Perception

One of the things mental illness can do is cause you to perceive things incorrectly. You might think someone has said something they haven’t actually said, or assign a meaning to someone’s actions that simply isn’t there.

That’s something I deal with a lot. Because of people I’ve dealt with in my past, and the resulting PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, sometimes my brain filters someone else’s actions or words through a distorted lens. I hear something in their words that they didn’t say and didn’t mean, or I believe their actions are for a reason that has nothing to do with why they’ve actually acted that way.

This makes communication extremely important for me. I am usually aware when my thoughts are getting away from me and when my perception is off. In those moments, I can choose to continue with the incorrect perception, and let my thoughts spiral into darkness, or I can choose to go to the other person and say, “I think I’m perceiving this wrong. Can we clarify what you meant?”

That isn’t always an easy choice to make. Sometimes my belief about what the other person has said or done is so strong that my emotions take over. I might be too angry to try talking to them, or might not be able to get the words together. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for clarification because I worry that the other person will be angry with me for having an incorrect perception. But under the emotions, I know that the only way to resolve the situation is to speak up.

Misperceptions are going to happen. To be honest, I think it’s part of being human, regardless of whether mental illness is a factor. Learning to recognize when you might be perceiving something incorrectly, and learning to communicate and clarify the situation, might not be easy, but it’s important.

Impact

NOTE: I have previously posted this on this blog.

In my previous life chapter, prior to moving to Massachusetts, I worked in special education. Teaching (including substituting and working as a teacher’s aide) was my career for the better part of sixteen years, with a year or so detour as I tried to find my footing.

Many of us have a teacher who stands out in our memories as someone who had a profound impact on us. I have more than one: my kindergarten teacher, who realized I loved writing stories and allowed me to do so as part of my reading instruction; the tenth grade English teacher who further encouraged my writing; my college advisor, who recognized my awkwardness with others and tried to help me correct it.

I never thought I was one of those impactful teachers, though. I just did my job, enjoyed my students, and did the best I could to help them get where they needed to go.

One of the memories that stands out most strongly for me was when I left my longest-term position, as special education teacher at a very small rural school in Maine. Some of my students made great gains while I worked with them, and I celebrated those while never really giving myself credit. As far as I was concerned, the kids were the ones who got there. I just helped a little.

(Sometimes we minimize ourselves far too much. It’s definitely one of my flaws…)

Because the school was so small, I was the only special education teacher there, and I had the same students throughout, with some changes as some went on to high school and others entered kindergarten or moved into the district. I became close to some of the students and their families, though “close” is a relative term because professionalism.

But on my last day there, the mother of one boy with whom I’d worked from my first day came to me in tears, put her arms around me, and said, “You have made a difference.”

Those are words we all should remember, whenever we look back at the people we’ve encountered in our lives. No matter what our role was with each other, no matter how much time has passed, we all make a difference in the lives of those with whom we become involved. And we all need to recognize how powerful that difference can be.

Family Conflict

I feel very sad when I see people who are living happy lives and in happy relationships encounter opposition and even hatred from their family. Unfortunately, it seems to happen a lot.

Obviously different people have different beliefs. They’ve been brought up in certain religions and/or cultures that have strong, ingrained outlooks on things like marriage, same-sex relationships, sexual orientations, genders, and so on. For some people, overcoming those beliefs is difficult. This might be because they don’t understand other points of view. It might also be because they just plain don’t want to overcome those beliefs.

When beliefs interfere with family, though, something is wrong. And it probably isn’t the person who’s happy in a same-sex relationship, or a polyamorous one. It probably isn’t the person who’s just come out as transgender. The “something wrong” is that rigid beliefs are causing family members to turn against one of their own.

I’ve always taught my kids that the one thing I want for them more than anything else is that they be happy and safe. If that means they’re gay, or trans, or polyamorous, or whatever, that’s fine with me. Even if I don’t understand how they’re identifying themselves, I can see whether they’re happy and confident, and that’s what matters most to me. I don’t have to understand. I can just love and trust them, and let them be happy.

I know too many people whose families don’t think that way, and sometimes I just want to gather them all up and tell them I’ll be their family. It’s okay to believe what you believe. It’s okay to believe what you’ve been taught. But I can’t see how it could ever be okay to completely turn against your child, or parent, or sibling, or whoever, because their happiness means they aren’t living by your beliefs.

Polyamory

I know a number of people who are polyamorous, and who have encountered varying degrees of understanding and acceptance. Polyamory and other alternative relationship styles are more common than people realize.

Some people confuse polyamory with the polygamy they’ve heard about in the news. While polygamy can be a form of polyamory, it isn’t the only one—and cults that enforce polygamy have little to nothing to do with polyamory.

Polyamory, put most simply, is having, or having the capacity for, more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship. In general, people include romantic love as a requirement, since the “amory” part of polyamory means love. But as a broader term, polya, as some people call it, can also include sexual relationships that don’t involve romantic love.

There are many different forms of polyamory, and trying to explain them all would take a month or more worth of blog posts. Even then, I would probably miss something. Looking online, you can find a number of resources about polyamory if you’re curious.

There is no “one right way” to do polyamory. Relationship configurations and agreements differ from one person or grouping to another, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Jealousy is a thing for some polyamorous people, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that either, as long as the jealous person owns their emotions and controls their own actions and responses instead of trying to control their partner(s).

I’ve seen debate about whether polyamory is an orientation or a lifestyle choice. Personally I would say it’s both or either. Feeling as if you’re “hard-wired” for polyamory still requires a choice about whether to have polyamorous relationships. For people who consider polya their romantic orientation, *being* polya isn’t a choice, but *doing* polya is.

For other people, it’s entirely a choice. It sounds like the way they would like to conduct their romantic life, so they do it. They don’t necessarily feel like they’re wired that way, they simply like the idea.

That said, polyamory definitely isn’t for everyone. But it is a valid way to live and love.

Parenting–and Being–Adults

When one’s children become adults, and go from living in the same house and leaving dirty dishes everywhere to having their own home, at least part of the time, it’s an adjustment on both sides.

The now-adult child is trying to find their footing on their own. Going to college or moving on to a career. Living alone or with roommates or partners instead of parents. They might not want much contact with their parents; they are, after all, adults now. They don’t need to be parented, or at least have the perception that they don’t. Or maybe they still do feel like they need their parents, and they want to keep their distance so they don’t lean on their parents too much or don’t get too homesick. Even if they don’t talk to their parents often, though, they often miss them.

Assuming there are no younger children at home, the parents are dealing with suddenly having a much quieter house and a lot more time on their hands. Whether or not younger children are still living at home, the parents miss the child who has moved out. And they may mourn or regret all the things they wish they’d done with that child when they were young, because now there’s no longer a chance.

Much of the time, parents and children love each other. Family bonds can be very strong, and those bonds are tested when circumstances change. Not having daily contact with each other can lead to feeling disconnected. And sometimes it’s harder than one might expect to be away from the home you’ve had all your life, or to have someone no longer in your home.

This is a time to lean on others. To let friends and other family members help you get through this transition. It’s a time to find activities or social outlets where you can meet people and fill the time you now have on your hands.

Most importantly, it’s a time to remember that you’re family and you love each other, and distance and lack of contact won’t change that.