I used to think that much of the time my daughter was manipulating me. This was something that took me some time to understand: when was it the mental illness and when was it manipulation. The answers came as I learned more about things like cognitive deficits, and when I began to understand more about mental illness in general. I recognized that mostly there was no overt attempt to manipulate me, and while there may indeed have been some attempts, it was no big deal if I went along with them most of the time. I would do a quick assessment to determine the cost or impact, and if neither cost or impact were significant, I would not waste energy and risk losing trust by second guessing that it was manipulation. If I was subject to manipulation, I’m satisfied that it was mostly unintentional or unplanned by my daughter. Maybe it was lack of confidence, ability, or a cry for help and not deliberate intent or manipulation.
Letting the little things go reduced my stress level. It was part of simplifying my life. What do I mean by letting the little things go? These little things are minor issues that take up time and add to the stress. Many things I considered to be problems, upon further thought turned out to be inconsequential. I looked at the little things that normally upset me like a messy room, milk left out of the refrigerator, someone cutting me off in traffic, and being kept waiting. I realized there were much more important things that I should be spending my time and energy on so I dropped these issues that were minor in the scheme of things, and I saved my energy for serious issues.
Learning everything that I could about mental illness became my first priority. I went over this subject in detail earlier but it deserves to be added again here because it has been such an important key to my well-being and that of my daughter. Knowledge gives some power where mental illness is concerned. I focused on specific topics that would help me support my daughter. Later I included learning about self-care and then learning about the local Health Authority. Obviously learning about mental illness and mental health care is an enormous task, especially when there are so many variables and so much is still unknown. I am still learning and will probably never stop, but hopefully, I can continue to share the things I have learned and they will benefit other people.
One thing I commonly see is that people with mental illness are judged. This judgment often characterizes the ill person as inferior, dangerous, dirty, lazy, not intelligent or in some other negative light. This is not only unfair, it also damages the self-esteem and confidence of the ill person. The judgment is then used to discriminate, shun or avoid the ill person. What is needed is empathy and compassion, not judgment.
The little statement “It is what it is” can be a really powerful statement. It helped me to accept that I cannot control everything but I can still choose to take action. It let me know that I am not responsible for everything and therefore I cannot change everything. This statement does not mean that you should be ambivalent or give up easily, but when there is something you cannot control or change then initial acceptance is an option. Following acceptance, there are often opportunities to advocate for change or to take action. When you think about a statement like “someone in my family has mental illness” that is a fact (it is what it is) so accept the fact and do whatever you can to adapt and take action so that you can deal with the fact. This may be getting educated about mental illness, arranging additional support, taking a break, or doing anything that will help you to deal with the situation.
Isolating or withdrawing from society is quite common with mental illness. During the first few months of her illness my daughter lost all her friends from school, she stopped communicating in the home and spent most of her time alone in her room. I think many of her friends abandoned her because they did not know how to interact with her. Some may even have been frightened or thought that she was not a good influence. It was unfortunate but most of them probably had very little knowledge about mental illness. It can be very unnerving being with someone suffering from psychosis. It took several years before my daughter had any companions other than me and her brothers. It was only when she joined the psycho-social rehabilitation clubhouse that she started to make friends again.
Humor is a great stress reliever. You might think there is nothing funny about mental illness and you would be mostly correct. However, being able to release stress by seeing some humor or irony in some of the situations that occur, helps keep things real. I’m not sure how to explain exactly what I mean, but one example would be the “Stand-Up-For-Mental-Health” program which teaches people with lived experience of mental health problems to perform stand-up comedy. “Google” the program website and watch some of the performances. My daughter did the program and along with others performed in front of over two-hundred people. This performance was instrumental in increasing her self-esteem and confidence. The ability to laugh at herself has made a big difference in her life.
Getting help for myself was key to me being able to put things in perspective and handle the stress involved when caring for a person with mental illness. If I had gone along without getting help and becoming involved, then I would not be in the position that I am now, where I am able to help other people. Help for me was family support meetings and taking courses to learn about mental health and self-care. I learned I was not alone and there is no shame in leaning on others for help through difficult times. Most people take great pleasure from being able to help.
Family support can also mean support for families of people with a mental illness. This support is often facilitated by other family members who are going through or have gone through the experience of having a family member with a mental illness. These family peer facilitators share knowledge and strategies that work for them and are understanding listeners who have experienced supporting a loved one with mental illness. Support for families can also be provided by service providers or mental health professionals. There was very little support for families in the past, but in recent years it has been improving.
Family support for people with a mental illness can be a huge aid to recovery. When I use the term family here, I am including any primary caregiver, immediate or extended family members, close friend or anyone who has the interests of the ill person at heart, and who is providing support. Unfortunately, I found out first hand that the primary caregiver is often the one who the ill person uses as an outlet for their frustration and anger. My key was to not take it personally because I understood that my daughter did not mean the things she was saying, it was the illness talking, she was scared, frustrated and just needed someone to hear her. As she is going through recovery it is clear that she is appreciative that I stand by her, and she is remorseful following any incidents, that are thankfully few and far between now. Without family support, many people with mental illness end up living on the streets, or at the very least have a much harder time accessing services to get regular treatment.