Caring for someone who suffers with Mental Health problems is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It can make you want to bang your head against the wall, cry in despair, shake your head in frustration, make you want to give up completely and even cause you to have mental health problems such as depression and anxiety yourself. You will find yourself constantly worried, stressed, and angry at times too.
So why would anyone in their right mind put themselves through it? The simple answer is love. No one would be able to do this without loving the person they are caring for. Whilst speaking to others about this particular blog entry, ‘money’ has been raised as a reason people care for those with mental health problems, particularly in the cases of mental health professionals. After some thought, I have to disagree… the money paid for doing a job could be earned in many other jobs where they wont get attacked, feel responsible if someone takes their own life, wont have to enter homes of patients in a mess you can’t even imagine, wont get shouted at, sworn at and blamed for all life’s problems etc. I believe that it is a job people go into because they care, and, as my mum pointed out, so that they can make a difference to the lives of the people they meet. They don’t get paid enough to do it for the money. And worse than that, with their budgets being cut time after time after time, they have to live with the knowledge that they are potentially giving a service that cannot put the patient first. They have to live with the knowledge that people have and will continue to die as a result.
If you are the friend or family of someone with a mental illness, you will soon understand that it is a pretty thankless task. If you look after someone with a life threatening or long-term illness, the public will praise you. They will tell you how wonderful you are, what a brilliant job you are doing, and inevitably you will gain some sort of satisfaction from doing that. It is completely different when looking after someone with mental health problems. If you are a parent, people may wonder if you did something to cause the problem, people may urge you to walk away, and you live in the knowledge that this could just be a lifelong commitment.
I have been hugely blessed with a family that have not only stood by me, but been my rock, my biggest fans, and have always been actively involved in helping me, in whatever ways they can. They do it because they love me, and they want, more than anything, for me to be happy. My parents have spent countless hours driving me to appointments, and sitting through them with me. As a prime example, when I was undergoing DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), my dad drove me to the centre, which took two hours each way twice a week, every week, for 12 weeks, and waited while the session was going on. This is despite working nights. He takes my to my medical assessments, medical appointments, he picks me up and drops me back home every time I go to see them (which is usually weekly). They are on the phone when I need to talk. They remind me to take my medicines. They show me the way to go when things go wrong. They even drag themselves to the psych ward when I have been an inpatient there, knowing what nasty, scary places they can be. They don’t get paid to do that. They do it at personal cost, both of money and time, just for me. They were the ones that drove me to the hospital and spent countless hours in the emergency room when I overdosed.
The biggest thing my parents have done to help me, again at huge personal cost (money, time, emotions), is to look after my daughter. They have saved both me and her, by taking her on and saving her from the social system. Due to my illnesses, and especially due to me still not having completely kicked the self harm issues, I am unable to look after her. It was a huge decision for all of us- it is awful, awful, awful to have to admit your own flesh and blood would be safer and more secure without you. And yet, thanks to my parents, I can see her whenever I want, she is healthy, happy and settled. She is doing brilliantly at school, and is genuinely the funniest person I have ever met. We would be lost without her.
When caring for someone with mental health problems, however, the physical side of things… the appointments etc are not the biggest challenge. It is the mental side of things that will determine if this is something you are able to do or not. I know my parents never stop worrying about me, even when I am ‘well’ or on an ‘up’. They know as well as I do that things will eventually go bad again. And at that point they worry they will get a knock on the door from the police one morning to be told I have committed suicide. Against that constant worry and stress, they have to put up with my loosing my temper sometimes. I can say awful things, things that I don’t even mean just because I can’t express it properly. Sometimes I get cross when they try to protect me from something I don’t want to be protected from. Sometimes I will sit there and cry, like I am never going to stop. And a lot of the time, they have to sit there and listen to me talk for England because I live alone and can’t shut up whenever I meet someone.
In some ways, my parents are fortunate. I do tend to understand things (eventually!!), I am not violent towards them, I don’t get in trouble with the law, I am not an alcoholic and I don’t take drugs (at least not ones that aren’t prescribed). They don’t live in fear that I will be violent to them. And to be honest, the only reason I don’t do those things is because I was brought up well. It could have turned out very differently.
I am very lucky too… because I love to write. It helps me sort out what is running through my head, and helps me make sense of what goes on around me. I find writing helps me when I want to self harm, too. I am also lucky because I have spent a long, long time finding out as much about my problems as I can. That way, it doesn’t seem so scary. I know what to expect, I know myself, and through that knowledge I am now, finally, mostly able to reach out for help before things slip too much. Something I was never able to do before. Even now though, my family are so acutely tuned to me and my problems, they still often know when I am going downhill before I do. They know not to tell me though, as I wont believe a word of it!
Getting to know someone is hard enough anyway… but getting to know someone who can change in a million different ways at any given moment is really hard. Nearly impossible, in fact!
So if you know of someone going through this struggle, be supportive to them. Understand that, as carer’s, they have the hardest job in the world. And just because the world may be ignorant about the facts, doesn’t mean you should be. My parents appreciate a ‘Thank you’ and a ‘Well done, you are doing great’ more than most. If you happen to suffer from mental health problems never forget to say thank you.
So… to my lovely Mum, Dad, Brothers, Sister, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and my stunning not-so-baby-anymore-girl, THANK YOU. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you.