• La Shawn Splane-Wilburn

Finding Hope In Progress: It’s The Little Things That Count


The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.

- James Allen

An Oak tree is majestic and a vision of beauty, I don't know about you but I can lay on my back and watch the leaves blow and sway in the wind. The one in the image above would have to be over 80 years old, and all of it came from an acorn. One very small seed and through storms, freezes, excess heat and wind it grew into something strong and able to offer shade and rest to other plants, grasses, animals and people. One inch at a time. Some years there is plenty of water and lots of growth and others the tree must depend on its reserves and it slows in growth.


Recovery is that way. One small step at a time. One hurdle at a time. One storm at a time. One victory at a time. One restful moment at a time. One accomplishment at a time, and then we repeat. Each time we are stronger than the last time, and during the tough times we learn to pull from our reserves.

As Caregivers that is how we come to view our journey with supporting our loved ones, it's what gets us through.

Watching a loved one suffer under the negative symptoms of their illness is never easy; many times a caregiver can feel helpless and overwhelmed. Supporting someone who may not on a given day have the ability to express exactly what they are feeling at the moment because there is such a range of emotions is difficult for them, and even more frustrating trying to figure out how to help when we don’t know what the problem is. Recovery for the individual with the disorder is complicated and a learning experience, they must learn what they are feeling and how to communicate that to their loved one and their psych team. Because there are so many factors to recovery and it’s just as unique as the individual with the disorder it takes time to figure out what stable is or feels like, and therefore explaining to someone trying to help is virtually impossible, in steps frustration to complicate things even moreso.


Patience for the loved one and just being there are sometimes the greatest support of all, and understanding that each small step forward is a step towards a successful recovery and life management of the illness or disorder. There are so many complicated layers to mental health recovery and they all can present their own challenges, the most important thing to remember is to stay the course even when it’s more difficult than you think you can bear—both for the survivor and the caregiver.


How do we stay encouraged when it seems like we are repeating the same process over and over again with very little to no results every time? How do we not become bitter and resentful of the process? One of the ways is to remember that this disorder has the power to over take our loved one without warning and with a vengeance, and as freightening as it is for those of us supporting them it is so much more traumatic for them to be out of control of their mind and body. Remembering that very important point helps us to come back to ground peace when we are searching for rationale.


Another way to keep ourselves from getting overwhelmed and emotionally drained is to keep in mind that for many people it takes an average of 4 to 5 years to get stabilized, I learned that from a survivor I listened to on a webinar. He was successfully living and managing his life with Bipolar Disorder and was an author of a couple of books about living with Bipolar disorder. When I heard him say 4 to 5 years I was like why didn’t I have this information earlier in our journey I would not have expected so much with my son, and I would have been able to better manage my emotions knowing we were in for a long journey but one with the likelihood of success after a while in the trenches…we were at that time on year 3.


I understand not everyone will have the same time line to a successful recovery but knowing it requires years helps us to have a goal to work towards. We are at a place where we know how the disorder “behaves” and my son knows how to modify his life accommodate time for negative symptoms and although occasionally there may be a relapse the time there has shortened tremendously. Being a survivor myself of depression and anxiety that gave me lots of hope as well. Instead of getting the generic “everyone recovers in their own time BUT the standard is NORMALLY 1 year and anything after that is cause for concern.” It helped me to relax a little by understanding this journey to getting back to feeling comfortable and not be intimidated by the disorder takes some time and it’s all about operating on my time and allowing myself to make mistakes or have relapses knowing I could bounce back.


The oak tree is such a good example of slow growth with mighty results. The acorn is so small and when we see a fully matured tree it is majestic. The tree will have survived droughts, extreme seasons and temperatures, maybe a few infestations of pests, tugging and climbing by children or animals and the loss of a few branches or limbs. Ultimately it becomes a symbol of triumph. Looking at our journey with our loved ones supporting them as they and we learn as much as we can about the illness, what feeds it, what calms it, and how to live successfully with it with a new set of eyes a lot more hope is possible when we take one step at a time.


We cannot rush the process it happens when all things have aligned. Our loved one accepts the diagnosis which is the most important part to starting the journey. Once acceptance is there it’s easier to find out what will work and try on some different treatment options to find what’s effective. Yes there will be frustrations with that process as well but knowing this is a one step at a time journey and respecting the journey for what it is…a sometimes slow process can remove some of the anxiety.


What works for me is to occasionally remind myself as with any illness it takes time to learn to live with it and having a guideline has made the journey a little easier. With one foot in front of the other and you side by side with the support, utilizing resources, peer support groups, and resting in between the battles are just a few of the many ways to cope. You as the caregiver have to find your place of comfort and acceptance all while accepting you are not in control of how fast or how slow your loved one recovers but you are in control of how you manage your emotions and your role in the process. Rememer to:


  1. TAKE CARE OF YOU FIRST

  2. JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP FOR CAREGIVERS OF MENTAL HEALTH

  3. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR HEALTH

  4. Discuss with a loved one in advance what would they like done in the event they are unale to care for themselves

  5. Learning all that you can about the illness (People successfully living with the illness are great resources)

  6. Accompany a loved one to psych appointments

  7. Set healthy bounderies about how you or any other household memebers should be treated and not allow "free range mistreatment" using the illness as an excuse to be mean or unpleasant to others.

  8. Respect our loved ones ability to make decisions and know what they want when they are not experiencing symptoms

  9. Listening without judgement

  10. Learning and recording what the triggers are

  11. Taking a walk with our loved one to help ease symptoms

  12. Creating an enviornment in the home that helps reduce the stress from the illness

  13. Remind ourselves when there are negative symptoms they are not themselves the illness is taking over.

  14. Be patient and keep going when things get tough

  15. Take time to recharge


Those are just a few ways we can be of assstance. As we get more familiar with our loved one and the patterns of the illness we get confortable with the unpredictability of the illness and more familiar with our loved ones ability to handle the illness with limited assistance as they get stronger. It's all about remembering this is a process and there is no set time to get to the destination. A moving target? We can hit that! Keep going caregiver and don't give up you are strong and you are loved and appreciated.


May today bless us with whatever makes us successful and may God bless us real good.


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