While struggling with mental illness is hard, it’s no cake walk for those who love someone with mental illness. They love us. They sacrifice for us. They hurt for us. And we love them for it! We appreciate every act of kindness even when we don’t show it or are so wrapped up in our own pain it seems like there’s no space to give back. So, this information is for those that love us:
It may not seem like it all the time but we really are trying. Look at the direction we’re headed not the milestone we’ve reached. It can be hard when you look only at the external results rather than trying to understand the internal struggle. You may never completely understand our struggle or what we’re going through. And while you will never understand us fully, we may never understand you, either. We may never realize how much your heart breaks to see us in pain. How you want more for us and just don’t understand why we SEEM to not want it for ourselves.
Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co, speaks of assuming positive intent. This is vitally important when dealing with someone with a mental illness. Assume we are trying. Assume we want to succeed. I know there are people who look at those of us who struggle and think of us as lazy. Or wanting to take advantage – game the system. It’s not true. I’m sure there are a few people out there who may fit the description – there always are – but, for most of us, it simply isn’t true or fair. We are trying our best to be well. We are trying our best to be successful. We don’t want to lay in bed all day we simply have no strength to do otherwise.
The decisions we make to try and get well are very complex decisions and each person must make it for themselves. The caregiver or loved one needs to understand the complexity of the choices but please, give those of us battling our demons the benefit of the doubt. Understand that just because we aren’t making the choices you think we should make, doesn’t mean that our choices are invalid.
I know what you’re thinking. I know you are so frustrated. “Why won’t ______ just take their meds?!!!” It’s because it’s just not that simple. Whether it’s the lure of a manic episode, the denial of a depressive one, or the fear of the very real side effects, getting out of the storm is never easy. Being healthy is so hard. It is totally worth every struggle but until you are out, it’s so hard to see.
Everyone needs to own their own issues.
There is a difference between helping and enabling. Helping is doing something for someone else that they could not do on their own. Enabling is when you do something for someone else that they could (and should) be doing for themselves. By allowing the person who is struggling to own their own issues, you are empowering them to take control over their own lives. If you are the one struggling, understand that those around you have to take responsibility for their choices as well. You are not a “burden”. They choose to take care of you. If they are unhappy, that is their responsibility, not yours.
We appreciate what you do for us but wish you didn’t have to do it.
Guilt can distort appreciation. There are various reactions we, as a person struggling, may have towards our caretaker. While we appreciate everything you do, we may feel so guilty that it makes us angry and sometimes that anger may get misdirected. We may strike out at you, the person we’re closest to. Or, we may feel so indebted that we feel we cannot possibly ever repay you so why even try. While these are issues and behaviors that need to be addressed, understand that the appreciation may be there, even if it's buried.
You can’t save us.
This is the hardest thing to accept but it is a reality. For all the help you provide, for all the work you do, there are no guarantees. The right med may not be found. The lure of mania may be too strong. The storms may have been raging so severely, for so long, that you – all of you – may be beaten down and ready to give up. I’ll say it again and again: DON’T GIVE UP! Rest if you have to but don’t give up. Unfortunately, all the love and caring in the world may not be enough to work miracles so protect yourself. Ultimately, the future is not in your hands, only your ability to influence.
This is the most important thing for those taking care of someone to hear: THANK YOU! To those caring for others thank you! Thank you for your sacrifice and your love. Thank you for the time and energy you invest. We ask only one more thing. It may seem like a lot. It may seem like more than you want to offer but we need you to give it to us. Give us your trust. Give us your faith. Let us know you believe that we are trying and will succeed in getting well.