It's a strange irony that the skills I learned from being part of the team here at HealthyPlace are the reason that I'm leaving my position. Hear me out, and I'll try to explain what I mean.
Mental Illness in the Family
I've been overwhelmed recently. My social world is reopening post-pandemic, my work is busy, and I'm back at college in the evenings. While these are things that I'm very grateful for, having such a busy schedule leaves little space for me to relax and regulate myself. Last week, my boss said something to me that completely challenged my perspective. She suggested that I take all the supportive skills I've learned from my caring roles (both for my brother and in a professional context) and offer them to myself.
Codependency can look different ways for different people. For me, an effect of codependency was losing sight of what I actually wanted, as opposed to what choice would make me happy.
Something I started doing when my brother was first diagnosed with mental illness was personifying his mental illness symptoms. This might sound a little kooky but stay with me here.
In my job as a pediatric occupational therapist, I spend a lot of time focusing on parent education. I find that building a parental understanding of a child's condition is the single most important factor in improving that child's quality of life. I'm beginning to learn that the same is true in mental illness – the level of understanding and compassion that family (or other relevant supporters) have for a person's mental illness has a huge bearing on their experience.
It's very important to take other peoples' trauma seriously, but sometimes, families struggle to do so. I made a video explaining my experience with family trauma and gaslighting.
I can now say that I have experienced family trauma, although, for years, I was reluctant to use the word "trauma" in relation to anything about my own life or experiences. To me, that felt like a serious word that I didn't have the right to use unless I had fled a warzone or survived a natural disaster.
This blog post may be controversial to some, but the older I get, the more I understand that family estrangement can be necessary for mental health. While I am in close contact with the immediate family that raised me, I have made a conscious decision to cut contact permanently with other relatives. This was not a malicious decision but a considered one made with mental health in mind.
It can be difficult to strike a balance between respecting a family member's right to confidentiality about their diagnosis and recognizing your own need to vent.
Explaining a family member's diagnosis to others can be scary because you never know how they're going to react. Sometimes it works out really well. For example, my fiancé couldn't be more understanding of my brother's chronic mental illness. Not only is he accepting of the way this affects our family's lives, he is also proactive in thinking of ways that we can better support my brother. Not everyone is like this, though, which is why explaining a family member's mental health diagnosis to others can be so challenging.