I have a little secret to share. When I battled depression and PTSD I was not a wonderful person to be around. I was an expert at pushing people away and at times that included not being nice to those around me. I was confused. I was lost. I was in pain. I did not feel I deserved love. In fact I would often search for relationships with people I knew were not so nice and that would eventually hurt me. Now I sit on the other side of the table, as my daughter battles depression and anxiety. It is one of the reasons I choose to be transparent about my past battles. Today I wanted to write to those who support the ones who are fighting. Whether it is depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or any of the many mental health disorders there is much to be learned. So if you are a solid rock by the side of someone who is fighting then I pass on these words of advice to you. I speak from the perspective of a person who has fought the battle and the person who now helps someone else fight it.
The first thing to remember is that the person you love and care for is not defined by their disease. Inside there is an amazing spirit who understands the complexity of what is happening to them and does not always like it. Many times they wish they could get rid of the medicine, put on a smile, and feel like they recognized themselves. There were so many times in my past that I would look in the mirror and wonder who was looking back at me. My hair disheveled, cloudy eyes, and streak marks from crying so much that day. I would wonder when the old me would return or if I would always be stuck in this body. Two of my suicide attempts in my college days were actually not, in my distorted mind, attempts; but was me thinking if I took a bunch of my anti-depressants then I could be happy again. I just wanted the version of me stuck inside to be released. Inside I could hear the little voice screaming, but it was never allowed out. I was not my disease, but it was a part of me.
Secondly, there are times the person you care for may try to push you away. Do not take this personally. It is not meant that way. Simply speaking there are times that a mental illness can overwhelm those who are battling it and they do not want to take others on the journey with them. For me I had a fear of hurting those I loved. I had such a difficult time seeing past my pain and the feeling of hopelessness, that I did not want others to feel those emotions too. I wanted them to live their life fully when I felt I could not. So I would push and at times that meant bringing others lots of pain.
Thirdly, sometimes you may feel like walking away because the one you care for pushes so hard or you may not recognize them. If you need to take a walk do so, but please return. We all need space to breath at times and that will be understood, but if you return it allows those you love to see that even in the darkness there is someone who cares about them. Those who have mental health disorders do not push people away because they hate them. They often push because they love them and fear hurting them by taking them along on the journey.
Fourthly, educate yourself. If your loved one, or the practice they visit, will allow you to attend appointments with them then please do so. Research their diagnosis and understand it. The key to decreasing the stigma that exists and being a knowledgeable support person is education. As a support person you may not ever understand what it is like to live in your loved ones shoes, but by educating yourself you can come to understand how best to work beside the one you love. Educate yourself on the medication they take and the various aspects of their mental health disorder. This may help you to recognize any triggers that may increase symptoms or various side effects of the treatment they take.
As a support person to someone battling a mental health disorder you will be one of the most important people by their side. During the darkest of days or the toughest moments you will be the one that makes the difference. You may not always get a thank-you spoken to you, but I can guarantee that you are very much appreciated. Be transparent. Be honest. Believe. Thank-you.
This post is dedicated to my husband and my family whose support was often pushed away, but whose belief in me allowed me to win my battle and be where I am today.