I spoke a little bit in my last video post about how my family all had different ways of supporting my mentally ill brother when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. What started as a reason to argue has turned into one of our greatest strengths as a family – how lucky are we to have so many different types of support to offer our loved one and each other?
Mental Illness and Marriage
There are so many different schools of thought on how to support someone who is mentally ill. In the early days of my brother's diagnosis, I frantically researched the best ways to help him and found myself entirely overwhelmed with all the conflicting information that's out there. One blog would tell me to listen to him talking about his anxious thoughts, the next would tell me to redirect the conversation to avoid fixation. One blog would encourage me to design a routine where the family had coffee together every morning, the next would say to remove all caffeine-based stimulants from the house. I didn't know who to listen to.
In the efforts to support your family member with his or her mental illness, it is easy to stray into the unhelpful territory of micromanaging symptoms. I know this because it's a mistake that I made with my own brother.
Emotional validation counteracts the lack of stability that may accompany living with a family member suffering from mental illness. Indeed, that lack of stability is challenging to endure. My husband and I usually live day to day or week to week without knowing what our future might hold. Yet, the best way to cope with this instability is to work together and focus on emotional validation.
Caregiver mental health is important. The last couple of weeks were quite a struggle for me. Maybe this was related to the constant speed of life or the change in seasons. I'm not sure, but as a spouse to someone with mental illness, I take on extra responsibilities and my mental health as a caregiver comes into play.
Recently I was asked how I cope with caring for a partner with mental illness. Do I cope day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, or does it vary? What a complicated question.
Mental illness can impact a family in many ways, and the children of parents with mental illness need loving support. Children are very sensitive and sometimes clue into differences in behavior that adults miss. As adults, we are often caught up with other concerns: our careers, finances or the latest Netflix series, to name a few. We sometimes forget to pay attention to those around us and may overlook subtle changes. Children, on the other hand, notice everything. I say this from experience: children of parents with mental illness see and feel all of it.
Keeping a marriage together while you balance life transitions with mental illness can feel impossible. It's taken my husband and me almost 16 years to anticipate and manage transitions in life. After many missteps, we have learned a few techniques that help our marriage with mental illness survive life's transitions (Why Is Even Good Change Sometimes So Hard?).
Your marriage is something to consider before a bipolar pregnancy. When you live with bipolar disorder, whether or not you should get pregnant is a difficult decision (Why I Chose to be a Mother Despite My Bipolar Disorder). There is a lot to consider before a bipolar pregnancy, and the stability of your marriage needs to be at the very top of this list.
For the mom considering suicide, please don't give up (What to do if You Are Suicidal). I know what it feels like to be so tired and so desperate that nothing feels more appealing than just not being here anymore. But please listen to me, mama: you are worth saving. You are worth fighting for. Your family is worth fighting for, and they need you to be well so they can be well. So, friend, if you are considering suicide, if you think your family might just be better off with you, this is for you.