*Firstly I want to state that everyone is different and no two mental illnesses are the same. These suggestions are what usually works for me, but I can’t promise they will work for your loved one.*
When I am having a breakdown of some sort, I tend to withdraw and get quiet. It feels as though I’ve been deflated, and all of my energy is gone. The act of standing or even sitting up is exhausting.
When this happens, I know my husband wants to help and get me back to feeling like myself.
He often comes to me and will sit near me and wait a bit to see if I want to talk. This is a great idea for most people because it gives them the feeling of not being alone, even if they can’t talk just yet.
My husband knows that talking (ranting) about what is stressing me out is helpful for me, but I have a hard time starting the conversation. I don’t really know why this is so difficult for me.
The mistake he often makes is asking me very vague questions that are easy for me to dodge or ignore. His favourite is asking “what’s up?” And I get it, it’s a general “what’s going on?” Type of question, but it’s so vague that I will usually just say nothing, or “the ceiling”
There are a bunch of different options for things to say/ask someone to help them feel more comfortable opening up. The key is to be specific. When you ask specific questions, you get specific answers.
- You seem sad/upset/stressed, do you know what caused it?
Asking if I know why I am upset is so much better than asking why I am upset. When you ask why, you are telling me that I have to justify my feelings when it’s very possible that I have no idea at all.
- Do you want to talk about what upset you?
This is a yes/no question that is easy for me to answer and gives you an indication if I want to talk about it or not. You might get an “I don’t know” as an answer as well, but hopefully, it can help start some communication.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
I don’t want to be a burden on my loved ones, no one does. Offering to help would mean the world to me because I will never ask for it.
- Are you upset because of xxxxxxxx?
If you are pretty sure you know what caused the breakdown, confirm it. In my experience, something will begin the breakdown, and it will cause me to think about something else, which will make me think of something else. Before I know it, my puppy chewing up one of my shirts turns into me feeling shitty that I can’t afford to buy a house. If my husband asked, “are you upset about Pixel ruining your top?” I would say “yes, but not only that…..” and I would take him on my thought journey of how that action caused me to think about all of these other upsetting things.
- Do you know what would help you feel better?
This one might not get much of an answer. But if they are anything like me, they might give you a truthful but impossible answer. For example “a box of kittens.” It’s a way of expressing the intensity of my feelings. If the only thing that can cheer me up right now is a box of kittens, you know it’s bad! It also will just start a dialogue.
The hardest part about opening up is getting started and feeling comfortable. Asking questions that make me feel like you really want to hear what I am thinking, and just getting my mouth moving are the best ways to get me to open up.
What helps you open up with your feelings?