Sitting here in my living room now, with my four doggies on the couch with me, I am happy to say that my mood is steady even though it’s raining. I’m not particularly happy about grey light and chill air but I can take advantage of it and roll it into a cozy afternoon. It was only a week ago that I was sliding into depression; the sky was grey then too. What makes the difference between getting depressed and not getting depressed?
So it’s no wonder that when the topic of discharge planning came up during my daughter’s time in residential treatment, we all struggled. Tremendously. I struggled because I was still in protective mom mode, assuming that I needed to parent the way I had in the past. My daughter struggled because she was feeling stronger, more capable, more trusting of her stability, her skills and herself.
If you care for a person with a mental illness, how can you help? Begin by listening without judgement, as you would to anyone else. Refrain from attempting to correct the convergence of ideas that their neural pathways create. Just listen. Is there an urgency to the message? You can sense that. Are they showing an emotion you can recognize, despite the nature of the words, the cadence of their speech? Listen actively, without reason. Bring your shared history with you. Bring love.
So, in the light of day, I had to let go of my fears, and hang on for dear life to the only hope left. And that required me to let go of my daughter, to entrust her care to strangers who could hopefully do what I could not. Save her life. Not just in the literal sense of keeping her alive, but also in giving her back a life that she could cherish.
The reasons for self-injury are as varied as the individuals who share this widely misunderstood symptom. People living with bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder are all at risk for self-harming behavior. If this is you, take heart. You are not alone, and you can get help.
We have a rule in our family. If you get a song stuck in your head, you are NOT allowed, under ANY circumstances, to share that song with anyone else in the family. Because, of course, that will cause said song to become stuck in said other family members’ head. Of all the rules we’ve had, tried or tossed, this one has been a keeper. Until now. Because I’m going to break that rule, not with my family, but with all of you.
Today, being able to invite my three children and my grandbaby into my home, with nothing to hide, is the most precious gift I have ever given to myself and to them. I’m proud of myself and I’m proud of my children. We have come through the fire of addiction and mental illness and we’ve come out on top.
It is human to offer support. It teaches us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, to let go of ego and give meaning to life. We learn about borders and boundaries, as opposed to fences and defenses. Caring for one another is our collective responsibility. It is a defining component of wellness.