"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
Caregiving for someone with a mental health disorder takes lots of prayer, empathy, lots of patience, lots of love, lots of understanding and lots of forgiveness…did I mention prayer? Knowing how to include the right balance of discipline and structure with those attributes takes time and with time comes experience but there must first be time, time in the trenches.
When you look into the relationship with a mental health caregiver and their loved one and see communication and understanding that took years to build, it is not something that happens overnight. Their knees are sore from bending to pray. It took nights of wrestling with mental illness…the negative symptoms right there with their loved ones. It took days and nights of ugly crying with lots of snot and slobbering and praying. It took feeling like one more wisp of air would break what was left of their courage and faith. A mental health family caregiver does not get to a place of agreement with a loved one just by asking nicely, that took years of tug of war, getting into the mud, and wrapping up with hope in a battle against surrender.
Many families are not aware of the amount of warfare and spiritual warfare that is required to get a loved one to the point of being compliant and understanding it’s not for anyone else but themselves, so when they are hit with the first few rounds of adversity they are “spent” and the family can breakdown. When families don’t have the proper information and the coping skills to come through the let downs and to understand there are expiration dates on the difficult times they will go through. In hindsight I realized what kept us in a constant cycle of tug of war with ourselves and with my son was our lack of knowledge about the illness and how a family can be of support.
If we don’t fully understand the struggle our loved one has we may react in ways that can be counterproductive or enabling. The more we understand about negative symptoms of the illness or disorder and the more familiar we get with what those symptoms look like when our loved one is experiencing them then we can be the best support to them. Asking questions with the professional psych team and physicians about any disorders or other illnesses accompanying the mental health challenges helps us to get an idea of what behaviors are the results of those illnesses and which are not.
Families who are Christian face an additional amount of stress and stigma from their places of worship and sometimes very little support. Living under the pressure of and stress of persecution from fellow believers can cause conflict in the home and sometimes cause us to question our faith as a result. Keeping our eyes on God and what He says to us in, Psalms 121:1 “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from which comes my help.”
Loved ones don’t intentionally use their illnesses as a means of manipulating family into allowing them to get away with certain things but sometimes it can be the case. Getting familiar with how our loved ones behavior is when they are not having symptoms and when they are helps us to adjust and to respond accordingly.
What is Help That Hurts?
Our loved ones have many things they can do alone and without very much support, and when we interfere with those things it cause resentment, dependence, or even unnecessary added responsibility for ourselves. If a loved one is able to pay bills on their own and go down and renew their State identification alone then by all means they should. When we take over and barge into their personal lives with, “…let me do it because you are going to mess it up…” we wind up pressing down and effecting their self esteem which can lead to triggering them into depressive states or anger and guilt as a result of the anger. Sometimes our loved ones are not sure how to communicate we are intruding on their personal space and will internalize what they are feeling which isn’t good for them or us. We cannot pretend there isn’t an issue with addiction because our loved one doesn’t come home high or we don’t see them using the drugs. Once we know they are struggling with addiction addressing the issue head on is in the best interest of you and your family. Money not being saved or being spent without “things” to show for it is normally a sign there is an addiction. Research ways in which you can help a loved one with an addiction and remember patience and love go a long way. Sometimes attending the support groups with our loved ones is a great way to be of support, and although they are not always willing to go to the meetings you are letting them know you love them, and support them getting better while at the same time helping them to understand you are not condoning or co-cosigning on their addiction(s)
Another way to give help that hurts is to not have your loved one accountable for things they destroy or verbal altercations that can cause emotional pain. Letting your loved one know you understand sometimes the negative symptoms can cause them to have a bad reaction and act not in the best interest of themselves or those who love them, but that they should apologize and replace the items they have destroyed means accountability. When we allow the behavior to be excused away and not have our loved one to face the consequence they can continue down the road of destruction and have no regard for those who love and support them.
What Is Help That Helps?
When we help a loved one to get stabilized and give them a safe and secure place to compose themselves while getting stronger after a mental health crisis or relapse it helps them to focus on getting better without the pressure of judgment or becoming an outcast. Many times when someone is recovering they are riddled with guilt from all of the things done while they were experiencing the negative symptoms of the illness or going back to using drugs or alcohol. When a family says we understand what you are facing is a formidable foe and we are here to help you fight and to be strong for you until you are strong, sometimes that is the incentive to get back on track and keep fighting.
