46 years. That’s how long my husband and I have been married. And it was 50 years ago when we first dated, a sweet memory today. Jim has always been the very kindest, most fun and interesting man I know. Our kindness toward one another is a key to our relationship, especially when the water wasn’t so smooth due to effects of mental illness on my thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
My partnership is our marriage. It is the most supportive aspect of our lives together. It is, it turns out, quite a bit stronger than mental illness. Yours may be another partnership – marriage is not the required word, but supportive is. How do we support our partner without being overwhelmed? How can we be supported without having to feel we’re a burden? I don’t have all the answers, but we do have some suggestions here based on our experience.
What do we do now, now that mental illness has entered our family? Dr. Lloyd Sederer’s video “When Mental Illness Enters the Family” is a Godsend. In this short, 15-minute video, Dr. Sederer addresses family members of people with mental illnesses and gives them clear and doable tips on how to live harmoniously (mostly) and wisely (usually) with the ill family member. His four main steps to cope with the effects of mental illness are right on target. I can write this because of the lived experience I have had with two members of my family of origin. One person is still living, a sibling, and I work to understand better how to provide this person true support and health needs in an integrated manner without sacrificing my health in the process. The recommendations in “When mental illness enters the family” are a good beginning for people starting out on that road – Helping to care for someone with mental illness – as well as a good review for experienced family members.
Dr Sederer is a psychiatrist who is the medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health –, i.e., Chief psychiatrist for the nation’s largest state mental health organization. He was the medical director and executive vice president of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. He is also the mental health editor and columnist for The Huffington Post.
I also heartily recommend readers who have a mental health condition and family members of people with a mental health problem explore NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website for all the valuable resources and information that are gathered there.
As I worked and volunteered for NAMI on the state and local level for many years (20) here in Wisconsin, I will post a resource article with thoughts about the NAMI website and programs soon.
“Oh baby,” I said, as he/she came down the birth canal, “You are born!”. It was 1979. We didn’t know the sex of the child before birth. The birthing experience was wonderful, a balm for the difficult pregnancy caused by the onset of major depression in the fourth month of pregnancy.
I was alone.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband was with me very much during the pregnancy. But I was alone with being pregnant and being ill. I knew no other woman who was or had been pregnant and seriously depressed to talk to, to compare notes, to help me express my feelings or to hug. I hope this summary of my story of the difficult pregnancy will help other mothers who find themselves struggling with similar experiences today.
If you are pregnant and depressed, you are Not alone.
Raising children, for me, while taking care of my own mental illness, was a double challenge. I was a parent before major depression, and later Bipolar Disorder II, evolved. My article on parenting (in the menus above under “Real Life, Real Challenges”) was written several years ago but this post gives me the opportunity to add to my observations.
Support should be given to them every step of the way, as needed, per individual. We love our children and want to do the best for them. Support during pregnancy check-ups; assistance at hand, if wanted, when the baby is about to be born; coordinated discharge planning when mother and baby are leaving for home; weekly in-home visits, etc.
With that in mind, here are some things I would do differently if I had the opportunity:
I would be less critical of family members. In fact, I think that some parenting classes can be suggested to parents with mental illness ( we’d learn the program and we’d all learn from each other) Stress techniques that would teach how to do positive reinforcement so the parent with depression/mental illness has some tools to use.
I would teach my children at an earlier age, in simple terms, that I had an illness and that sometimes I needed the house to be extra quiet and I had to nap because I wasn’t feeling well.
I/we would teach that the illness and bad feelings that I had were not the children’s fault, nor anyone’s fault.