When hearing about someone with mental illness, thoughts are drawn to the person with the illness: their struggles, their behavior, their future. That makes sense. It is hard to have a mental illness. Whether it’s depression robbing you of joy in life, mania robbing you of responsible living, schizophrenia robbing you of contact with reality, or any other mental distortion, having a mental illness is HARD! But it doesn’t just end there. Friends and family are touched, sucked into the alternate world of the mentally ill person or having to be the one to clean up the mess left behind.
This blog post is to say thank you to those around us who enable us to live happy, productive lives even with these difficulties. I’ve been on both sides. I live with schizo-affective disorder. I know the struggle to be normal and I know the blessings of those around me who enable me to overcome those struggles. I also have people I love who struggle with various forms of mental disorders. I encourage them to get treatment, provide a listening ear, help fill in the cracks that form in their lives. I know how hard it is to helplessly stand by while they turn down treatment that could help or follow treatments that don’t help. Because of this, I'd like to share a few things I've learned.
Set appropriate boundaries. We love your help and encouragement. We need your help and encouragement. We can’t get that if you break down. Just like an airplane that loses cabin pressure, take care of yourself first, then you’ll be able to be there for us.
Please don’t hate us. We didn’t ask for, nor do we want to suffer from mental illness. Yes, there are people who milk their illness but most of us just want to be like everyone else. We don’t want to be sad when life is good. We don’t want strange beliefs that seem so real to us when they seem absurd to everyone else. We want to have a full life that is based on reality, makes us happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Don’t put us in a bubble. We may need real help to live a productive life but don’t wrap us up so tight we either never face consequences or so lax we get in over our head and can’t escape.
Talk to us. If you want to help us, let us know, let us have input. If you’re angry with us, tell us why. Give us a chance to make things right and to learn from the experience.
Reach out to us from time to time. Give us a chance to give back and be there for you!
And for those who have mental illness:
Realize the help you’re being given. Say “Thank You!” The help may not be wanted from your perspective but it is a sign of caring.
Realize your own responsibility for your actions. Say “I’m Sorry!” You may not have meant to hurt anyone but if you did – even by mistake – you need to take responsibility for that.
Realize your own dreams. This may mean standing up to those who wish to help you, so you may have some proving to do, but it’s worth it. Show others and yourself what you’re really capable of doing. Maybe it will be a surprise or maybe people knew you could do it all along!