Setting Boundaries When Your Loved One Experiences Depression

If your loved one is like me, during the worst of depression they want as much nurture and time with you as possible because the experience of depression is so incredibly scary.

During my depression I was not able to think, nor feel.  I no longer felt like a human being.  I needed the support of my family, to just be there with me…in the room with me or touching me or lying beside me just so I could feel alive.

This was great for me, but it wasn’t good for my family at all.  Here’s what I learned my family needed.



My family needed to set firm boundaries with me for time that they would not spend with me during the worst of my depression.

For instance, my  mother set the boundary that she needs her mornings to enjoy her breakfast, doing crossword puzzles and to just relax.  She also needed time in the evenings to decompress.  And all day Wednesday was her day to be with friends.  She is retired and had more time to spend with me.

My sister needed boundaries.  She worked full time.  She needed time daily after work to decompress, but would spend time with me before bed-time to practice Tai Chi with me with the hope that it would help me sleep.

With these boundaries, I began to improve because it forced me to utilize my own strength and tools.  And it helped me to recognize when it was time to get psychiatric help.

Without boundaries, I would have been very comfortable staying in my depression and not getting psychiatric help for even longer with all the nurture I received.

I highly encouraged parents and loved ones to figure out their boundaries and set them in a way that says, “I LOVE you.  Nevertheless, I need to take care of myself first in order to be there for you.”


How to talk with young children about Depression, Mania & Mental Illness: Strategies for talking about bipolar disorder and mental illness with children

I have worked as a therapist with parents have bipolar disorder.

Here are examples of what I share with parents to help them talk with their children about bipolar disorder.

I will turn these ideas into a video to share with your children.

How to talk about DEPRESSION with young children


KEY: Children need to know that what you are experiencing is NOT their fault AND that there is nothing they can do to make you not feel how you feel.  They need to know that they are not responsible for making you happy or changing your mood.


Here is how I encourage people to talk about DEPRESSION with children.

If a child is afraid of monsters, mom or dad can say…

“Monsters are scary. I am scared of monsters too.”

“Sometimes MONSTERS come into my life, and just like you, I do my best to face them.”

“Sometimes the MONSTERS are soooo scary, that I have to go to sleep and cover up under the covers so I can face them in my dreams and win.”

“When I go to sleep, I am winning against the MONSTERS. I don’t want you to worry about me when I sleep…that is when I am WINNING.”

“Sometimes it takes a long time to WIN. But don’t worry, I will WIN.”

“Sometimes the MONSTERS make me sad and make me cry. It is a good thing to cry…it means I am facing the monsters. In order to WIN, I have to face the MONSTERS.”

“Sometimes the MONSTERS steal all of my energy. It is no fun at all. But don’t worry…when the MONSTERS do this…I will go to sleep and start WINNING in my dreams.”

“You can’t make the MONSTERS go away.  But you can help me by letting me know when you see the MONSTER in my life because sometimes it sneaks into my life and I cannot see it.”

“When MONSTERS come into my life, sometimes I have so many of them that I have to go to the doctor.  Don’t worry, the doctor is helping me so I don’t have too many MONSTERS.”

“When I have too many MONSTERS, I lose control and do some pretty wacky things.  When that happens, it is not your fault and it is not my fault.   It is the MONSTER’S fault.”

How to talk about MANIA with young children

KEY: Children need to know that what you are experiencing is NOT their fault AND that there is nothing they can do to make you not feel how you feel.  They need to know that they are not responsible for making you happy or changing your mood.

How to talk about mania with young children…


“Sometimes I get the HAPPINESS BUG! The HAPPINESS BUG makes me sooooo incredibly happy.”

“The HAPPINESS BUG makes me want to dance and sing…it makes me feel that I can do ANYTHING.”

“The HAPPINESS BUG gives me so much energy and makes it so that I can’t sleep.”

“When I can’t sleep, it is scary. I really want to sleep, but the HAPPINESS BUG doesn’t want me to, it wants me to play.”

“Sometimes the HAPPINESS BUG plays way too much for me…and it cheats in the games we play…and it makes me soooo angry.”

