Behaviour and Personality.

Normally, I devote the majority of my time focused on helping others with mental illness. In fact, that’s the driving force behind The Road To Mental Wellness. It’s not that I don’t care about fixing the stigma that’s out there, I just want to help the sick feel better. That being said, we need to discuss the difference between behaviour and personality.

Although I choose to devote more of my time helping others get through mental health moment, there’s a few things I wish people understood. Sometimes, seeing things from a different perspective is all one needs to break down barriers. I truly believe that most well minded individuals want to help ease the pain.

But how? It can be tough to try and empathise with someone who’s experience differs from your own, this can create a void and ultimately, a miscommunication.

When I came to understand that the behaviours I was seeing was a result of their mental illnesses and thus an unfair representation of who they really were, I excelled in my job.

This brings me to the purpose of this post. I want to help those who are struggling to understand mental illness and why we behave the way we do. But how do we accomplish this? I want to share with you what I learnt working with people with mental illness.

Throughout the majority of my adult life, I have had the honour of working with people with serve mental disabilities; in addition, many of them presented with very aggressive behaviours. Notice I underlined the word behaviours; but why?

Well, in my extensive experience with this population, staff tended to integrate the behaviour they observed with personality of the person producing them. Behaviours one produces and who they are as a person are two fundamentally very different things. If this is the case, than why do we have a tenancy to define people based on what we observe?

The Difference between behaviour and personality.

It’s a good question and one that is worth thinking about at length. Sometimes observations that are made are judgements to keep us safe. For example, if you witness aggression you are going to avoid the acting out individual.

If we embrace the notion that behaviour and personality are two different things, we strengthen our empathy.

When I came to understand that the behaviours I was seeing was a result of their mental illnesses and thus an unfair representation of who they really were, I excelled in my job.

Behaviour and Personality

This revelation helped me to cultivate my empathy and was essential to building a working relationship. This helped my cliental reduce their outbursts. In short, I recognised that when they were at baseline, that is, they were in a state that allowed for typical interaction and daily living.; some where outgoing and kind, whist others were naturally funny and helpful. I saw these personality traits for what they truly are, elements of the real person.

So, what does this mean for you, the everyday person? Well, what it means is this; if you have a loved one suffering from depression, the low mood and desire to stay in bed, It is in no way a good metric to define who they really are. It is behaviour being produced by their mental health condition. No different than trauma to a leg, it symptom is a limb.

If we embrace the notion that behaviour and personality are two different things, we strengthen our empathy. When we do so, our perspective shifts and we take on a more supportive role. For the sufferer, this can go a long way in making the chronic sad a little easier to take.

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Mental Illness Storm Of The Century

In the past week, a storm of unprecedented dark blew into town, one so intense it threatened to untangle all the therapeutic work that I have worked so hard to establish. Perhaps what is most frightening is I haven’t a clue as to its origins and because I was caught off guard, I was hit by all its might.

Being ill-equipped to handle its ferocity made the pain it inflicted ten times worse than normal. Everything I tried to do to minimize its effects was in vain, and its tragic consequence was the damage it left in its wake. 
I don’t recall ever feeling a depressive episode to the degree in which I have the last few days, its day number three and even as I write this; I am feeling waves of sadness wash over me from the inside. When I am left in this state I secretly fear that this is the one, the episode where my persistent depressive disorder takes hold of me, suppresses all my happy and like a dictator, it forces me to do whatever it is it wants me to do.
This episode was different somehow, I can’t put my finger on why all I do know is that the behaviours that resulted from the intensity of the depressive symptoms were very uncharacteristic for me. I had gotten it in my head that I was going to travel some distance to visit a friend that I seldom see. I know, what’s so out of the norm for that? Well, I hate driving to places where I am unfamiliar, my anxiety hates that particular form of unpredictability and conjures up its own mental GPS map, one that sees me getting lost and stranded by myself.
What made this behaviour new for me was that it was spontaneous and without explanation. I just found myself turning onto the highway that led me in my friend’s direction. I drove for an hour then in the blink of an eye I changed my mind and headed for home. What made me decide to act so impulsively? I have never been to my friends for a visit much less to the area in which he lives. 
Perhaps it was because I was so despondent, so racketed with sadness that I was looking for a way to rid myself of its heavy burden. I also spent the day ignoring the buzzing notifications of my cell phone which I admit is a very not like me thing to do. I didn’t care and hated everything around me.
These days were the ones I should have spent at home.

Although this depressive episode was among the most intense I had ever experienced, I choose to see it much like weather patterns in the real world. Every now and then we are walloped with one hell of a storm, one that is rarely seen but causes unprecedented damage. But like any other storm, they pass and so too will this unrepresented sad. Knowing this as a fact I simply hunker down and wait for it to pass. I am always aware of how lucky I am, I have a great support network and so much to be grateful for. It is in the hardest of mental moments where I run through my inventory of all the things I am grateful for. This does two things for me, It boots my moods by remembering that I have so many great people in my life who genuinely love and show concern for me, and it also distracts my mind from all the massively unpleasant thoughts and feelings. I find this calms the storms to the degree where I am adequately able to weather its effects. 

So if you, like me, end up facing the mental storm of the century, remember as the weather around you, it too shall pass. Just hang on and be mindful of the fact that we all have a reason to keep carrying on.

Learn about Major Depressive Disorder here: WebMD

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