CorrespondentJulia Joubert gets three takes on dealing with physical health or mental healthchallenges in oneself, or inside relationships.
Adrianand Claudine de Villiers, a couple navigating behavioral health challengesinside their 17-year marriage.
EmonieCarter-Hale, a systemic and family psychotherapist, specializing in trauma,boundaries, family conflict and coping skills.
Danivan Zyl, a woman living with POTS and other chronic illnesses
Adrian de Villiers: In July/August of 2021, I was diagnosed with bipolar. It’s a dual diagnosis. I had suffered addiction. I was addicted to certain substances such as alcohol and marijuana.
Julia Joubert: Had you been dealing with addiction prior to your bipolar diagnosis?
Adrian de Villiers: Yes, I was trying to deal with my addiction, but I relapsed just before I was diagnosed bipolar.
Julia Joubert: At what point in your relationship with Claudine did this dual diagnosis manifest itself?
Adrian de Villiers: I think from my side, I was in the relationship with Claudine but having these demons of drugs piggybacking on me for a long time. I tried to get clean for a few months without a program, without a sponsor, without any support systems led to my short-lived sobriety.
Julia Joubert: You speak about your addiction using the word “piggybacking” into the relationship and through it for was ultimately 15 years.
Claudine, I’d like to move this over to you for a second. At what point did you confront this challenge in your relationship?
Claudine de Villiers: It really hit home when we went into lockdown.That was a turning point for me. I got a call - do you mind me sharing this?
Adrian de Villiers: You can share anything.
Claudine de Villiers: He was at work, and he called to me say that hehad to work late. I said, “That’s fine. I’m home. It’s fine.”
I got a call from one of his colleagues to say that he was passed out on the floor because he was drinking so much. The fact that he could call me and just lie tome that easily got to me.
It's escalated and the breaking point for me was in 2021 when he stopped taking hismeds and started smoking marijuana all the time. I had to actually book himinto a clinic because I didn’t know what to do with him. At that point, hewasn’t diagnosed with bipolar. He had depression.
Adrian de Villiers: She booked me in on a Sunday. I was taken to a government institution hospital for observation for three days when Claudine and her sister came to fetch me without clothes basically from the state hospital, the government hospital.
I then went for 21 days into treatment. I didn’t see Claudine for all of those 21 days. I contacted her, but she wasn’t quite interested at that stage. That’s when the doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder as well.
Julia Joubert: What was the first conversation like when you did reconnect?
Claudine de Villiers: The doctor called me and said, “Can we have a session with you both because he is going to be discharged tomorrow?” He asked me if I would be willing come. I went and we sat across from each other. He just assumed that he would come home. She asked me, “Are you ready for him to come home?” I said, “No, I don’t know.” I could see in that moment his face fall.
We had reached a different part in our relationship. I lost a lot of trust in the fact that it was just so easy for him to lie to me. I couldn’t get past that. It took me a long time to get past that. It was more of an evocation between the two of us and trying to build back that trust for me.
Julia Joubert: Adrian, what were you saying from your side? I’m sure you could understand the broken trust, you could understand the hurt.
Adrian de Villiers: I couldn’t make any more promises because Ihad broke promises and lied to her. I was doing things behind her back. I thinkhonesty, but more than honesty it was a sense of choosing drugs or choosing therelationship.
I did nothave a lightbulb moment. It was an understanding that it was a disease andtreating it as a disease. Once I started recognizing that I had this problemand the only way to deal with it was to be totally honest about what I neededand what I needed was help from Claudine.
Julia Joubert: Howdo you lean on Claudine and how do you feel about having to lean on her?
Adrian de Villiers: For the diagnosis, I go from one extremewhere I am totally invincible and confident to where I am in a shell, and Idon’t get out of bed. Claudine is my safety net. I use that all the time. Itmakes me feel sad because I know what I was doing was wrong. What I’m doing toher is cowardly leaving her to take on all the responsibilities for what I’mgoing through. She’s my therapist, my caregiver, all of those things wrappedinto one.
Julia Joubert: Claudine, I know technically inthe grand scheme of things it’s early days, but you did stay, and you haveplayed these roles. Can you walk me through that?