“When I get angry…I am never angry at you. I am angry at the HAPPINESS BUG for cheating in our game.”

“You can’t make the HAPPINESS BUG go away.  But you can help me by letting me know when you see the HAPPINESS BUG in my life because sometimes it sneaks into my life and I cannot see it.”

“When I get the HAPPINESS BUG, sometimes I have so many of them that I have to go to the doctor.  Don’t worry, the doctor is helping me so I don’t have too many HAPPINESS BUGS.”

“When I have too many HAPPINESS BUGS, I lose control and do some pretty wacky things.  When that happens, it is not your fault and it is not my fault.   It is the HAPPINESS BUG’s fault.”

A key for talking with children about bipolar disorder is we want them to know:

“When I am sad or angry, it is never ever your fault.”

“You do not make me sad or angry. I love you very, very much.”

“Sometimes the MONSTER keeps me from being able to be happy. It is NOT your fault, ever.”

“Sometimes the HAPPINESS BUG makes me really, really angry. It is NOT your fault, ever.”


I survived being a teenager with Bipolar Disorder; so did my parents

I was a good kid.

Being a teenager was the most difficult period of my life thus far.

I survived.

So did my parents.


Being a teenager for me meant…

I just want to belong

(in the eyes of someone other than my parents).


Way before I was a teenager, I loved being with my mom and dad. They could do no wrong. They were my heroes.

(This was before my brain developed the ability to critically think and make my own decisions.)

My mom was my safety blanket in life. I crawled into bed with her and lay beside her and shared with her anything I thought or felt about life. She made me feel that what I had to say was important and she appeared interested in all my ideas. She explored all of my curiosities with me by sitting down together with the encyclopedia to look for any questions I had about life. She inspired and encouraged in me my love of learning and taught me how to learn and gave me structure to research and study. She taught me how to be her helper (which was actually the only effective thing she did to get me to do chores, yet she was not consistent enough with it to make it routine and habit in my life). However, she did ignite a passion within me for helping people, just not for helping her do chores. She and my dad gave me the space to explore and play freely…they truly encouraged me to be me and dream and believe that I could be anything I truly want to be if I work hard enough. I believe this planted the seeds for my tremendous work ethic.

I was the last person to wish my dad a good day and the first person to welcome him home. I was my dad’s first-mate as a sailor. On long drives, I stayed up to keep him company. I just wanted my dad’s attention and affection. He expressed his care by doing things with me and spending time with me. He taught me how to throw and catch a football and a baseball. My dad taught me about politics and instilled in me values about how people deserve to be treated and have access to resources. I learned to take a stand for what I believe in from my dad. He encouraged me to be strong and persistent in going after what I want and believe in in life. Little did he and my mom know that I would drive them nuts with my persistence to own dogs and boats and anything that would be more responsibility for them.

As a child, I knew the rules and had structure, unfortunately for my mom, she didn’t get that I pay way more attention to what she did than what she said.

My mother could not tolerate messiness. At a young age, I learned that if I wait long enough, she would clean up after me. I would have to deal with her persistent nagging, but after years of it, I learned to tune her out. It worked like a charm. My mother didn’t know it, but she was very good at teaching me how to manipulate her based on my own understanding of her needs. Her need for a clean house and organization was far greater than mine.

By my mom picking up after me, not only did I take her for granted, but I lost respect for what she does and how incredibly hard she works.

As a child, no matter what I did, my mom could not stay mad at me. It didn’t matter if I exploded something in the kitchen or completely destroyed the family room while turning it into a pirate ship OR got into trouble with my friends…I could climb into bed with my mom and share with her everything I felt and thought and no matter how upset she was with me, she could not stay mad at me. I learned from her that if I simply share my feelings and thoughts honestly and transparently that I am loveable and it does not get me into trouble.

By my mom consistently being there for me, no matter what I did or said, without being disappointed in me, I developed expectations for how people should treat me. I developed the belief system that I can mess up as much as I want in life and if I am honest and open about it, people will love me anyways. As an adult, this is still an underlying core belief that by no means is always true, but it does work for me enough of the time.

Unfortunately, my older sister became a teenager before I did and her teen years were very, very difficult on my parents. She had undiagnosed bipolar disorder (until she was 31) and it was like living with a demon throughout her teenage years. So much of my mom’s time and energy went to trying to help my sister and cope with her, that I was neglected for way too long.


I no longer climbed into bed with her and shared openly and honestly my feelings. I did not want to be a burden…so I learned to bottle things up inside me starting around the age of nine years old. I learned to keep a smile on my face and tried to help out as much as I could…I turned into the “angel” child, but I was in a lot of pain and no one knew.



The year I became a teenager, my mom had breast cancer (and survived) and her mother died (my heroic grandma) and my sister was at the peak of her horrible teens and still had not received the help she needed.


Being a teenager was incredibly hard for me. While in Junior High, I lost all my childhood friends due to the cruelness of pre-teen hormonal girls and I isolated myself from the friends who had been there for me during my mom’s cancer because I unknowingly associated them with horrible pain.



I had incredibly low self-esteem.


I did not feel safe with girls.

I did not feel safe with anyone.

I never let anyone get to close to me. As a result I went through friends like water all through the rest of Junior High and High School. I only had a limited trust for one person at a time and completely stayed away from groups, especially if girls were involved.

I chose friends who made me feel good about myself. I chose friends who made me feel wanted. Some of my friends were good people…other friends were just using me because they could.



I did not get into drugs and alcohol as a teenager. At the age of eight, when I was unsupervised and drank enough alcohol to knock out a horse at our family Passover Seder, I learned how much I do not like the feeling of being drunk and how incredibly sick too much alcohol makes me, so I stayed away from it until I was twenty and then remembered how much I don’t like it.


My dad learned a lot from that experience and said to me, “If you ever want to try drugs, try them with me.” He educated me as best he could about the effects of drugs and told me stories of what happened to people he knew, bad stories, but without judging them at all. Then said, “If you would like to try it, try it with me.” The way my dad talked with me made me never want to do drugs. He stole the excitement from them and he made me feel normal for being curious and wanting to try things that would make me feel all sorts of different pleasures. My dad made me feel safe talking with him and I never got in trouble for sharing my curiosities and mistakes with either of my parents.



Some parents would be infuriated by this because they see it as giving a child permission to do drugs. It was not the case for me. My dad removed my desire to experiment by how he talked with me about drugs. I did not have to hide anything from my parents. Those conversations and always being able to talk with my parents openly about drugs and sex without fear of judgment or being in trouble, kept me from trying drugs and becoming sexually active even when I really wanted to be sexually active and was frequently viewing websites like and many others to try and satisfy myself (while manic).



Mania came into my life right before turning sixteen. I got my drivers license while manic. I’ve written a lot about my mania and depression, but not a whole lot about how it affected me as a teenager.



Mania and depression stole from me the one thing I was really trying to figure out in life as a teenager…MY IDENTITY.



I had very low self-esteem when mania and depression came into my life and they destroyed what little esteem I had. Self-trust went out the window. I was completely afraid of myself. I was afraid to be with anyone I associated with mania and afraid to drive.


My parents didn’t know how to help me. Therapy was not working for me because I did not feel the therapist got me and I was able to be incredibly self-aware and not let the therapist in at all.


My family helped me heal by trusting me when I was unable to trust myself. My family encouraged me to face my fears and drive the car again. They encouraged me to set goals again and take chances in life. They encouraged me to be excited about life again without fearing that I was manic. They gave me the freedom to begin exploring again and removed the pressure of things like AP classes and college. They gave me permission to be and do whatever I want in my life and took away the fear of failure. This freedom to explore who I am and decide who I choose to become is how I got to where I am today.










Letters To & From My Father ~ Written by Robin Mohilner

I was 24 when I wrote these letters and in graduate school working through my pain.

On, October 22, 2004, I gave myself a two-part self-care assignment that I committed myself to.



Directions for my own self-care:

Robin, you are to write two letters:

Letter # 1:  Write a letter to your father

Letter #2:  Write a letter to yourself responding as if you are your father



Letter #1

In this letter, share with him both what you need and needed from him and how not having it affects and effected your life.


I MUST take responsibility for my needs

I MUST NOT blame, shame, or judge him.

I MUST have compassion and empathy for who he is.



Letter #2

Write this letter to you, from your father.

Write the letter as though you are your father.

In this letter give yourself what you need to receive.



but if you do, your relationship with him may be better as a result.



2009 Dancing with my Dad



Letter #1

Written by Robin Mohilner on October 22, 2004


Dear Dad,


I know that you did the best that you could do in raising me in each moment with the interpersonal resources that you had and circumstances that you faced.  Dad, I am so proud of you, it must have been so hard for you to be a father not knowing from your own father what it was like to receive unconditional love, support, safety and acceptance.


I can’t imagine how painful it must have been to never feel good enough in your father’s eyes.  I will never understand the pain of watching your mother be sick your whole life and having her die without ever seeing you become a man.  Now I can understand why you distanced yourself when mom had cancer and when grandma passed away.  I imagine that somewhere deep down inside your heart is still hurting.  It’s okay to cry Dad, its okay to mourn your loss.  It’s not your fault.


It must have been hard to become a father, to be fully responsible for another human life.  You must have been scared and confused at times not knowing what to do with the tiny fragile life that fit into the palm of your hands.  You must have felt a tremendous pressure knowing that your actions, words, deeds, values, and beliefs would shape this little life and mold it into a beautiful woman.


Dad, you succeeded.  I am the strong, intelligent and independent woman you hoped for me to be.   I am the woman who speaks her mind, stands for what she believes in, and isn’t afraid to take a risk.


However, Dad, I’m not the woman I desire to be and deserve to be.  And I am not as strong as you think I am.  Dad, I choose men that are emotionally unavailable because I do not know how to be or to allow myself to be loved by a man that is truly able to be a partner to me and love me for everything that I am.  Even worse, I try to change them.  I try to make them fall in love with me especially if they are emotionally unavailable.


I do this to myself because it is safe.  Dad, I love you more than words will ever express and I know you love me.  However, you were not emotionally available in my life.  You did not know how to express or show me love.  I knew you loved me, but I did not receive it.  I did not experience the emotion of being loved.   You had a hard time hugging me, and you didn’t tell me you loved me until I moved to college.


Dad, I couldn’t change you.  No matter how much I knew I needed to be loved, I couldn’t make you love me (show me that you love me).  So unconsciously, I recreate our relationship with men hoping that I can convince men who are emotionally unavailable to be able to truly be in love with me.  And Dad, I’ve failed every time.


Sadly enough, there is a belief floating within me that I’m not loveable.  Due to my choices, I have reinforced the belief multiple times.  I fear that if I continue on this path, I will come to consciously believe that I am not worthy of having someone be in love with me.


Dad, I don’t want to feel not loveable anymore.  I don’t want to have to convince or change a man to love me.  I finally realize that no man’s love can replace the love I needed to receive from you.  So I’m telling you now that I forgive you for not giving me the love that I needed.  I forgive you Dad.  I can’t change you, but I can forgive you.


At the same time, I give myself permission to accept full responsibility for my choices here-on-out.  I now have the gift of awareness and it is my duty to act on it.  It is my responsibility to make new choices in who I choose to love and move beyond my comfort zone of emotional unavailability.


I love you Dad.  And it’s not your fault that you couldn’t express to me the love that I needed.


All my love,







2006 "Father Daughter Cruise"2006 “Our Father Daughter Cruise”



Letter #2

Written by Robin Mohilner on October 26, 2004




Dear Robin,


I love you more than the word love could ever define.  It broke my heart to learn that deep inside you feel that you are unlovable.  Even though I completely disagree with your feelings, and see you as the most loving and lovable person I know, I want you to know that it’s okay for you to feel that way.  I’m sorry that you are hurting.


I don’t want to make any excuses for how I have treated you.  I haven’t been the most loving father.  I was not there for you in the way you needed me to be.  I couldn’t handle your sensitivity.  I reacted to your emotion by trying to fix your problems instead of allowing you to share your feelings with me.  I’d like to say that I reacted that way because I’m a man and that’s just what we do.  But that would be a cop-out.  Robin, I did the best that I could do and you deserve better.  I’m sorry my little girl, you’ll always be my little girl.  I am so sorry that I was not able to be the father that was able to show you how much I love you.


Robin, I’ve never told you how I see you.  I’ve never expressed to you your own worth.  I know I’ve told you that no man is good enough for you in my eyes, but I’ve never told you why I feel the way I do.  I don’t say that just because you’re my daughter.  Robin, you’ve been my source of hope and joy through out your entire life.  I looked forward to going to work in the morning, not because I liked my job, but because I knew that when I left the house at 6am, that my little girl would be in her bedroom window waiving to me and blowing me kisses.  You did that every morning and it gave me something to look forward to.  And I couldn’t wait to get home because I knew that the moment I stepped in the door, my little girl would be waiting for me at the top of the stairs.  You used to be so excited to see me.  You couldn’t wait to share what you learned with me.  You had so many questions to ask me.  You were full of so much life and you haven’t changed.  Robin, there were days I hated my life because I hated my job. Your beautiful spirit got me through those days and I took you with me everywhere I went.  You were my reason to move forward, to try, to work hard.  You are also the reason why I did not take promotions in my career because it would have required for me to spend less time with you.  I wasn’t willing to give that up for anything in the world.


I should have told you how much you mean to me.  I didn’t know how to.  So I’ll do my best now.  Robin, I am so proud of you.  I am so honored to be your father.  I believe in you.  Not just in your abilities to succeed in life.  I believe in your character.  I believe in your values.  I believe in and trust in the decisions you make.  Wow, I am so proud of who you are.  Robin, I’ve watched you struggle in life, I’ve watched you hurt, and I’ve seen your heart break.  It hurt me so deeply to not be able to help you; however, watching you overcome adversity and react to the world has given me the utmost faith and belief in you.  You cannot disappoint me.  You have never disappointed me.  Simply by being who you are, you have exceeded my expectations.


I know that I’ve never told you that you are beautiful.  I am so sorry for that.  I know that growing up you felt ugly and undesirable.  I didn’t do anything about it.  I realize that over the years I’ve just had a hard time looking at you.  I want to see you as my little girl, but you’re not anymore.  You are a beautiful woman.  It’s really hard for me to accept that.  I’ve never told you this, but I notice how men look at you when we go out.  They’re looking at my little girl sexually, and even though I know that you’re an adult and that you have sex, I just don’t want men looking at you in a disrespectful way.  So I guess that I keep myself from seeing what they see.  But I can’t deny that you are gorgeous.  However, you are gorgeous to me for different reasons.


To me Robin, your heart makes you gorgeous.  You amaze me. You give of yourself not expecting anything in return.  You love people unconditionally, even if they don’t love you.  You have always been there for people when they need you, even if they reject your help.  People have hurt you so deeply, yet you always find it in your heart to forgive them.  You fall down and get back up again.  I don’t know how you do it.  But you are the most loving human being on the face of this planet.  And I don’t just say that because I’m your father.  I say that because you are the only Robin that exists and I am so blessed to have the honor of being your father.


Now let’s talk about men and your relationships.  Robin, you know that I feel no man is good enough for you.  Again, it’s not just because I’m your father.  I realize and am so saddened that you have sought out emotionally unavailable men with the hope of changing them as a reflection of our relationship.  Watching you has brought me pain because deep down inside I have always known.  I can’t change that. I can’t change the wounds I’ve created within you and I can’t change your choices.  I hope that with you now realizing your dating pattern that you can change it yourself.


What I can do is tell you what I hope for you in a partner.  I want the man that you love to be able and willing to love you in the way you deserve to be loved.  He must love you unconditionally because any less is not worthy of your love.  A man that is worthy of you will adore you and cherish you.  He will be there for you and give you permission to be weak.  Robin, I know it’s hard for you to be weak; you’ve been the source of strength for far too many people your whole life.  This is why a man worthy of you will give you permission to trust him, to trust that it’s okay for you to be weak because he will be there for you.  Robin, I’ve watched you be rejected by men and I know the pain that it has caused you.  A man worthy of you would never reject you; he would never make you feel that something is wrong with you.  He would never ever make you feel unlovable.  You will never have to convince him to love you or convince him of your worth.  I could go on and on about this because my standards for you are far greater than I can express here.  Maybe I’ll do so in another letter.


Robin, I know I didn’t write this letter myself.  However, I know you know that this is how I truly feel.  I hope writing this letter was a healing experience for you.  And whenever, you need to hear something from me feel free to be the one to tell yourself the things that I do not know how to say.


I love you my little girl,





I shared both letters with my dad.

Although he has not changed drastically.

He makes the effort to tell me he loves me and gives me hugs.

He lights up when he sees me doing what I’m passionate about.

I know he is proud of me.

What changed is me.

I have changed because I finally accept him as he is

And no longer expect him to be someone he is not.


This has made our relationship better.



Happiness, Excitement & Stress do NOT necessarily mean MANIA. Happiness & Bipolar Disorder.

One of the hardest challenges people living with bipolar disorder face is the fear that they cannot be happy, excited or experience stress in a normal way.

There is an assumption in our society that this is mania.

I believe it is NOT true.

The following article are simply my beliefs as a person who thrives with bipolar disorder and experiences a life full of happiness, excitement and stress.


Happiness that comes from feeling good about yourself…

self-esteem, self-worth, integrity, dignity, self-respect, what you’ve achieved, your family, how you treat people, give to people, gratitude for your life etc


Happiness and excitement that comes from what you plan to do in the FUTURE…

it is also JOY,

but because their is a GOAL that MAY invite the stressors of OVERWHELM or a drive of URGENCY…

the joy could lead to MANIA.

Therefore, happiness and excitement about what is current or in the past MAY be SAFE and not lead to mania at all.   It may be happiness and excitement about the future that may have the potential to welcome mania into our lives.


There is NOTHING WRONG with being happy and excited about the future.

We simply have to be more careful and pay attention to our sense of URGENCY and STOP when we feel URGENCY and /or OVERWHELM.

We must PAUSE…and take time to calm down and focus on one step at a time instead of the big OVERWHELMING picture.

The KEY here…is we have to be able to RECOGNIZE what URGENCY and OVERWHELM feel like in our bodies so we can respond to them RIGHT AWAY, before MANIA can kick in and we lose control.

On a different note:

Happiness or energy that feels excessive or strange to you could be mania.

The amount of happiness we feel, that is considered normal happiness, is often in proportion with the cause.

If we feel extremely happy and a burst of energy from experiencing something that is ordinary to us…

The chances are we may be experiencing mania.




We cannot avoid STRESS in life.

There will ALWAYS be stress in our lives.

To believe that we cannot handle stress dis-empowers us.

We have to learn how to cope with STRESS and how to receive support when we are OVERWHELMED.

People living with bipolar disorder already have the tendency to hold everything in an be STRONG.

This way of being for us, holding everything in or hiding everything, IS NOT HEALTHY FOR US.

By telling us that we must maintain a stress-free life…it encourages us to hold everything in.

I believe we appear to NOT handle stress well because our whole lives we have held the pain, the suffering, the loss, the wounds and the damage INSIDE OURSELVES.

Therefore, when stress happens in our lives…coming from the outside of ourselves, it is too much, we have an episode.

Our own shame, guilt, internalized stigma, self-fear, lack of self-trust, low self-esteem and other self-destructive emotions and actions are enough stress to cause relapse without ANY external stress.

In fact, I believe that internalized stigma is more stress than any daily external stressor.

One reason why I believe I have not had a significant episode in 15 years…is because I don’t hold anything in.

I do not hide anything from anyone.

My transparency frees me from internal STRESS.

It does not mean that I don’t have stress, it means that when I have stress, I let it out.

I am not ashamed or disgraced to have bipolar disorder.