• La Shawn Splane-Wilburn

Have The Memorial So You Can Move On - The Gift Of Embracing Your Life With Mental Illness

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes you have to see the bad things get worse before the worse things become bad.

Sounds confusing right? But it's more accurate when referring to the struggle of a family when mental illness hits their home. There is no going from worse to really good. Every day is a day closer to recovery or a day closer to the day that's closer to recovery. This isn't a microwave process it takes time and embracing the reality that is our new life.

When you are struggling through the perils of mental health challenges with a loved one and it looks like the gates of hell open at your front door it's hard to focus on the road ahead and to better days coming because the heat from reality is so close it's uncomfortable.

Wanting things to get better now doesn't mean they will. Keeping in mind we are not in control of our loved one and how they are processing how they are feeling and their negative symptoms is what can help us to understand we can't change where we are. Praying and continuing to do our part is what keeps us going and not laying down being ran over by the chaos of mental illness.

The sooner we have a memorial for the old life we had before mental illness, embrace and began building a life we love with our new reality the better our outlook on life and the quality of life becomes. Part of what delays the recovery process is as a survivor we cannot get past the idea that our life will be forever changed and we continue playing over and over again in our mind what our life would be like if we didn't have a mental health challenge. As a mental health family caregiver we struggle with having to be a support system for someone who can be mean, bitter, verbally abusive but also cry out in pain and sorrow for our help to make it go away or stop. It's hard in the beginning to separate the illness from our loved one because they are one in the same and the desire to walk away gets greater with each new verbal assault or "missing for days incident".

When you first hear this concept of "letting your old life die so you can have a new life" it's terrifying and it sounds cruel but in reality when you get to the other side you wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

I want to share with you some of the benefits of embracing the new life your family has with mental illness:

You stop feeling so horrible - Notice I didn't say you don't feel so horrible, I didn't say you don't feel horrible because that would be a lie. You don't feel as bad as you did before you accepted life will be forever changed. You don't go from one extreme to another it takes time to get to acceptance, it takes falling back to desiring the old life multiple times and then talking yourself off the cliff again. With each failure you learn how to endure a little longer the next time. Your focus gets a little clearer each time.

You can start to move in the direction of recovery - When we as caregivers resist what reality is in the beginning we can hinder our loved ones progress who is trying because we are expecting them to operate at the level they did before they became ill. As a result we remind them of who they "are" based on who they were and they try to live up to who they were and that isn't always possible and can drive them into despair and guilt because they cannot. As a survivor we accept what our diagnosis is and we start to ask questions about how we get better, we communicate to our family how they can help us, and we commit to doing the work no matter how hard it gets. When a survivor can embrace they will struggle and fail at times it will take away lots of the guilt that comes with not getting it right the first time you try or the many times after that. Remembering there is a gift in each time you fail is key.

You see and hear more clearly - the voice of mental illness and the voice of stable are very clearly distinguishable once you have had practice. In the beginning you cannot hear the voice of stable because mental illness is such a stark contrast from stable it's shocking to hear the things our loved one may say when they are experiencing negative symptoms. It all runs together. With journaling, research on the illness, and learning the new way our loved one communicates we are able to understand when they are in trouble and when they are just having a rough day and need to vent. With time comes empathy and understanding.

You can strategize - the sooner we embrace our new lives the quicker we can began to put together the treatment plan, the care demand schedule, the role the loved one needs each of us to play, the goals to get our loved one back to living a quality life, emergency response plan, the post-relapse plan, and the how do we come back to ground zero plan. If we discuss how we will handle the hard parts up front it takes the edge off the support team by knowing what we as survivors desire to happen in the event we can't make a decision ourselves.

You embrace failure easier - knowing you are doing your best and that acceptance is only the first step to many allows you to be kind to yourself and allows us as caregivers to be kind to our loved ones and remove the "ego" element of the caregiver believing they will miraculously coach the loved one into success. As a caregiver our job is to be a moral support and to be there as a voice if our loved one cannot articulate the words or as in severe depression will not speak up for themselves. Once the family sees failure as we tried that and it didn't work or:

  • what did we learn from this

  • why didn't it work

  • should we try this again

  • why or why not

This is not a journey you can afford to be weak and indecisive on, mental illness will have you for lunch if you do. This journey requires extensive communication, lots of understanding, compassion, forgiveness, but most importantly love and faith lots of faith and prayer! You will find in the process your family is much stronger than you knew and you will have a new respect and a deeper love for one another. Anyone can love us when we are loveable, the true test of true love is how we love one another when we are most unlovable.

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

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