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..."
Mental Illness in the Family
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?
My family members each have a different supportive style when it comes to my brother's mental illness. In the early days of his depression and anxiety diagnosis, we used to judge each other for these differences -- each of us believed that our approach was the best one. I am looking at supportive styles differently, now.
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.
Since my brother was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, all types of people have tried to give him advice on his mental health symptoms. Many of these people have no experience of a mental health diagnosis themselves -- and while they mean well, their mental health advice could actually exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms if my brother followed it.
I must confess, family therapy is something our family has never tried. My brother underwent intensive cognitive behavioral therapy when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and the facilitator recommended a family therapy session. My parents declined -- I guess the idea of everyone sitting down and talking about their feelings to a stranger didn't feel right at the time.
We're all doing a lot of waiting recently due to COVID-19 restrictions -- but how does it compare to the ongoing waiting experiences of those with mental illness? Read on.
How to support someone from a distance is a question that I’ve been asking myself almost every day recently. There’s a literal distance between myself and my brother right now due to COVID-19 restrictions, but he’s also crying out for more freedom and control over his life – how do I balance giving support with giving space?