One of my first questions when our son was returning home after a suicide attempt was, “How do we ‘watch’’ him?” I didn’t get the answer I wanted: “You don’t.”
I was ready to have a 24-hour watch, and do it all myself if I had to. That was neither possible nor practical. In the emotion of the moment, I wasn’t thinking; I was reacting. I didn’t, couldn’t, think about myself.
Mental illness, like many other biological illnesses, affects you and your family as much as your loved one. Your family will begin to move beyond acceptance of the diagnosis. A crucial next step is learning to live the illness, or coping.
It is easy to focus on your ill loved one because it is new and your natural tendency, especially for parents, is fix the problem. You may begin to feel as though you’ve lost control of your life.
Self-care is vital to your ability to cope and care for your loved one. If you are emotionally, spiritually, and physically drained, you can become physically ill. You will surely be unable to assist your loved one in the way that may be needed.
Now is the time to take control of the new normal. It’s time for some self-care.
1. Make time for yourself.
I learned that I needed to get away. For the sake of our marriage, my husband and I needed time alone. For the sake of faith, I had to learn to trust God completely. I was trusting myself instead. I needed to plan time with him.
You will not be able to control your loved one. You can only control yourself. If you’re tired and emotionally drained, you’ll lose control of everything.
2. Maintain your normal routine.
Routine is stability for your ill loved one, especially after a psychotic break. It helps return to “normal”, albeit a new normal. If your routine is to get up early for a run, go. If your routine is dinner at 6 p.m, do it. If your routine includes coffee with your neighbor, have it.
If you adjust your normal to match the new normal of your loved one, you’ll soon be tired, depressed, and resentful. None of which will help when your loved one needs you.
3. Find support.
There are many support groups, both in-person and online, that are just for you. People who understand both the nature of mental illness and what you are going through. You cannot go it alone. There are comfort and hope in knowing others feel and react the same way you do.
This may seem un-Christian. After all, aren’t we suppose to put others first? Especially when someone is needed.
How many times did Jesus go off alone, or with the three close friends? He was God incarnate, but still his human body needed time away to refresh and recharge to continue helping others.
If God the Son needed time off to rest and recoup, don’t you?
If you or a friend is looking for some support, join the Facebook group, Shattered Lives. This secret group is for family members and friends to support one another while helping our ill loved ones. Send me a private message for an invitation.