Caring for a loved one with a mental illness isn’t easy. Caring for a loved one with a mental illness, while caring for yourself, and looking out for other loved ones, is even more complex.
You might have days where you could do any number of the following:
≫ Forget to shut the front door properly so that it’s left wide-open for most of the day
≫ Go to the petrol station & fill up to find that you haven’t brought your bag & purse along with you, and for the first time ever you haven’t even got your mobile with you to call for back up
≫ Message your friends ‘Happy Friday’ when it’s actually Thursday
≫ Turn up at the wrong location
≫ Continuously forget what conversations you’ve had with who, so repeat yourself a lot
≫ Cancel your debit card because an ATM machine swallowed it up (!), only to find out the next day that it was in your purse the whole time, so you’d obviously put it back in there after withdrawing cash (?! I’m still baffled by this one!)
Just do your best, and please give yourself a break.
Now some of these could be regular occurrences for you in everyday life (some of us can be a little more forgetful or absent-minded than others), but when you’re someone that’s always usually very ‘with it’ or on top of everything, it can really make you feel like you’re losing a grip on life and losing control over absolutely everything – You already feel like you’ve unwillingly lost a loved one to mental illness, and now the one little bit of control that you did have left, and that was getting you through each day, seems to be slipping away too!
Be kind to yourself: You’re under an immense amount of pressure & stress that very few will ever be able to fully comprehend.
As previously mentioned, some of us are generally more forgetful than others, but if depression or other mental illnesses strike, you might find your usually reliable self or your dependable loved one doing things completely out of character…
Dad was always very careful, conscientious and thorough with tasks. Since being diagnosed with depression and following his psychotic episodes, there have been periods of time where this is no longer the case:
He often leaves the lights on when coming up to bed; he sometimes forgets to lock the backdoor properly; he forgets to take his medication almost every night if unprompted; he finds it difficult to make decisions of any kind; focusing on things can be a huge challenge; he regularly leaves the hob on after cooking; and having always been our superstar dish-washer, whenever Dad washes up now, we always find things in the drying rack or put away with food stains dried on (please form an orderly queue for dinner at our house!)
Just to be clear, I could not care less about the dirty dishes – I’ve spent enough time rewashing things from my many hostel experiences. I help out where I can while trying to make sure that I don’t make Dad feel redundant or incompetent, as I’m fully aware that all of the above are completely normal when living with depression and that actually, still giving tasks a go is a huge accomplishment that shouldn’t be overlooked. But finding and looking down at each tiny stain on the plates or in a mug, just reminds me that Dad is different now, and as hopeful as I try to remain, I don’t know if this change is now forever.
It’s never easy for a daughter to see her beloved father less in control of his own life.
Yes these are all seemingly small things in the grand scheme of things, and most of them are not the end of the world, but it’s what they represent. It’s extremely hard to see a loved one become more careless & vacant with day to day tasks, as you miss their former self and understandably begin to worry about them and their wellbeing & safety. Especially when it is all so out of character for them: Dad recognises this sometimes, and is very hard on himself for it, so I continue to reassure & encourage where I can.
I find that being kind & gentle is the best way.
Naming & shaming or pointing out how anyone suffering with a mental illness hasn’t completed a task to usual standards isn’t going to benefit anyone. Now I’m not saying that you should ignore things as if they’re not happening (although sometimes a little naivety does feel like the best way!), because gentle reminders could be a benefit, as they can help to bring a little more self-awareness back for next time. It’s all in the delivery of your comment or suggestion. You’re only looking out for them at the end of the day.
Somedays it does feel impossible to get a balance between caring & helping and not being patronising or belittling!
I like to think of myself as quite a patient person when it comes to a lot of things, especially if I know someone’s doing their very best, but inner frustration can often bubble up inside when you’re dealing with mental health issues, either personally or indirectly. This is normal. You’re dealing with a loss of how things once were, while trying to accept & adapt to how things now are. And it hurts and it’s confusing and uncomfortable and draining beyond belief!
It’s all about reaching a place of acceptance, and learning to adapt.
Now neither of these things will happen over night (how can you accept anything bad that’s happened or happening to you or a loved one after all?!), so a huge amount of patience is also required (with both yourself & your loved one). But once you reach this stage, as much as it may hurt or feel uncomfortable, I’ve learnt that us humans are actually astoundingly adept at adapting to change & new circumstances. We’re just built that way.
The more we can accept and the less we can resist difficult situations such as these, the easier we make it for ourselves.
(And believe me, you’re definitely going to want to do that, because you need to conserve as much energy as possible for this journey).
Surround yourself with people who will support you, comfort you, listen to you, uplift you, motivate you, care for you, love you and empathise with you, or at least try to understand. All without need for explanation, no matter how dark the days and how frequent.
Thank you to each & every person that helped to keep me & Mum going throughout Dad’s initial diagnosis, and the challenging 18 months that have followed (For more gratitude & thanks, see A Thank You To My Tribe)
If you or a loved one are struggling with the day to day battles of living with or caring for someone with a mental illness, please know that you’re not alone, and that Help Is Here It’s ok to not be ok and there’s certainly no shame in reaching out for more support or advice.
Xxx Remember to give yourself a break – Your best is always good enough & it won’t always be this hard xxX