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  • ericaanne

The Mindset Shifts (3/4): "What if this were me?"

So far, I've covered two of four mindset shifts:

  1. You can't solve an internal problem with external solutions.

  2. There's room for tough love - and "tough love" doesn't always mean "lack of empathy".

My third mindset shift changed the way I approached my interactions with Nick.

I've touched on this realization before. I was walking Daisy through a snowy day here in Colorado. I was mad at Nick, as I was on most days. He kept promising me he would stop playing video games. It would last about 2 days and then he would return to it. I'm fairly certain this particular day was one of those days he started playing again.

As Daisy trotted down a half-shoveled sidewalk, I reflected on my own actions and behaviours.

"Could I do something differently? What am I doing that might not be helpful?"

The answer hit me square in the face, and it came in the form of a question: "What if you could only think the same 3 thoughts all day long?"

Immediately, my response was "that would drive me crazy".

What if I could only concentrate on my blinking or saliva all day? What if it was so distracting that it made it nearly impossible to focus on anything else? What if these were the dominant three thoughts that came through my head every day:

  • I can't stop thinking about my blinking/saliva

  • If I can't stop thinking about this, I won't be able to do anything else in life

  • If I can't do anything else in life, I don't want to live anymore

What if the only time I wouldn't think these things was when I was playing video games?

No wonder he wanted to escape to video games every day. No wonder he had a hard time paying any sort of attention to me, the dog, work, or anything else that took focus. No wonder he got frustrated every single day.

It's this realization that I also argue that tough love does not mean lack of empathy. I practiced tough love with Nick because I now had this empathetic understanding. I didn't want this for him. I didn't want this to be the rest of his life.

This realization changed my approach with him. I stopped fighting against him and started fighting for him.

He didn't always recognize that I was fighting for him though. I'm sure he felt like I was fighting against him a lot. That's a downside to tough love. I was making him get out of bed in the morning, even when he didn't want to. I wasn't just standing by and letting him avoid life anymore. I was fighting for him by trying to have him engage with the things that would help him get better.

The undertone of our arguments were no longer "pay attention to me because I'm your wife". The undertone became "pay attention to your recovery because that's your ticket out of this".

If you're lucky enough to have someone who has opened up to you about their mental illness, cherish that. Not everyone will open up to someone. You don't have to understand it. It might sound "crazy" or completely illogical to you. I'm sure it was hard for Nick to tell people "I can't stop thinking about my saliva", knowing that their reactions would not be elegant. Mine definitely wasn't. But, I'm grateful every day that he did open up to me. I'm also grateful that I did eventually have this realization. It's what brought me from being his opponent to being his team member.

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