Feeling overwhelmed from supporting someone with mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes we can struggle to admit our true feelings. Here’s a little bit about how I felt when my brother was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression.
Mental Illness and Marriage
I worry that my brother will die by suicide. Even typing those words feels frighteningly intimate because this very real fear is an unspoken one in our family. (This post contains a trigger warning.)
When we were little, I spoke on behalf of my brother a lot because he had a speech delay. He would regularly mix up or mispronounce his words, and I would find myself acting as some sort of amateur translator when he spoke to anyone outside our immediate family. My most commonly used phrase was, "What he's trying to say is . . ."
This past weekend, my brother and I were reunited after quarantine -- seeing each other in person for the first time since March. He drove over to my house and met my new puppy, and we spent the day walking, eating, and generally catching up.
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?
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.