Last month, I wrote about the caregiver’s journey as they traverse the difficult terrain called mental illness. Mental illness is debilitating not only for the patient, but also for the caregiver. It completely saps the family of its energy.
Having experienced schizophrenia as well as bi polar disorder in the family, I can vouch for the fact that it leaves the victim as well as the people around completely fatigued. The focus is wholly on the patient; their wellbeing, their medications, their sleep. Their peace and happiness being paramount, the family gives its all to the care of the patient.
Sadly, though, this often leaves the caregivers with hardly any time to think about themselves. The kind of support they need during the stressful moments is equally, if not more, important. Finding a few peaceful moments just for themselves, or a change of scene, feels like a luxury they can hardly afford.
It was during the first manic episode hubby suffered after our marriage that I realised how exhausting it can get for the family. And, how important it is to find some support for ourselves, for our wellbeing.
It was also then that I learned about counselling for the caregiver. Dr. Anand Nadkarni, the psychiatrist who we have always consulted for my mom-in-law as well as hubby suggested I give myself some respite through counselling.
I can’t emphasise enough how helpful those sessions proved to be. The therapist assigned to me encouraged me to talk–just talk all that passed through my mind. Be it anger, fear, frustration, hopelessness, sorrow–all she wanted was to give my emotions an outlet through my words.
It felt like a dam had burst. I just let it all out to a person who simply held my hand and let me be. There was no fear of being judged, or reprimanded for entertaining all sorts of horrid thoughts, or saying things I shouldn’t have. And, for all that she did for me, I will be ever so grateful, to her as well as to the good doctor.
There is this fear in people that seeking therapy could mean “something is wrong with them”. A thought process that is so untrue! It’s really simple, you know. If you would seek help for a physical ailment, why wouldn’t you seek help if you found your mind suffering?
And, it is for this very reason that I write this post.
If you are a caregiver for a patient of mental illness, you need help, too. You need every kind of support you can get because it’s you who has to look after the patient. And, if you fail to take good care of yourself, how would you look after your loved ones?
Support from family and friends:
The first people to offer help of any kind is your family. Those who know you and the victim; those who know your Life closely are the ones who can offer you their unconditional support–be it emotional or financial. So, just ask for it. In fact, you need not even ask. They will rally around even when you do not mention it.
Your friends are the next in line. Find those who are closest to you and whom you trust; who know what has to be said and when. And, who offer their silent support when words become redundant. Who understand your need for privacy and are there whenever you need them.
Support groups for caregivers:
Mental illness is slowly and steadily getting the attention it deserves. Families are coming together in caring for the patients as also coming forward and sharing their stories with the world. As a result, there are support groups for families/caregivers of mental illness patients that have been formed to help and support them as they tackle their trying situation.
Support groups (Online support groups included) at:
…are some support groups I came across online. The first one–Institute for Psychological health was founded by Dr. Nadkarni, and the second–Soumanasya Psychiatry clinic, by Dr. Chetan Vispute– the doctors who treated mom-in-law and hubby.
You will come across many more such support groups online that you may join. Mental illness has always has this stigma attached to it, which has been the main reason why patients and their families fear speaking about their troubles. With changing times, however, families are more open about the trauma they suffer and can get the help they need.
Caring for yourself–Make it a priority:
Sharing your fears, your insecurities about Life with someone who understands your situation helps a great deal in unburdening the nagging feelings of hopelessness.
Asking for help to give yourself a break from the busy schedule becomes a necessity when there is a mental illness patient at home. So, feel free to ask for it. Some time for yourself just to step outdoors for a walk, maybe, or even to rest, or sleep, is essential for your wellbeing.
Our sleep goes for a toss, frankly, when we are tending to a mental illness patient. Therefore, invite your close relatives or friends home to ‘babysit’ the patient for a while as you get some much-needed rest.
Read books, write down your thoughts, create an artwork, play an instrument, knit, sew, cook…work on just about anything that helps take away your attention for a while. It is so very important to give your mind that breather!
The depression that sets in can become a part of your life. So, the sooner you seek help, the better. You have enough to deal with already!
Look after your health; eat well even when you find it difficult swallowing food. I know, food is the last thing on your mind when in a tense situation. But, you need the fuel for your body to function to its optimum, don’t you?
Lastly, try not to keep your feelings, your emotions bottled up within you. Your patient and their happiness is important, no doubt, but then, so is yours. Give yourself the freedom to cry, feel bad, hurt, feel angry, but also remember to pat your back and congratulate yourself for having handled a tough situation so remarkably well! Remember, positivity helps.
You need all the cheering you can get, even if it’s coming from within you!
Caring for patients of mental illness is not easy. The most important steps you could take towards finding a balance in your Life is to speak about your troubles, look after yourself, find the support you so need and take it all one day at a time.
Remember: ONE DAY AT A TIME!
And, yes, ask for help.
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