Are you doing ok? A mental illness trigger question.
“Are you doing ok?” “How are you doing?” “What’s going on?” – The questions I love to hate. I love the fact that my wife loves me enough to recognize that something is bothering me, just by looking at me, and wants to know what’s wrong. At the same time, answering these questions when your loved one has Borderline Personality Disorder can be like navigating a minefield. Case in point. I have been dealing with a lot of memories and emotions lately regarding my wife’s breakdown in 2011. I have good days and I have bad days, but I really try to keep these from effecting our current relationship that we are working on healing. So, I guess I stuff because I don’t want to trigger her with the shame a guilt associated with the pain that comes up at times. Many of us have been through negative experiences linked to our loved ones suffering from BPD or other similar mental illnesses. The tricky part is when asked a triggering question like “Are you ok?” or “What’s going on?”, what does one do?
I used to take the “honesty is the best policy” approach and just come out and say what was bothering me, sometimes I can be too direct (this can be bad), and this would just pour salt on open wounds and inevitably cause a heated argument… Not exactly what I was looking for, especially when I was obviously already hurting over the past (and now the present). This would also leave her questioning if her being in my life was causing me pain and if us moving forward was a good idea, this in turn would trigger more fears on my end and more arguing.
So I tried other methods. I would avoid the question by distracting, changing the subject or asking my own set of questions. This normally backfired because it would come full circle and we would be back to “honesty is the best policy” approach; (insert argument here). I tried the “nothing” approach, but this just came across as disingenuous and dishonest as my wife could clearly see that something was bothering me and I was fighting some sort of internal battle. So, either she would get her feelings hurt because she felt like I could not talk to her or it would upset her because she felt like I was lying.
I am currently trying a sort of mixed approach where when asked I will try to use some validation skills mixed in. I.E. I will say that I am wrestling with issues from a very hurtful time period; that she is currently not doing anything that is causing me pain, and that the pain and memories I am dealing with would be there regardless of her being in the picture or not, because that period in my life was extremely painful and removing a person does not remove that pain. I will then explain that the things she is currently working on and the progress she has made with our family and relationship have helped. I express that there is nothing new to report, no new pain point or memories, but just rehashing old stuff that comes rushing in from time to time; and that if she would like to discuss we can, but we need to do so carefully.
I have found that the current method seems to work the best, maybe as time goes on I will find a better method and update this blog post. But until then… Add validation, try to create a safe environment, and try to talk (not argue). I know these steps are not always easy, especially when you are the one hurting, but try, and then try again. Even if it is not associated to a major event, borderline personality disorder and other mental illnesses can cause a loved one to feel lots of shame and guilt if they know that they played any role in your pain. So try to tread lightly. Until next time, all the best!