8 – 14 May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week – 7 days – 7 blogs -7 Mental Health topics

Today – Knowing someone with a Mental Illness

I imagine that living with me can be pretty awful at times for my whole family, but my Husband especially. Whilst I try to keep the smile and cheerful Mum face on for my girls, it can be so exhausting that I can’t always manage it for him too. There are days when he has to care for both our children because I don’t have the energy, days when we have to cancel any plans to go out because the thought of stepping outside the front door sends me into a blind panic, days when he has to put up with me barely speaking a word because the fog is so thick I can’t think straight. He will always tell me that he loves me, that he doesn’t mind doing all the extra stuff when I can’t, but I am aware of the strain my illness puts on our relationship, and the effect it has on our family as a whole.

With the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will at some suffer from a Mental Illness, it is inevitable that almost all families will be affected in some way by the darkness. Here are a few experiences others have had with loved ones / friends battling demons, all asked to remain anonymous.

A daughter shared her Mum’s fight with Mental Illness –

My Mum had always suffered with severe depression. For as long as I could remember it had always cast a shadow over family life but by the age of 11 I was acutely aware of the impact her mental health had on her. When I was younger I remember she was often “unwell”, often tired and in bed but I never really understood what that meant, never questioned it.

I think I will always be somehow scarred by my mum’s depression but I certainly never would have been better without her. I dread to think what it would have done to me, if she had succeeded in suicide. I know I would never have recovered from feeling that I could have done more to help, done more to stop her, been a better daughter, to make her stay. Despite everything she had always been my Mum, even when she couldn’t be all that society expects a mum to be. I feel very blessed that she somehow survived, despite her best efforts and truly believe she was born to help others. Mum has gone on to gain 2 degrees. She’s a counsellor and psychotherapist. Her pain hasn’t been for nothing and I’m incredibly proud of all she’s achieved.

A wife speaks about what life is like with her Husband, who suffers from numerous mental illnesses –

Living with somebody with mental health issues is wearing me down. Every day there is something new to consider, something new to take on board, something new I am expected to cope with. I never know if today will be a rare good day, or if I’ll get everything wrong right from the start. It’s a 24/7 job. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been woken in the middle of the night because he’s panicking, or has lost his meds. It affects the whole family. The eldest has huge anxiety about his dad, I’m left to cope with all of them on my own. Even when ill I’ll hear my name shouted as he can’t cope with their squabbles. Mental health is hard. It’s not him, not really. Some days I cope, some days I excel, some days I just cry because I just want my husband back.

A concerned Mum worries about the effect her Daughter in Law’s mental illness will have on her Son –

My Daughter in Law hides herself away at times, she manages to work reduced hours now in a responsible job. My son works full time. It took a number of years before DIL faced up to her depression, now she has we do our best to understand.  It’s not easy, we love her and know she loves us. 

My main worry I think, is for my son who’s become very protective of her over the years and lives according to her needs – not his – seldom socialising outside work and a few family events – can’t plan anything too far in advance in case she’s not feeling up to it, can’t do anything spontaneous, because she needs lots of advance warning.  I worry that because he loves her he’s not living his life to its full potential. I worry for his mental health eventually as everything revolves around her needs. I and my daughter worry that it may not be enough to keep his sanity as they have shut themselves off from many friends.  I saw an example a few weeks ago, out for lunch, sitting in a booth – her choice so that people couldn’t see too much of us – we saw another friend at the bar.  DIL went to toilet and stayed there till other friend had gone.

 I suppose, what I’m trying to say is that the person with depression can seem self-centred, I know my DIL isn’t, but it can appear that way to others.  Depression in one person affects many lives, not just those living in the same house, we have to be careful what we do, what we say, sometimes even how we look when responding to something said, it’s easy for me to see why people/friends/workmates retreat if they feel it isn’t worth making the effort to understand because depression is so difficult to understand.  

Helping a friend through a Mental Illness is hard, but we all need someone like this –

I’m not going to deny that supporting someone through a turbulent mental health journey isn’t difficult at times.  But, I believe that it is a privilege to be allowed into someone’s darkest most vulnerable times and, as such, it is my responsibility to take it seriously – to treasure and protect them and their experiences. 

For me, a friendship with someone who is struggling with their mental health has to be unconditional.  I always want them to be able to talk to me and to know I will never judge them.  It can be hard – you may not always agree with their thought process or their chosen course of action.  The reality is though that it is not my life to make judgements on, their decisions are not my mine to make and I want to empower, not inhibit my friends

If I struggle at times I question myself and ask how I would feel or react if my friend’s behaviour was a symptom of a chest infection, broken leg or cancer?  Would I doubt them? Would I question them? Would I be annoyed if they didn’t want to talk for a week, to go out for coffee?  Acknowledging and treating mental health with the importance and respect it deserves gives me strength, conviction and empathy, I hope.

But most importantly – my job is not to ‘make them better’, my job is to be their friend.  I want to make them smile, remember fun times and reassure them that they will return, remind them they are not ‘crazy’ or a burden and they are a fabulous person and that I love them.

The final words on this subject belong to the most amazing man – my Husband –

When my wife is having a low day I find it frustrating, frustrating in the sense that I can’t see why we have to change plans at short notice or not see people that we had planned to. I also find the days where the conversation is short and brief hard, I am not an argumentative person and I sometimes feel it’s easier to say nothing and sit in silence rather than say something and have it taken the wrong way.  

My wife has talked to me and explained how it makes her feel in her head but I struggle to understand. The one thing I will always do is be there for my wife with a supportive ear, hug and anything else she needs.

When I see my wife upset it upsets me as I hate seeing her that way and I will always do my best to help her feel better – there is always an endless supply of cups of tea and cuddles whenever she needs them. These are the days I wish I could do more to help.

I know on the days when there is talk of dying and not being good enough for anyone it’s not my wife talking. I remember the kind, beautiful woman and mother of our children who I married and I know that one day in the future she will beat her demons and I will be standing next to her- holding her hand and standing strong.

My enormous thanks and love to those who have been so brave to share their experiences with me to help raise awareness – and a high five to the Husband, I’m a lucky girl.

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