A loved one will only be successful at recovery when they are ready to be. Lots of love and acceptance helps but it must still come down to discipline and a willingness to fall and get back up again. When we understand the power of an addiction we understand the amount of fight our loved one has to face everyday. Changing how we entertain may be necessary especially while a loved one is in the beginning stages of recovery. Having a loved one who lives with us and who is battling a mental health challenge may sometimes mean some visitors who are gossipy or looking to pry will be declined because the environment needs to be loving and positive and with the least of amount of judgment possible. It’s a sacrifice in the beginning but well worth the end goad. Is it unfair to the family? It can be, but what is also unfair to the family are the negative consequences the family may endure as a result of a negative environment or one riddled with temptation from addictions. Stress is a trigger and when a family understands how triggers work it helps to identify situations or environments that can cause them and to avoid or eliminate them.
Understanding our part in our loved ones journey is key, we are the support system. We cannot rescue them from themselves. They have to want to be better and when they do and are ready to do the work, it is our job to be the best support system we can be and eliminate unnecessary challenges replacing them with lots of love, trust, resources, availability, and most importantly accessibility. Late night calls are a given in the early days, can you be depended on to answer and help a loved one through what can be a rough ride? A loved one showing up at your home and needing not to be alone, can you sit with them until the feeling passes? This is not an easy journey for those with mental health challenges and it’s not an easy challenge for those who support them either. When both you and your loved one understand how difficult of a task you all have and respect your parts in this journey it can go a little smoother, not perfect but smoother.
How To Cut You & Your Loved One Free From The Fear of Failing With Mental Illness
This journey can take 5 to 10 years sometimes to get it right but each failure teaches you more than you knew last time and each victory brings you closer to meeting another goal. Here are some ways you can prepare yourself to give a loved one help that helps:
Pray for your loved one and encourage them to pray and meditate – this is not always possible if the loved one doesn’t believe in prayer or has given up on praying. We sometimes have to be the one to believe enough for us and them and to intercede for them when they have given up hope. God has sent help to others on behalf of believers many times. We can petition in prayer for those we love who are struggling too.
Set goals on educating yourself on the illness you r loved one or friend has – Read books and blogs, watch videos and follow pages of survivors to get a better understanding of the illness. Don’t feel bad if your loved one isn’t impressed with all that you learn because as my son told me “you are reading about this mom, I live it every day and sometimes I don’t want to talk about it…but it’s good to know you understand…” We can let them know we are learning and we can ask them to share what its like when they are willing and we can listen intently.
Create a resource binder – Think of all of the things you would need if your loved one was having a rough go and write them down in your binder with numbers and contact persons. If you are supporting a friend ask in advance who they would like you to call if there was an emergency, ask what they would like you to do if they are having a negative symptom and could be a threat to themselves or becomes a threat to themselves. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide studies show talking about it reduces the chances our loved one will follow through because they know someone understands and will sit with them until the feeling passes. Ask your loved one for a document stating what they would like done in the event they can’t speak for themselves and then have it notarized and at the ready in the event you need to act for them at that time.
Be consistent – if you agree to be a support for your loved one don’t flake show up even when it gets difficult. If you say call me anytime then answer anytime, otherwise set a time that is comfortable for you and be honest with your loved one about it. If you can’t be a “anytime” support member find someone who your loved one agrees with to fill in the gap.
Set boundaries – The worst thing you can do for yourself and your loved one is to try to make this journey without any discipline or boundaries because it will cause you stress and your loved one operates in “surety” it helps them to know where they stand, they will respect you for it.
Take pictures of when you are all having a good time and are at peace – Create a CD or electronic file of videos and pictures of good times so that when there are tough times you can look at them and remember there is an expiration date on the tough times. Sometimes our loved ones enjoy seeing them as well, it reminds them they wont always feel so dark and alone and that we cared enough to save those times for them.
This is a tough road to walk alone and the fact that you have chosen to be a shoulder to lean on and a light guide during this time is admirable and brave.
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