I went to a play about bipolar called In Two Minds at Belltable Theatre in Limerick City on 12 January. Drawn from a true story, it focused on the relationship between a mother with bipolar and her daughter in a caring role, as they lived together for a chaotic 6 weeks. Although the short time period was fictional, everything actually happened at one point or another, for example, the mother’s high and overexcited episodes as well as her low and despairing ones were all very real. Writer, producer and actor Joanne Ryan, also the real-life daughter, realised that her story didn’t have to reflect everyone’s experience to be helpful. More important for her was that the play stimulated a conversation around mental health. Her work inspired me to focus on Balanced Relationships for this month’s blog post.
As mentioned in a previous post entitled Relationship difficulties, I have struggled a lot in this area as a result of my condition. At one point, a disagreement, an uncomfortable silence, or a raw tension tipped me over the edge towards insomnia, anxiety, and extreme moods. Over the course of my recovery, I became to realise that accepting the reality of interpersonal frustrations and smiling like the Buddha were good things to do. Regarding my relationship with mental health professionals, I showed up at their door with open hands in a state of desperation and humility. Some simply did their job and assisted me. Others were ‘helpers’ in the best sense of the word – they respected and treasured my vulnerability which made all the difference to my health and humanity. One helper said to me: “It was an honour and privilege to have collaborated with you”.
Strengthening our relationships
According to Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, there are five techniques to strengthen our relationships. 1) Express your gratitude, e.g., by sending a message or making a phone call after a friend treats you to dinner. You may also express your gratitude internally when you review and relish the event in your day. 2) Make praise a habit, e.g., by complementing one person each day. 3) Remember what makes your friend special. This can be done by jotting down a few positive qualities of your friend and letting your friend know how you feel. 4) Be helpful, e.g., making a cup of tea or helping with a difficult task are great ways of building friendships. 5) Respond positively to good news, e.g., responding cheerfully to your friend’s planned trip to Paris reinforces the bond between you. You can respond positively to the small stuff too.
“Tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark our coming, and look brighter when we come” – Lord Byron, Don Juan.
Recalling my post on Relationship difficulties again, it is clear that I was a rookie of romantic relationships just a short while ago. While working with a therapist for many months, I listened to his advice that taking chances on revealing myself was necessary for emotional intimacy. So, I took risks to open myself up to my girlfriend: I spoke of my insecurities and weaknesses. Despite being hurt from past relationships, I dared to love and love again. Thankfully, my girlfriend responded with love and acceptance. She opened herself up too, and what was an initial attraction between us became a sacredness that only exists between the two of us. A holding of hands, a gentle kiss, or a feeling of safety are things that I now truly treasure.
In romantic relationships, Daniel Freeman advises us to work on our communication skills. When problems inevitably arise between couples, he recommends us to change our use of language. Instead of pointing the finger and emphasising ‘you’, e.g., “You’re always late” or “You never do the chores”, he urges us to use ‘I’, e.g., “I’d like us to have tomorrow evening free” or “I’d like us to organise the chores”. In this way, we take our share of the responsibility for solving the problem. He says that using ‘we’ will work wonders too, e.g., “We can cook dinner tomorrow” or “We can go for lunch after cleaning the kitchen”: positive signs that a couple want to work together to sort things out.
Our inner voice
“You’re watching the direction in which the train will come,” said an inner voice to French mystic Gabrielle Bossis. “That’s the way My eyes are fixed on you, waiting for you to come to Me.” Our relationship within ourself is vital because it is the one that influences all others. If we are not comfortable in our own skin, then we can hardly expect to be comfortable with another. Some people look to their ‘inner strength’, ‘secret strength’ or to ‘God’, but whatever the case, we need to experience a heartfelt presence, an intimate stillness, a oneness. Like anyone, I am not an expert on relationships. But, I hope to relate inwards and outwards in greater ways with the few practical tips.