Claudine de Villiers: What I can tell you is that something isdifferent this time around. He’s really trying, I think. Before, I felt like hewas just doing it for me, but I don’t feel like that now. I actually feel likehe’s doing it for himself. I must say that I do get very angry because he doesput a lot on me. He expects a lot from me, but the thing is maybe that’s all hehas to give, and I have to accept that.
Julia Joubert: Whatis your communication looking like between the two of you right now? Adrian,can you start?
Adrian de Villiers: Claudine has a good way of getting things out of me and I’velearned to tell her exactly what’s going on in my head and how I feel. I thinkthat’s been good, but it also drains her. I’m trying. She is definitely moregentle with me. I think the lines of communication are open and I don’t have tobe afraid to tell her anything.
Claudine de Villiers: What we always do is lay in bed at night and laughbefore we sleep. Oh, we do it so much. That was what we used to do a lot of,and we started getting back to good patterns I would say.
Julia Joubert: Forother people going through a similar experience, how important is it to haveindividual communities to support each other?
Claudine de Villiers: We are very private people in that I’m veryclose to my parents and I have one sister who I share everything with. At thispoint, I have realized that I’m not doing this alone. I called his family andmy family and told them what’s happening because I thought I’m not going tohide. I must say that it’s actually good to check in every month with atherapist.
Adrian de Villiers: Yes, I can say that I’m fortunate besides Narcotics Anonymous and the fellowship within it and some other groups as well, I’m also fortunate to have a colleague at work who I am quite open with. When I leave home to go to work, I have people I can lean on. I can lean on Claudine and NA. I’m actually quite fortunate. It’s imperative as an addict that you have these communities and connections because if you don’t have those connections, I can tell you, you’re going to fall apart and go back down the rabbit hole of drug abuse. If it wasn’t for these communities that I am in, I would have faltered.
Julia Joubert: Is there a first step to adapting? Is there a process that we should be following?
Emonie Carter-Hale: What I would say is there is no process, however I would say one of the first steps is self-reflecting on the impact that it is having on yourself. A big part of a self-reflective experience is thinking about how this experience impacts how I feel.
For example, a lot of people very easily turn to anger. What I typically say is that anger is actually a secondary emotion. Underneath that anger is an astonishing number of emotions that are being felt and experienced, but we typically lean into anger.
The only way that we are able to check in with ourselves is if we are able to have the capability to be self-reflective.
Julia Joubert: When we spoke in the pre-interview, you mentioned the distinction between someone who is potentially a sufferer and someone who is a caregiver. How do people usually take on their new roles and is there a right or a wrong way of doing that?
Emonie Carter-Hale: A lot of people hate to hear this saying, but it really does all go back to childhood simply because the way in which we form bonds early in our lives with our caregivers and with others, that completely impacts the way that we then relate within interpersonal dynamics.
If someone leans into a caregiver role very naturally, what that tells me is that maybe there is some type of anxious attachment within their dynamics that they have always experienced, but this particular ailment is exacerbating it. One thing that we commonly see is someone leaning into caring for others despite it being a detriment to themselves, completely forgetting about their own needs.
Julia Joubert: Tolook at it from the other angle, in your experience, what has that looked likein terms of being someone who is in a vulnerable position, who is in need ofhelp? How do they navigate that?
Emonie Carter-Hale: If someone has never experienced anyform of disappointment or anything where they have needed to rely on othersvery early on in life, they can experience attachment wounds with theircaregiver if their needs are not being met; physical, emotional, mental needs.What may happen is someone who has experienced significant attachment woundsmay very well struggle to say, “I need support” or even find the words to admitto self. The first step is admitting to self that I need support.
Julia Joubert: Angeris something that has come up a lot in the conversations that I’ve had. Do youhave any advice on where to put that anger, where to direct that anger?
Emonie Carter-Hale: Despite it being secondary, it’sstill a very real emotion. It’s interesting because there are different ways toeffectively deal with anger, but one way that is very common in many people isthat if you’re noticing that you feel angry as you’re going through thischange, one simple thing to do is walk away.
