Dealing with mental illness — A caregiver’s journey.

Dealing with mental illness — A caregiver’s journey.

It isn’t a pleasant discovery–learning that your loved one suffers from an illness, as is finding out that your loved one is wrecked by a mental illness. It is a harsh reality of Life that takes ages to come to terms with.

This bitter truth makes for a traumatic experience, really. A jolt out of the blue that sends your life spiralling out of control. It takes a long time for the fact to sink in that now you will have to live with this demon amidst you. A demon who could rear its ugly, ferocious head, unannounced, and trample over all that he finds in his way, leaving your life in a state of turmoil.

Often, the initial response is denial. It gets difficult coming to terms with this sudden change in the personality of your loved one. Difficult to fathom the reasons behind this transformation and the inability to accept that someone as young/vibrant/cheerful/successful could fall victim to such an illness.

It’s only after making the discovery that it’s an illness of the mind that makes the person someone he is not, that Life takes a whole new meaning. Acceptance is key, but it is also something that’s the toughest to practice. Accepting that, now, the person with you is a victim of something so frightening and that Life will no longer be how it used to be up until now, gets difficult to digest.

Having experienced two illnesses–schizophrenia and bi polar disorder–and learning to live with these, changed me completely. Changed my Life in ways more than I could have imagined. And, after almost 21 years of living with these illnesses, there are a few things I have learned. A few things that could be helpful to someone out there.

That does not mean I know it all! No. I am still learning. I still get scared and panicky thinking about those moments from so many years when mom-in-law was with us, suffering from the horrid schizophrenia. I still worry about Life in the future with a partner who suffers from Bi polar disorder.

But, to you, who find themselves sailing in the same boat as me, know, that you are not alone. There are a million people around like us, dear reader,  battling a Life that can be at once frightening, puzzling, frustrating, demanding and depressing. You aren’t alone, my dear. We are all in it together. And, at any time you wish to reach out for support, you can. I am here. And, so are all of those like us, who are ever ready to help each other out in our time of need.

So, here are the things I experienced in these past years. Things that might resonate with you if you find yourself sharing a similar story.

Fear is the first emotion that comes rushing at you, hitting you right where your heart beats. The startling knowledge that it’s a mental illness, here to stay, is the first blow. It often happens that when you try imagining the future, all you see is a dark tunnel, with no end in sight. No light at the end. No sign of hope.

This fear can eat you up from within, day by day. It gnaws at your mind, your soul and has the capability to leave you completely broken…if you don’t try to do something about it first. I lived in fear for the 17 years MIL was with us. Day in day out the fear taunted me, having fun at my expense. And, to be truthful, nothing helped. Nothing except living every day as it came. For nothing was really in my control, except making sure she took her meds on time and slept well.

But then, with mental illness, no two days are alike. All I could do was keep her happy, which I did, to the best of my ability. And, so will you, for your loved ones.

Frustration at the weird ways of Life sets in, or, should I say, settles comfortably in your mind as you go about caring for your loved ones. Frustration at the meds not working their magic all the time; frustration at why Life had to throw such a curveball at you without a fair warning; frustration at every damn thing going wrong.

But, truth be told, it’s pointless being frustrated. Life’s like that. You just go with the flow. Oh, and quitting is a big NO.

I remember a friend asking me after I first discovered about hubby’s illness, if I didn’t consider divorce. I was stunned as she belonged to the medical profession. Moreover, don’t we all vow to be by our partner’s side in sickness and in health? Furthermore, what if I was the one to suffer from an illness and what if my partner walked out on me? My father-in-law was a huge example for me–he took care of my mom-in-law till his last breath. How could I even imagine leaving my partner?

Then, there’s loneliness–that darn feeling can be killing, I tell you. It feels stifling, at times, facing the wretched loneliness. But, you make friends with it. That’s all. And, you gather your people close to you for support. It’s really not as easy, though. I am still learning to deal with it. And, thankfully, times change. There are days of respite when you can spend some beautiful moments with each other.

Anger at the patients, but more so at ourselves for losing patience is another common emotion. Well, we are all humans at the end of the day, so, of course, we will get impatient; we will lose our cool! Sometimes I wish I could run away to some place and live a Life of solitude. I get angry at hubby for not taking care of himself; at my Life for not fulfilling so many of my dreams. I get angry for the littlest of things on some days.

But, at the end of the day, I also come to my senses and realise what a waste of energy such thinking proves to be. So, in your moments of extreme anger, cry, scream, curse all you want, let it all out. Keeping your emotions bottled up is only going to trouble you. And, you really don’t need any more troubles than you already have, do you? Venting out your frustration, your anger and your sorrow is of utmost importance to you as a caregiver. DO IT.

