To the family and loved ones of those who live with serious mental health struggles… this post is for you.
I want to acknowledge your pain, your struggle, your fears, your frustrations, your grief, your confusion, your heartache. Because your life has been affected and turned upside down by circumstances beyond your control. You just happen to love someone who’s struggling right now. I want to acknowledge that and let you know it is OK to feel any way that you do — and I know that you feel a lot of different, conflicting emotions. This post is to say you are not alone. I understand. I know how hard it can sometimes be. I wish I didn’t know — but I do.
Here is what I have learned over the last 20 plus years…
1. You might grieve the relationship you used to have with this person. You will see glimpses of it, but things have changed.
2. You might never understand the decisions they make — and that’s OK.
3. It may feel like sometimes you’re trying to save someone from themselves. You will watch them drown and not be able to convince them that all they need to do is stand up.
4. You will see sides to your loved one no one should ever have to see. You will be terrified of them, and for them, both at the same time.
5. You will feel unsupported by the mental health system — your loved one is one of millions struggling, and everyone’s hands seem to be tied. They will often be dealt with by the law before the mental health system. You will perhaps have to think of them in jail, wondering if they are mentally fit to be there. Wondering how much they are processing and understanding.
6. You will long to find others who understand your experience — it is hard. Unless you have lived and breathed this, how would you possibly understand? People will try, and you will be grateful for that. But no one truly understands what you go through because every case is so different.
7. You will feel angry — and you wish it was uncomplicated anger. You will wish you could just feel angry without feeling guilty about it. Without needing to show compassion and understanding for what they are going through. Your feelings will be so conflicted at times you simply won’t know how you feel towards them. You will wish it wasn’t so damn hard.
8. You will worry about other members of your family and how the experiences are impacting them. Are they OK? Would they tell you even if they weren’t? Nobody wants to create more drama and more pain for each other so you all keep it inside.
9. You feel like peace always has an expiration date. Even when things are good, you are constantly waiting for things to take a turn for the worse. You will be forever looking for signs that the next episode is about to begin. And when it does, you recognize that all too familiar dread in the pit of your stomach, you brace yourself for what you know is to come, wishing it could end before it begins.
Related: Alcoholism Is Not an Adjective
10. It’s OK not to be OK sometimes. To feel overcome by the constant mental drain. The worry, the fears — for them — and for you as well. Their story matters and they deserve understanding and compassion — but please remember, you do too.