That’sinteresting in itself because what if walking away is triggering for the otherperson? Communicate while walking away. Let them know that you don’t want totalk at the moment and that you need to take time to think about what you’refeeling. Then you’ll come back and talk when you’re ready.
Julia Joubert: It sounds like we’re getting into boundaries. I’m assuming that boundaries are crucial in navigating this conflict that has come into the relationship. How should people communicate these boundaries?
Emonie Carter-Hale: Personal boundaries are literally limits. They are limits that we set for ourselves within relationships. I think the important thing to remember is that when you are thinking about what it is that you are going to allow in your life, you’re not thinking about the other person.
The first step when thinking about boundaries is remembering that it’s okay to say “no” because you are saying “no” for yourself not for others. What is it exactly that you want from the person? If you don’t know what it is that you want, they can’t know. It’s up to you to communicate boundaries with others.
I’ll hearpeople say things like, “They should know they made me feel this way.” I’llsay, “How? How can they know that their behavior is impacting you if you arenot communicating the impact that it is having?”
Julia Joubert: Howdo we navigate this feeling of guilt for putting our needs forward when someoneelse’s needs are seemingly more dire than yours?
Emonie Carter-Hale: It’s okay to feel anything, howeverif that guilt impacts the way in which you communicate your needs, it is thenon you to decide what it means for you moving forward.
Julia Joubert: Alot of what comes up is that “I don’t want to be a caregiver. I just want to bea friend” whatever that means, and in my capacity, but often, that is notreceived very well.
Emonie Carter-Hale: Friendshipsare particularly interesting. A really big part of the practice that I do isaccountability. Well, what does accountability mean? Does accountability meanthat I’m saying that I want things to change, but I’m doing nothing to changethem? No. That’s the thing with accountability, it’s recognizing what I havethe capacity for and in what way I will communicate that capacity. If no changeis noticed in the relationship, what does that mean for me moving forward? Thebig part of accountability is that people will choose to behave accordingly.
Julia Joubert: Dowe stand accountable with our choice and come to peace with the fact that ourneeds as the friend who wants to go to a concert are not being met and theother person’s needs for a caregiver are not being met, so maybe at that point,we part ways or is there a different way of navigating that?
Emonie Carter-Hale: It’s difficult to accept that that person may not have the capacity at that moment to show up for you in the same way that you show up for them. It’s okay to decide not to continue the relationship because you feel hurt. Explain what that hurt is. It’s okay to feel that hurt and to decide to remove someone from your inner circle.
It’s important to acknowledge that just because someone is in pain or they are suffering, it does not make bad behavior okay. That’s a difficult thing to sit with. There is nothing you can do. You can’t suddenly change their situation just as they can’t change how their behavior is impacting you.
What you can do is decide what it is that you’re willing to deal with in the moment. The biggest part of coming to peace with that change is communication. Communicate to others that you don’t have the capacity to show up for them in the way that you may have shown up in the past or the way that you would like to show up for them. Accept that this is where you’re at. That can be difficult.
Accept that your life has changed and it’s going to look different. Changes are going to be made for yourself and for the people in your life and you need to allow them the choice; do they want to continue in your life or not? If they choose not to continue to be a part of your life, remember that it is not a reflection of yourself. Significantly, realizing that because someone chooses to no longer be involved with you, it’s not a reflection of who you are as a person.
Julia Joubert: If someone is listening to this and understands what they need to do but have no idea where to start, do you have any advice?
Emonie Carter-Hale: I think therapy is amazing however therapy is not accessible to everyone. If it’s accessible, that’s wonderful.
One thing that I’ve realized is that the internet can be an amazing tool because it’s really easy to find information on positive psychology, on mindfulness. I would say look into different mindfulness apps and if you can seek additional support ,do so.
Dani van Zyl: As a child, despite being very quiet and reserved, I was very competitive and very hardworking. I wanted to succeed. I was constantly fighting to be this person while my body itself was dragging me backwards. I was no longer the star pupil, the star child. I could really see the changes of expectations, not just from my side, but from my family’s standpoint. I could even see the disappointment in my teachers.
