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The Mindset Shifts (2/4): Is There Room for Tough Love?

Nick's daily schedule was starting to look a lot like this: sleep in (until hours I've never known him to sleep in to), get up, play video games, show up at work (if he had a patient - remember COVID protocols?), come home, play video games again until around 2am (or later), go to sleep. Then the next morning would roll around and he'd repeat the same cycle over again.

When I'd try to wake him up in the morning, he would say "I slept terribly. My anxiety kept me up all night long". Then he'd beg for me to let him sleep some more. For a while, it made sense for him to keep sleeping if he hadn't slept all night.

Until it didn't make sense anymore.

It was happening daily and went on for weeks. I started to realize it was less about "catching up on sleep" and more about avoiding his OCD. The only time he wouldn't be avoiding his OCD was when he was required to be at work. He could get through the patient appointments well enough, but as soon as he retreated to our office, he'd often turn to me saying, "I can't do this anymore. I don't want to live".

Then, he'd return home, turn on the video games, and drown out his symptoms again.

His life was built around avoidance behaviours.

Then I remembered this quote:

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." - Albert Einstein

I recognized a long time ago that the only person I can control is myself. I can't control Nick. But, there were things I was doing that I could control.

I started to realize that my approach needed to change. Up until this point, I felt I had been very empathetic and understanding. I felt like I was being a supportive wife. I was listening to him tell me what he "needed". Except, what he needed wasn't actually what he was doing. I was starting to realize that he was actually doing what he wanted. I started realizing that what he needed was to do the work, but he wasn't doing the work. I started realizing that letting him do what he wants was becoming enabling to this cyclical process we were in. I wasn't being a supportive wife. I was being an enabling one.

It was a tough pill to swallow.

I was enabling the OCD and anxiety symptoms by standing by and watching him avoid his life.

Something needed to change.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I realized that I had to stop fighting against Nick. I needed to fight for Nick. In other words, I needed to be on Nick's team 100% of the time. Well, when there's a team, there is typically a challenge. Our challenge was mental illness, OCD specifically. And with how we were playing our roles, we weren't overcoming the challenge.

Let's continue with the team analogy. Sometimes, teammates get hurt and it's up to the rest of the team to step up and pick up for the loss.

That's what I needed to do.

Nick was injured, on the sideline, unable to participate because he was so deep into his suffering.

Enter: tough love.

I hate tough love. I'll be the first to admit it. It stems from my complicated relationship with conflict and confrontation. I prefer peace. But, in this moment, I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and start practicing tough love.

There was one morning where I went in to wake Nick up for work. He had a patient.

"Babe, can you please cover my patient for me? I slept horribly," he begged.

"No. You're going to work. I'm not doing it for you anymore."

He looked at me in confusion and proceeded with, "please babe, I'll get back to work tomorrow."

"No. Get up."

"I'm not going. They'll just have to deal with it," he threatened. Translation: I was going to have to come up with an excuse for why he wasn't there and then cover the appointment anyways.

I grabbed his hand and started pulling him up out of bed, "Nick, you're going to work. And if you really want to call out of work, then you'll have to call them yourself and explain why you won't be there."

He didn't want to have to explain it. He got out of bed and went to work.

I had to continue with the tough love for months. It didn't always work, but it was better than the old approach I had used.

I think part of the reason I was so hesitant to use tough love was my misconception that "tough love" equates to "lack of empathy". I don't see it that way anymore. I was being empathetic towards Nick, because I saw how much he was suffering every day. I knew neither of us wanted him to continue to suffer this way. I had to practice tough love because I was empathetic to his suffering. I didn't want him to feel this way forever, which meant I couldn't continue to be enabling.

So, is there room for tough love when it comes to mental illness? I believe there is. It might not be needed in every case, but it might be necessary in some. It was in ours.

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