• La Shawn Wilburn

Caregiver ToolKit - Mental Illness & The Long War - Love & Time Are Two Priceless Gifts To

My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. - Steve Jobs

Families find it difficult when they begin the journey to mental health, it's one battle after another, one defeat behind the next defeat. We get tired, we get hurt emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We come to think that God hates us and has just opened the door for all things painful to enter into our lives. That is not the case.

Mental health recovery is a "Long War", I got that term from the book Fasting by John Eckhardt. In the war on mental illness we are going to lose a few times before we learn a good battle stance. I laugh right now because I can remember being a kid and getting bullied by the neighbors kid and having my bike taken from me. My mother came in to me crying and said to me, "Why are your crying?" After telling her what happened she bent down and said, "If you don't get back out there and get that bike, I will beat your behind, don't come back here without it!" I went back out and did what was necessary to get my bike back.

Our fight with mental illness has to be the same way, otherwise we will wind up bullied by the illness(es). One of the best gifts you can give you your loved one is the gift of getting up off the mat. Learn how to fall and teach them. If you know how to lose you are not afraid of losing, if you are not afraid of losing you lose the fear of trying to win. I had to learn that relapse was a very important part of mental health recovery. I had to learn as a result of my own battle with depression and anxiety that I was strong enough to rise up and fight again, that failing was necessary to learn my opponents weakness and my strength.

As a Mental Health Family Caregiver we have to get comfortable with losing. We need to rid ourselves of the fear of not knowing what to do, it's what brings us the most anxiety and the most stress. By educating ourselves and keeping active journals with notes on what did and didn't work we are empowering ourselves, and in turn becoming stronger and less intimidated by the illness.

How Does A Caregivers Resilience Empower Their Loved One?

When we go to see someone about a project we would like to complete with our house we go to an expert or someone who has completed a project like what we are facing right? While listening to that individual share their experiences and give us instructions we are paying attention to all of the cues. How comfortable are they when we ask a question? What is the response time when we ask the question? How many times have they had to reference notes or ask someone else? All of those considerations are the result of our knowing just how comfortable someone is when they know what they are doing.

This same principle applies to our loved ones when they are facing crisis in their recovery. When the symptoms arise and they are out of control and you are able to remain calm because of what you learned from the last encounter, the information from your "Psych team" and what you discussed with your loved one when they were stable are all going to be referenced by you. You are relaxed and able to talk them through what they are experiencing. You don't panic. You sit calmly with them and or know pretty much what to get to make them feel at ease.

Every battle you lose is not a loss, it's a chance to learn. Say that out loud. "Every battle I lose is not a loss, it's a chance to learn." When you know that the world will not implode and you will live to fight another battle you will fight differently. You can fight hard because you know you are stronger but you can also fight with endurance because you know the longer you are in the battle the more you will learn. Don't get intimidated by the illness or before fearful of your loved one. Understand they are very much afraid and your learning what their triggers are helps you to help them build re-enforcement around themselves so that in the event of a trigger they are able to come back to ground zero a little faster.

How You View Your Part In The Battle Is Very Important

Have you ever played a team sport? Let's consider the components in a successful team:

  1. Willing team players

  2. Show up to practice

  3. Put their all in participating

  4. Filling in the gaps for weaker teammates without complaining

  5. Builds up team players confidence by pointing out individual contribution

  6. Celebrates with the team when it wins and owns the loss with just as much honor with the team

  7. Goes over the plays after a game to learn how to be a better competitor

  8. Shows up for the rest of the practices and games with enthusiasm

  9. Doesn't quit when things get tough

  10. Wins

I'm quite sure we could add so many more characteristics of what we would desire in a team we competed against another team with and that's because we understand how important they are. If a team is led by a team captain that is unsure, indecisive, doubting, or fails to follow through there is chaos. If a team caption understands each individual team mates contribution and how to tap into the "beast" in each team member they have the potential to win. Teams give us community, everyone is looking for the same goal, to compete and to win. With mental health that is the goal. To win.

Having help makes a world of difference and being surrounded by people who are working hard to win and encouraging one another makes the process of recovering after a loss way less intimidating. When a family doesn't handle relapse in a shame filled, highly emotionally disappointing way, the loved one accepts the defeat and gets back in the fight again. The loved one isn't concentrating on those he or she has let down, but instead focusing on how they can be stronger this next time around and how not to wind up in that same snare again.

Be the encourager. Don't be the critic. As hard as that can be at times do it anyway. This is a long and life time war for many loved ones and once family understands how much of an impact they can have on the the loved one creating a new and functional life with mental illness, that family is more on board with the fight and not giving up.

Us caregivers and our families have the ability to love our loved ones back to wholeness and back to independence without the stress of disappointment. Failure is inevitable with this journey, it just gets less severe and the bounce back time is shorter. Prepare your mind for this battle Caregivers by owning that this is going to be probably one of the toughest things you will ever do in your life, but it is also the most rewarding journey you will ever take. You will build yourself personally as well because you are going to be stronger and more successful in your own life as well. you will not get kicked around by life, you will welcome unfortunate times because you will understand just how much they serve you.

Keep fighting the long war and watch the time between victories get shorter and shorter. It won't all be sunshine and unicorns but you will have a more fulfilling life with acceptance and ownership as this life is your own. No regrets only support and growth. When a loved one falls it's not reflection on their weakness it's the nature of the illness, don't leave them there to drown, reach out and help them up. Move back and let them stand even if they are wobbly and leaning they will find their footing again. Sometimes they only need our company so they don't feel alone as they get back into the fight again. Stay in the war with them even when it seems like you and your family are the only ones giving a darn and fighting. Tell them "we will believe and fight for you until you are strong enough to fight on your own." Watch the turn around happen.

May today bless us with whatever makes us successful, and may God bless us all real good!

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