,” a study from The National Alliance for Caregiving, in partnership with Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), provides some frightening data for people like Collins and their caregivers: Getting an accurate diagnosis is a battle for 4 in 10 caregivers. In one study, it took 11.8 years, on average, to find the right diagnosis.
After a decade of treatment and lifetime of struggling, Collins has found more than sanity. She’s found an abundant life.
What makes a difference? read more…
Tina Collins took her mother to the doctor one day and noticed a psychiatrist’s office nearby. Her mom nudged her to go and see. Collins had already spent years a slave to conflict, disordered thinking and mood swings. All that would begin to change with this step — after a dozen doctors and 30 medications failed to shift the course of mental illness having all the power.
Collins case is one of #schizoaffective disorder, a condition the National Alliance on Mental Health describes as a chronic mental health condition characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations or delusions and symptoms of a mood disorder.
“I’m a survivor of mental illness …. Once my broken brain isolated me in space and time. Now I embrace the future. Conflict no longer slaves me. Sadness no longer drowns me. Happiness no longer deludes me,” Collins explains in her Baltimore TEDx Talk.
When Collins received her diagnosis, she also received a recommendation for lifelong institutionalization. Collins, who describes herself as stubborn, accepted the diagnosis, but not the recommendation.
The Giveaway Girl Project interviewed Collins as part of Stop Giving It Away’s contribution to Women’s History Month. Instead of focusing on women who are no longer with us, we chose to highlight women making history here and now, in this case, reducing the stigma of mental health conditions and treatment.
Anyone who suffers from mental illness or has a loved one who does will be heartened by this story of Collins’ ongoing struggle for power with her disease.
Although Collins, 50, from Baltimore, MD, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when she was 38 years old, she remembers struggling in ways she couldn’t understand even when she was a toddler. Collins’ therapist, Marcia Geser, LCSW of Pscyh Associates of Maryland, LLC, calls her a “miracle girl” due to her level of functionality and recovery.
Collaboration guided her back to “mainstream” life.
The therapist paints a very telling picture. “When she started out she was completely and totally dysfunctional,” Geser says. “She had no avocation. She didn’t even realize she was having psychotic moments until afterward. She had horrible midbrain headaches all the time, which might have been part of the illness. She had gone to several psychiatrists over the years who didn’t get her diagnosis right until she got here, and I’m not sure they got it right here at first. We weren’t getting anywhere. I sent her to a famous psychiatrist who normally doesn’t see anyone but because I begged him, he saw her to get her toward the right diagnosis. The diagnosis got her to the right medication.”
Don’t give it away: Persist in the process.
Both Collins and Geser credit this story of recovery to Collins’ ability to persevere through years of trial and error. “Persistence will get you very far,” Collins says. “I’m very curious and skeptical. I kept questioning what was going on and what was real (v. psychosis).”
Collins viewed her illness as a problem she had to solve regardless of how complex the problem became. “I wanted to know,” says Collins. “I am very stubborn. I had a hardheaded desire to find out. I was suffering from something. I have to be my own champion and save myself.”
Without the determination she showed, Collins wouldn’t be where she is today.
“We had changed her medication 50 times,” Geser says. “Medication is a central piece of healing this disease. The thing about Tina is she’s a little OCD. That kind of OCD allowed her to persist in treatment even when she didn’t feel like it. The propensity to be persistent helped her. She kept fighting with it.”
Finding the right medication wasn’t the only hurdle Collins had to jump. She had to reconstruct herself brick by brick.
“One by one I had to rebuild my skills and stamina,” Collins said. “I was going to therapy every week. I was going to a psychiatrist once a month. I was exhausted. I wasn’t able to do anything. Over time it got easier as I started getting better and interacted with her. My speech improved.
“She (the therapist) would make suggestions I wouldn’t want to take,” Collins says. She would say ‘Try to something that you will enjoy. You lose ability to enjoy things. She suggested volunteering. I tried to take a walk and exercise. I had to how to learn how to drive, speak walk and socialize again. That was hard because I wouldn’t go out at all for so long. I would start volunteering here and there.”
A big piece of Collins’ recovery was group therapy.
“This was the one thing that helped her the most,” Geser says. The group was hand-picked. There was a CPA, a professor and a social worker. They were all high functioning. They are all highly verbal. She loved the group. It honed her interpersonal skills. She became more and more verbal. It gave her a social context that she could generalize out in the world.”
Like Geser, Collins credits her group with where she is today.
“It’s so hard to be ill and disabled and jump back into the world. You need interaction with group of people in a safe environment. I didn’t know how sick I appeared. I thought I was doing a better job of hiding it than I was. It’s an interesting reflection back to you.”
Another part of the healing process was not allowing the stigma associated with the illness to impact her self-esteem.
“It is a disease that requires therapy,” Collins says. “The more people start thinking about it as a disease that requires treatment, the better. It’s a brain disease — a disease of an organ. It’s not a disease of the spirit. People have this magical thinking. It requires medication and follow-up and in this case the follow up is therapy.”
The payoff – what life is like today.
Collins’ life is like black and white compared to the way it looked a few years ago. In addition to taking care of her mother, she has a full life. She has worked as Program Manager for the Murphy Initiative for Justice and Peace. Additionally, she works from home as a copywriter and is a theater critic with Broadwayworld.com.
During their therapy, Geser encouraged her to date. Collins had many hesitations. “I thought, ‘I can’t date. I don’t want to marry. I can’t work. I don’t know where I am. I have a horrible history.’” When she started dating her now husband Dan, he called her the “sanest crazy person he’s ever dated.”
In the true fashion of the Got It Girl she is, Collins does interviews to raise awareness of mental illness. She and Dan were both interviewed about living with mental illness by SZ (Schizophrenia) Magazine. Collins has many plans. “I hope to work in a paid capacity,” Collins says. “I took some writing classes. I was thinking of taking other classes to see how I do. I’d like to continue with my academic studies. I’m interested in lot of different things.”
To witness her making history, you can watch the TED Talk she recently delivered.
Lauren Bittner is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues.