• Sonia Neale

Mental Health and House Guests

House guests are like fish, they go off in three days



Inviting visitors to your home sounds like a grand idea at the time. Even visitors who happen to be extended family. Very enticing. Very exciting. Lots of plans made. Stocking up on chocolate and wine. Researching places to go and things to do. Some visit for many days or weeks or months even. All that time to talk and laugh with guests, share some wine or champagne with and hang out till the wee small hours of the morning, drinking and reminiscing. As well, sharing the cost, taking turns in cooking yummy gourmet food and the kids have a chance to play with each other. Sounds like lots of fun right? Wrong. Just wrong.


The first couple of days are fine. We’re all on our best behaviour, telling stories we’ve never heard before or rehashing old stories, knowing what’s happened and when to laugh at the right bits. But there comes a time when everybody is well past their use by date and that is when you have to put personal boundaries in place in order to survive. What started out as fun times can end up in tears and tantrums.

I know, because I’ve been a guest in other people’s houses and had guests stay at my house. Forty-eight hours (for me) is the limit. Two nights and two days before it all goes pear-shaped. Just enough time to create some strong favourable memories and just before you start to remember their worst habits and experience flashbacks of what they are really like, that you had forgotten.


Here are five rules to put in place before inviting guests over, especially if you have mental health issues. My thoughts are be kind to yourself, accept and resign yourself to a certain length of time, perhaps your tolerance level only goes to less than a week, then that’s all you can do. And that’s ok.


1. Set some house rules; on guests paying their way, dividing the cooking and housework evenly, going on outdoor activities (don’t over-schedule), having together time and personal time. That way you all know what to expect, there should be no surprises, which of course there always will be.


2. Let things go. Forgive quickly. Move on. I was once on a trip to the UK with a “friend.” We almost missed a connecting flight from London to Scotland to meet other people. Almost, but we made it. When we got to our seats I said, “We’ll be laughing about this tomorrow.” She said, “No, we won’t.” I am not friends with this person anymore. I only travel with my husband now, who is a most marvellous travelling companion. We missed a connecting flight once and we had a meal and “adulted” it well. We are still married.


3. Personal Space. I cannot emphasis this enough. When you have many large lumbering adults and children in your tiny 3 x 1, all climbing up the walls, tramping over the couch, raiding the fridge, throwing spag bol at the ceiling (and that’s just the adults. OK – just a joke. Not) it can become very old very quickly.


4. Before the visit, have a chat with your family currently living with you, what are your triggers and how are you going to handle them? If your mother-in-law snores loud enough to wake the dead, wear earphones. Its just temporary. Breathe slowly and deeply until it becomes automatic.


5. After a few days people can get a bit niggly. Watch your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. All those mini micro-aggressions we display without even knowing it, such as clenching your fists if you have to make a strong point. Rolling your eyes at yet another story that doesn’t display you in a good light or smiling tightly when someone has nicked all the leftover chocolate in the fridge (yes, there is such a thing as leftover chocolate).


Be careful who you let into your house.


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