Carers give without thought, providing both practical and emotional support to their loved ones who struggle with mental illness but much of the time, it seems easy for them to forget about themselves, leaving them open for fatigue, frustration, disillusionment and lost dreams.
For over fifteen years, my hubby of twenty-three years has been my carer. You could say that he has seen it all, with a severe and very public panic attack in 2001 that led to a diagnosis of Bipolar 2, then a three-year journey into the wonderful world of medications and then a new diagnosis of severe anxiety, depression and OCD.
For the past fifteen years, he has been by my side, assisting me in every way he knows how and has been my memory bank, my venting wall, my calm down pill and my wake up happy drug, never complaining and always trying to be the best version of himself that he can be. There have been times when I just can’t understand why he keeps plodding along, and never yells, criticises or withdraws from me. I know that there have been times he could be justified in doing these things, but he just doesn’t.
Now, as we work on discussing a new diagnosis and the repercussions of what that means for us as a couple, it got me thinking about what carers might really need, above other things. As we now both care for our youngest son (17) who was recently diagnosed with Inattentive ADD, borderline Social Communication Disorder and Social Anxiety, it has really opened my eyes to see what my hubby goes through on a daily basis.
So I thought a little list of the things that every human being, but especially those who care for their mentally ill loved ones, should have access to, would be a good place to start.
As I’ve been observing my husband with the fresh eyes of a carer, I realised that he seems to possess a particular ‘man-of-steel’ kind of inner strength, and I wondered about what laid the foundations for this strength. This thinking led me to the concept of courage, hope, and resilience: the elements I see within my husband and I thought perhaps these are characteristics that carers seem to just have in their toolbox. It’s hard for me to fathom how he would manage someone like me without these three character traits, and I wondered how much harder it is to manage the daily onslaught of helping someone they love navigate the world, when you yourself feel overwhelmed, frustrated and disillusioned.
Then I thought, what if you don’t feel like you have those elements in your life? Is there a way to build them into your life?
So I came up with what I hope is a strategy to empower you as a carer to keep on keeping on, day after day, continuously serving in your capacity to care for those you love but at the same time ensuring that your own self-care is being well managed.
- Acknowledge that you are courageous every day, even if you don’t feel like it
You can write down some affirmations, quotes by inspirational people, scripture verses, or just your own thoughts and speak them over yourself. Positive self-talk is very powerful and scientifically supported in helping us think with a stronger mind.
2. Let hope in the door and allow it to feed your mind and soul
When you feel you lack hope, it can have a devastating effect on your personal health as well as those you care for. Hope generates an emotional feeling that there is an opportunity for things to improve. It’s not so much about looking into the future, but more so about allowing yourself to see that a brighter future is possible and that you and your loved one will walk through to that future together.
So even if you don’t feel like it, speak about hopeful things. Add these to your affirmations. Put them up on your walls. Say things like ‘one day we are going to go for a walk in the park for no reason and have a wonderful time’. I know that may seem trite, but this example might be a big challenge for your loved one and having it written down and visible makes a powerful reminder available to you.
- Learn how to become resilient
Build contingency plans into your everyday life for when you are not well, or simply need some down time from being a carer. Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to help your loved ones look after themselves if they need to and set out some boundaries that help you maintain a healthy mind and attitude.
It might seem silly to write things like this out, but when you prepare for hard days, both you and your loved ones will feel more supported and capable when you have a plan you don’t have to come up with on the spot. SOPs are transforming the way that I personally manage the panic that rises when I am alone and the more I use them, the more effective they are becoming, giving my husband the freedom to let go more often and not worry about me when he’s away.
I hope you find this simple list helpful and timely for your life right now. May I say one thing, as one who is both a carer and one who is cared for?
Your love, attention, and long-suffering assistance is the greatest gift you can give us. Knowing that you are there when we are at our worst, is something that no money can buy and something we, as the cared for, do not take for granted, even if it might look like it at the time. Our brains are wired in such a way right now that making sense of complex things is really hard work. Every time you rise to the occasion and love us, help us, push us just a little further, we notice. And we appreciate it more than we can express right now. Don’t give up on us. You are not our only source of strength, but the journey is that much more lonely and difficult without you. Help us find our strength and we will never forget your actions.
Do you have a strategy to share? I’d love to hear from you and build a list of strategies that we can encourage others with. Leave your thoughts in the thread and join us over on Facebook to encourage others too.
Miriam E. Miles
Miriam E. Miles is a Writer, Poet and Thinker who pens thoughts about everything from food to family to reconciliation and mental health. Her passions include anything sparkly and musical, and she cares deeply about the relationship between those who suffer from mental illness and those who build the supporting walls around them to help them recover.
If you have a story to share as a carer, we are currently looking for contributions to a new book written by carers, for carers and how they are managing their journey. To register your interest to contribute, click here and follow the link.