I am blessed with fantastic and supportive relationships in my family. When I was twelve years old and in the children’s psychiatric hospital, my parents and siblings would visit whenever they could. They brought me chocolate and teddy bears, tears and promises that I would be home soon. But bipolar disorder, or any mental illness really, can either destroy relationships or enhance them. And that’s okay. Let some relationships go, and make sure you keep the supportive relationships.
Recovering Supportive Relationships When Living with a Mental Illness
If you have a mental illness, it takes time to become stable; finding medications that work, support, and patience isn’t easy. As hard as it was for me to wonder if I would ever get better, I expect it was extremely difficult for my family as well. Later in life, my mother told me she never gave up. While I was in and out of hospitals, abusing drugs and drinking, they waited for me to come to them. And I did.
Not all of us are so lucky to have support like this. People, even family, are scared of the mental illness diagnosis; they might turn the other way. Friends, the same ones who laughed and cried with you before, become uncomfortable with the illness and they don’t call as much as they once did if they call at all. People do not understand that as frightened by the diagnosis as they are, we as patients, as people, are equally frightened, if not more.
It’s never easy to repair relationships that were negatively impacted by a mental illness or a relapse. But it’s important that you find out who cares enough to be part of your support system over the long-term. When you become ill, you will want people in your life who alert you to any psychiatric symptoms you are unable to see. This is very important. These people are part of your support system and as important as other professionals on your mental health care team.
I know that some relationships cannot be repaired, and that’s okay. The people who walked away when you were sick, who were afraid and unsure of the illness, might not ever feel comfortable with it. Sometimes, as people, we need to understand and let them walk away.
Mental illness, before it is treated, can damage relationships insurmountably but it is in this way that we find out who will be there for us when we need help and, in turn, we can help because everyone falls from time to time.
Friends and family can sit with you through the tough times, or they can walk away, but if you live with mental illness every day of your life, supporting yourself is important. You are your own support system: remember that.