Setting Boundaries When You Have a Mental Illness
By: Beth McHugh 2008
It’s important for everyone to have a healthy set of personal boundaries, but even more important when you suffer from a mental illness. Boundaries take many shapes and forms, such as how you let people speak to you or speaking up if you feel you are being belittled because of your illness. Today, however, I would like to talk about once specific boundary in particular. It is when others use the fact that you have a mental illness to their advantage.
Let’s take a look at the case of Megan. Megan suffers from agoraphobia, but like many mental illnesses, the condition waxes and wanes at different times. Because of the fact that her illness at times makes it very difficult for her to hold down a full time job, she has carved out for herself a successful niche in dressmaking, specializing in wedding gowns. Hence she spends much of her time working from home.
She also is the principal carer for her aging widowed father and she has two teenage children, one of whom has a slight intellectual disability. Basically, Megan has her hands full. However, the fact that she is nearly always at home leaves her open to being used by her family and friends. They turn up at all hours, knowing that she will not only be home, but available for a chat, a coffee, even some emergency child-minding.
Her extended family never bothers to ring before they come. Why would they, when she is mostly home? This frustrates Megan and she feels that she and her time are not respected. Similarly, she has a friend who decides to drop in whenever it suits her own schedule even though it may not suit Megan’s.
Because of Megan’s heavy life burden, she occasionally suffers from depression and feelings that her life is out of control. She feels like other people determine what she does and when she should do it. Because she doesn’t feel in control of her own destiny she suffers not only depression, but the stress from the constant lack of personal respect exacerbates the agoraphobic disorder.
It was imperative for Megan’s mental health that she put a stop to this constant drain on her self-esteem and learn to set boundaries and keep them. Of course, she feared that if she started to make rules, her family and friends would get angry and abandon her. However, as Megan’s condition deteriorated and she was forced to stop much of her dressmaking work, she finally saw that she had little alternative but to stand up for herself.
In the short term, Megan did experience problems with some of her family and friends, as they did not like to change the comfortable routine they were in when it came to exploiting Megan. She lost one friendship over it, but the rest of her friends came to understand that she deserved the same degree of respect as the next person.
Today, Megan is a much happier lady and is able to assert herself when she feels taken advantage of. Having a mental illness does not mean that others have the right to use your disability to their advantage.