Help Your Loved One with Mental Illness
In this new set of Lessons From A Student Mom, Andolina Ziolkowski, helps us to understand her journey and how we can help our loved ones deal with life with a mental illness.
I’m sitting on the couch, doing absolutely nothing because quite frankly I just don’t have the energy.
- I woke up two hours ago, but I feel like I’ve been up for 48-hours straight.
- The TV is blasting, the kids are shouting and running.
- I have a million things running through my mind.
- There are a hundred and one things I should be doing right now.
But I’m not. Right now, in this moment, I don’t really care.
I contemplate quitting everything.
There’s a sliver of my mind that tells me that everyone would be better off without me. I’ve worked so much in my life that my kids would be better off for sure, at least financially. I love writing, but the thought of getting up and writing causes my stomach to turn because why should I bother? I’m not really helping anyone. It’s just a façade I put on to look like I’m functioning. These are the things that my mind tells me.
Do I know that it’s ridiculous? Yes.
Can I make them stop? Not a chance. I’ve tried.
I sit there and worry, wonder, plan, and think about the nonsense crap that shouldn’t matter.
At some point, I wonder why I try so hard to do everything when I feel like I’m going backward.
No matter how hard I try I always feel like I’m failing, I failed, or I’m going to fail.
The spiral begins. Imagine a tornado of thoughts, a constant string of what-ifs, why bother’s, and I should’s.
A migraine begins to form at the back of my skull, my body temperature rises, my heartbeat quickens, my mind races faster. The anxiety has kicked in.
I’m irritated at life, at myself, at the kids, at everything, and at nothing all at the same time.
Within moments I’m yelling. I need quiet, I need to be alone,
I need a freaking reset button, and I need to run away because right now I just can’t do any of it anymore.
Why am I mad?
That isn’t a fictional story I’ve made up to entertain you.
That is my life.
This is a situation that I end up in at least half of the days during the week. Sometimes, this can last the whole week. But the biggest problem I face?
People just don’t know how they can help.
And it’s hard to tell them how to help me when I don’t know how to help me. That is why I’ve reached out to other people facing mental illness just like myself. I wanted to share, with those who don’t suffer, some ways that you can help. Some tips that, if I were in that moment, I wouldn’t be able to offer you. Many of us wouldn’t. It’s hard to ask for help when you don’t know exactly what you need.
YOUR LOVED ONE
You love someone who suffers from mental illness. You don’t know how to help but you want to help. Part of the problem is, they can’t explain their thoughts, feelings, etc. to you because they don’t know how to express it so you’ll understand. It can be hard when you have a loved one with mental illness, but there are ways that you can help them. Even small things can be a huge help to someone with mental illness.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Mental illness is a difficult subject to talk about, especially when you aren’t well informed. But there are ways you can help your loved one with mental illness. There are also things you shouldn’t do or say. I spoke to some real-life mental illness sufferers to see what they wished their loved ones would do for them. These are a few of the responses that I got, and some are my own suggestions after living life with Moderate Anxiety and Major Depressive Disorder.
Understand My Diagnosis
Take the time to gain some knowledge of my disorder. Speak with professionals. Read a book or two. Do some online research. Something. I’d love to be able to give you all the details, but I can’t. Even if I had them, I may not be able to explain them to you well enough. Before you respond, just try to understand.
I Don’t Need You To “Fix” Me
I’m not broken. This is who I am. I have to live with it and you should try to also. I’ve managed to cope up until today. When I’m in the middle of a breakdown, I don’t need you to resolve the situation. I just need you to be there for me and let me know that you care and you’re here for me no matter what.
Don’t Judge Me
Medication can be a necessary aspect of mental illness treatment. It may be required by your loved one with mental illness to be on medication to manage symptoms. Understand that mental illness is as much an illness as any physical ailment. You wouldn’t judge someone with High Blood Pressure for being on medication, don’t judge me for being on my medication.
Help with Housework/Parenting
Some days are worse than others. There will be days that I struggle to care for myself, let alone a house or children. Offer to give me a break occasionally and understand that I’m not taking advantage of you. I really do just need some space, quiet, or alone time. This is hard to admit because I want to be able to do these things, but some days I just can’t.
Let Me Vent
Sometimes an open ear is all I need. Just listen to what I have to say. Don’t respond, don’t guess that you understand how I’m feeling. Just Listen. There are times where talking through an episode is the most therapeutic thing for me. Talk therapy is real, and it works!
These Feelings Are Real
Please don’t tell me or make me feel like this is all in my head. It is a mental disorder, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m making it up. Try to put yourself in my position. Everyone feels things in a different way and telling me I’m feeling things “wrong” is hurtful. It’s actually harmful.
LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
These resources, from reputable agencies, will help you find the answers to your biggest questions regarding mental illness. Learning more about your loved one with mental illness will give you a chance to learn the symptoms and possibly recognize them so you can be more helpful.
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Mental Health Conditions
American Psychological Association – Change Your Mind About Mental Health
American Psychological Association – Supporting a Family Member with Serious Illness
Psych Central – Symptoms & Treatments of Mental Disorders
If you or a loved one is suffering and needs immediate attention, please go to Now Matters Now to find the appropriate crisis number for your country. They even list text lines if you do not want to make the call.
What have you learned from helping a loved one deal with mental illness? Do you have words of advice for us? Please share in the comments below.