When one becomes a caregiver, no matter the reason, the amount of thoughts and information that bombards the brain can be overwhelming. Questions abound and worries and fears can seem to send one’s hopes crashing down. I’d say that these feelings quite often are normal. But with all the information at the tips of our fingers and coming from everybody from the doctors and nurses, to neighbours, and maybe even the family dog, how is somebody supposed to separate the critically important knowledge from things that can be figured out down the road? Well, there are several things that I’ve discovered and found to be particularly important to keep at the forefront of one’s mind.
Firstly, Mental illness is real. This may sound like a no-brainer, but because mental illness doesn’t show physical symptoms in the way that something like cancer or a broken leg does, it can sometimes be hard to accept and understand that it is just as legitimate and serious as any other health condition. Mental illness is not attention seeking, faking, or shameful. Its another condition and shouldn’t be seen as any different as other health conditions with regards to credibility.
Secondly, and this kind of ties in with the last one, when somebody is in psychosis and may be experiencing things we can’t even fathom, don’t forget that while it may not be “real” for us as outsiders, it is perceived as real for those that experience it. Let me tell you how utterly powerless one feels watching somebody suffer from psychosis. All you want in that moment more than anything is to be able to help that person, to bear the pain and anguish for them even, but you can’t. You have to just stand by and try to do damage control to protect the person until help arrives.
Thirdly, remember to keep calm. The way I say it is, pardon my language, but I can’t afford to “lose my shit.” When the person with the illness is already stressed and maybe getting upset, it doesn’t help if we as caregivers get all worked up. I’m not saying that its not stressful, but in the heat of the moment it is critical to keep cool and be the voice of reason.
Fourth thing, don’t expect anybody in the equation of mental illness and caregiving to be perfect. We are only human, no matter how hard we try to do our best, we are going to make mistakes. It happens. The point is to do our best, but also understand that sometimes mistakes happen. My mother always used to ask me when I was upset about something, “did anybody die?” as you can imagine my answer was always “no.” What I’m saying is hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Just like anything, caregiving has its good days, and its not so good days, and that’s okay.
Fifth, never lose hope. That’s right. Because hope is the bedrock of successful recovery for anybody involved with mental illness.