I’d say the last ten years is where I’ve seen the biggest struggles when it comes to maintaining friends because I want to be able to be there. I want to be able to give back. I want to be able to give as much energy as I get from the other person.
When you’re sometimes unable to get out of bed or if they live quite a bit further from you, those small little things eventually add up and the friendship melts away. Nobody has ever explained to me when a friendship had seemingly come to an end. I’ve never had an explanation. It’s always an assumption on my part that it’s my fault.
Julia Joubert: Are you saying that people ghost you?
Dani van Zyl: It was always ghosting. It’s a lot harder when that is how the friendship ends. Because I was very aware of what my body was doing and what my body could and could not do, I was constantly trying to communicate.
Julia Joubert: Have you come to peace with that at all?
Dani van Zyl: I have been able to look back on it and have peace. What unfortunately happened was that I got too good at letting people go with a lack of processing and an indifference and I think indifference is a terrible thing. People coming in and out of my life became the norm, but I didn’t realize that that was not normal. I did realize how much it hurt every time I’d lose a friend and so I stopped letting people into my life.
Julia Joubert: Would you rather have someone say, “This relationship is just not meeting my expectations and therefore I am calling it quits”? That’s a hard conversation to have. I would be stressing over it for months.
Dani van Zyl: I would one hundred percent take that. By that little communication, there is a chance to learn exactly what that person was feeling, and I can try to adapt if possible. It’s never easy to end relationships. It’s never going to be easy. It’s how you move on that matters the most.
Julia Joubert: I want to come to communication. From the sounds of things, you are pretty good at communicating your needs, your desires and where you are at in a day. How do you communicate these needs with friends and family?
Dani van Zyl: My whole life fits the cliché that honesty is the best policy. My communication skills are pretty good. I came to a point where I thought why lie? Why pretend? There was a very long time that I was pretending that I could do everything, manage everything, that everything was fine. When I realized that I wasn’t fine, I knew that I would have to change how I communicated.
I’ve seen how communication and lack thereof affects so many people’s lives. I think people are scared to communicate their true feelings or what they are going through because they don’t want to look like failures in their partners’ eyes, in their family’s eyes. When you’re trying to communicate what you’re dealing with, when you talk about it, you can’t hide your emotions.
Julia Joubert: It’s been really interesting talking to you and hearing how you navigate your relationships. Correct me if I’m wrong, you are carrying the “sufferer” role as well as the role of the caregiver in that you are aware of your own pain, what you are struggling with, but you are empathizing exceptionally with other people as well. Do you have a perceived role, or do you feel like you have a perceived role in these relationships?
Dani van Zyl: You hit the nail on the head with caregiver. That is my role, not just from my point of view but in terms of family and friends. That is the role that I played, often to my own detriment.
Julia Joubert: Do you think that comes with self-isolation and not wanting to be a burden?
Dani van Zyl: Yes, definitely. I’m in quite a few support groups on Facebook and that does seem tobe a common theme. Yes, it’s from self-isolation, but you can also see how you are isolated through actions as well.
Julia Joubert: How important have these groups been for you? Are you a part of any other communities?
Dani vanZyl: I’mon mostly Facebook groups. There are some helpful TikTok groups. Even if youdon’t interact, it’s nice when you see something pop up that you’ve experiencedand realize that you’re not totally alone. These groups can be really helpful, not just in providing support but also providing information.
Julia Joubert: I want to close with a question about the relationships that you have in your life that have been maintained, that are working where communication is flowing. What do you value most in those relationships?
Dani vanZyl: I think the best relationships that I have are with my niece and nephew. Thatmight sound strange. They are nine and seven and for me, I want to give them aperspective of life that I never had. I’ll take them for dinner, and it will bea feelings dinner; “How are you feeling today? Why do you feel that way? It’sokay to feel that way.” I try to create a world for these kids where there areno feelings of invalidity. Yes, those relationships for me are the mostimportant because it’s nurturing from both sides.
JuliaJoubert: Do you feel like byimparting that wisdom, it emboldens you in those feelings as well?
Dani vanZyl: Itdoes. I have never seen kinder children. That is something that just makes myheart happy.