Gratitude is what you learn to express at the end of the day, every day. Gratitude for all that you have; for a doctor you can trust, for the ability to get the best medical help, for the people who surround you, support you and care for you in your time of need. Gratitude for every little thing that could, in its absence, make Life a lot more difficult.

Mental illness extracts a hell of a lot from its victims–the patients and their caregivers. It’s an exhausting, dreadfully lonely battle. And, all you can do, is reach out and seek support before you cave in!

P.S.

In my post, ‘When Life gives you a jolt’, I wrote about bi polar disorder and ended the post with a request to respect people’s feelings, for not all are comfortable speaking about their illness. I end this post with a similar request.

Thank you!

This is a two part post. In the next part I write about the support you need as a caregiver and where you can find it.

Love,

SHILPA…

 

(You can read the second part of this post here)

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The life of a caregiver

 

Give your mind a break.

Give your mind a break.

 

“My life is so stressed out, I think I am going to lose  my mind!” you complain to your friend or colleague. What is the first advice that pops up? “You know, darling, you ought to meditate. It is such a stress-reliever!”  You brace yourself for a talk on meditation and its benefits, knowing fully well that  the thoughts that circulate in your mind will never allow you a moment’s peace, leave alone meditation!

For years together, the wise  have been singing paeans about this one thing that has had us lesser mortals tied up in knots. For every time we sit on the floor cross legged, with hands on our knees, and eyes closed all ready to meditate, a thought enters  our mind, stealthily. And, like a buzzing mosquito irritating one inside the mosquito net, disrupts the entire exercise, leaving us infuriated.

When I began learning Yoga, I would grumble about the hundred thoughts that would disturb me each time I tried to meditate.  My teacher would advice me to let the thoughts move freely, but divert my attention to my breath. “Just focus on inhaling and exhaling,” she would say, gently.

I tried hard. At times, I would succeed, but for a few minutes.  Most of the times,though,  I would give up my fight with my thoughts and accept defeat. But, it was sometime last year, as I was watching the movie, ‘Zindagi na milegi dobara’, that realisation struck me.

In a scene when Katrina Kaif asks Hrithik Roshan how he found his diving experience, he replied that it “felt like being in a daze – ‘high‘,” he remarked. She grimaced at his choice of  words, and  responded, that diving for her was akin to meditation; it was when she would be completely aware of every breath she took. That had me thinking: what was that one activity, when I was aware of every breath I took, focused on just the one activity at hand, and had not a single stray thought that could be deemed useless at that particular hour?

I realised, that it was while writing, sketching the eyes of a dog, or prepping for my  cupcakes, that my mind would be in a state of complete rest. Of course, it would definitely  aid me in focusing on the activity, and help me with ideas. But,  at the end of it all, my mind would feel fresh (like laundry, fresh from the dry-cleaners!).  Funny analogy, I know, but that’s just how it felt, up there!

So, that was what meditation was all about!

Indulging in an activity, when your mind takes a break from the daily grind, repairs itself, and leaves you feeling de-stressed.

Ah! That was pretty  easy! Why hadn’t I thought about it all this while?

As I began concentrating on this new-found knowledge, I realised I found it easier to actually meditate during my Yoga sessions, too. The thoughts would definitely enter (do they have wings that they fly in and out as they wish?). But, all I had to do, was stop indulging them, and concentrate on my breath, on my nostrils, as I inhaled and I exhaled. That’s just what my teacher was trying to tell me!

Giving your mind a complete break from all the thoughts and allowing  it some ‘me-time‘ is so necessary. For our mind. For our sanity.

THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU PRACTICE MINDFULNESS:

Read a book

Draw/paint

Knit/Sew/Crochet

Spend time in the garden

Cook your favourite recipe

Write in your daily journal

Play with your children

Spend time with your pets

De-clutter your wardrobe

Walk/Practice Yoga

Doodle

Fold the laundry

 

In fact, any activity you do, gives you a chance to practice being mindful. All you need to do is be in that moment. That’s meditation! That’s how you give your mind the break it deserves. So, the next time you feel like ‘meditating’, just get down to doing your favourite activity, whatever it may be.  But remember to focus on your breath. It will be tough, initially, concentrating on the activity and on your breath. But, slowly and steadily, you will get so used to it, that even your busy moments will feel like a session in meditation!

Trust me. I do it. it’s so necessary. But, do take it easy on days you aren’t able to hold it together. We are humans, after all. And, it’s okay to fail. But,  shake away those thoughts after a while. And, get your breath in focus. it is what keeps you alive, isn’t it?

So,  give your mind a break. Mind your mind.

Meditate!

Love,

SHILPA…

 

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Focus on every breath you take