I've noticed lately that everyone seems to be extremely worried about one thing or another. If it's not the war in Iraq, it's the skyrocketing cost of oil and education. Linked to this is the overwhelming need for more time and space to be with our families, but just the reverse is happening. All of this stress, has for me added to my level of intolerance of others. I find myself getting irritated at the slightest things. Luckily I'm able to catch my self and have a chat with myself!
Tolerance and appreciation for others is a universal theme, however, it is even more pronounced if you are a family member dealing with another's emotional illness. When I find myself bothered by having to gear up for my brother's trek north for a stay at my house, I simply shake myself and wonder how I can be that selfish. Well, the truth is, being selfish is not altogether bad. The word "selfish" to me means taking care of myself in order that I stay well. In general when you are being "selfish" you are honoring who you are and taking care of that. Obviously if you hurt others in the process of being selfish, that is not good. However, more often than not, caregivers and women especially tend not to take care of themselves, leaving them vulnerable to burnout and other medical and emotional issues.
Here are a few ways to be selfish that can boost your spirits and keep you smiling:
1. Take yourself to the movies on a weekday and buy the biggest popcorn and soda they have.
2. When you have a whole afternoon off, go to the library and pick out some books and CD's.
3. If you are a shopper, plan a day of spending money on yourself, not others, just YOU.
4. Don't do anything that has a twinge of "should" attached to it. Save that for another day.
5. Remind yourself how good it feels to take care of you and allow yourself to feel the fun and frivolity of doing just for you!
To communicate or not to communicate, that is the question. How often do you stop short of saying "exaclty" what you have on your mind. You think it will hurt someone's feelings, or you think it's mean and you should be more tactful. Well the truth is -- saying the truth, and yes that includes saying "no" when you want to, should be a routine and powerful communication tool for all people.
How did we ever get to this point where we are afraid of how others will act when we tell them the truth.
Well, I maintain that if you say it with kindness, use the proper planning and submit your thoughts with honesty and respect, the rest will take care of itself.
Taking the time to do the following will enhance your success rate:
1. Identify the who. Who is bothering you?
2. What are they doing or saying to bother you?
3. Make an appointment to talk to the person, try to make a neutral spot and time when you can state your case calmly and gently.
4. Tell the person what they do that is not alright with you.
5. Ask them to change or stop their behaviour.
6. State the consequences of their not stopping or changing their behaviour.
I know you might be saying to yourself that this seems kind of complicated, and there's too much work in order to get more peace in your life. Well, i'm here to suggest that your life will improve dramatically if you can do the above. Afterall, it's the simple, seemingly benign, small things in our life that drive us crazy, isn't it? Are you willing to let these things pile up on you until you explode and "can't take it anymore"? That seems a tad unfair to those you love. They too deserve the benefit of a clear communication around things they do which are not ok with you. Think about it and try a few things. If you are so inclined or want to talk more, just click on the "comments" section at the end of this blog and let us know how you feel or how it went......... there's always strength in numbers!
For an indepth article on boundaries and how they can improve your life click here!
I recall two times in my life when I truly felt at peace and very serene. One was when I particiapted as a high school student in my church's 3 day seminar. My priest and father had nominated me to attend even though I was only one of two students among 150 adults! The other time I felt a similar peace and serenity was after participating in a three month intensive graduate counseling seminar with four other interns and the teacher.
What I remember most about these two experiences was that I let go of who I thought I was and who others expected me to be and simple became another human being struggling with life.... no more, no less. When I came through both experiences I felt a certain calm and serenity that I had hoped would last forever. Turns out, like everything else in this life, such great feelings require work and practice.
I have continued to find alternative ways to bring more calm and serenity into my life... to re-create the wonderful experiences I had. Some of the approaches I've been drawn to include : yoga, meditation tapes, soothing piano music, Reikki as well as simplifying my life and a possible course in "Sufficiency" which leads people to understand that what you have is "enough" and how to approach life from a point of having enough as opposed to wanting more, more, and more. I know, I felt like all these things were slightly foreign to me but having experienced all but one, I can report a wonderful step toward wellness. Afterall, a little solitute, silence and taking pleasure in simple things can move us toward wellness over time. So don't be afraid, try something new .
One of the ways I help people take back their life and begin simplification is to set good boundaries. You can download my free audio program here. 7 weekly audios of how to change your life with boundaries will be delivered to your email "in" box.
Sometimes as caregivers, or people who live with a family member suffering mental illness, we become more solitary and closed off to others. For me, the reasons could have more to do with "saving my energy" than actually not being a friendly person. I find that caring for someone with mental illness takes a lot of energy! It often causes some family members to live a cloistered life of shame and worry. But living this way can be harmful to our own physical and mental well-being. How we spend our time is directly connected to our emotional health. Of course we need to care for our family member who suffers mental illness, BUT staying connected to others is a must for the long-term happiness and wellness of careigvers.
Poking around the Internet recently, I found a wonderful reminder of what's important. In her article "Honor Them with A Dance", Rose Desrochers reminds us to get connected. Her general thesis is don't wait until disaster strikes before you acknowledge and care about people in your life.
I say fight the automatic reaction to go into seclusion. With limited energy you might feel like you just can't get involved with people. You think you need to "save" the energy you do have for your ill family member. But the reverse is true! If you’re hiding out, consider getting out and reaching out instead, to cope with your situation. Join a club, call a friend for coffee, make a regular "send a note" night, start up a conversation with a stranger. Fight the urge to close down and, instead, bust out and offer yourself up to the world! There is a wonderful thing that happens: you get more than you give and you realize you are not alone.
I'm ashamed to say that I have forgotten to include my ill family member (my brother) on my annual Christmas card list. No, as I write this I'm horrified. But the truth is sometimes I feel so overwhelmed "by him" that I avoid connecting with him on nice occasions just to let him know I love him.
Personally, I've never been the phone type or into writing letters and cards, but there are so many other ways to stay in touch and connected. Lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to put people first. Really stop and be present for whoever I’m with. Taking time to notice people and talk with them, instead of buzzing by in a hurry to get somewhere. And I can report wonderful energy and reciprocity in my new-found approach to getting over myself and thinking about others more.
And so as I leave you today, I encourage you to think about doing one thing that extends beyond your comfort zone and reaches out beyond your situation. It's doable -- it simply takes courage and practice!
For the past few weeks I've been teaching a goal setting program. This week the topic was "fear" and how it can keep you from achieving your goals. Do you have a goal that has been sitting on the shelf for years? Maybe you want to train for a road race…become a kayak expert…change careers? My own experience suggests that individuals who deal with mental illness in the family often get stuck and stop evolving because of the situation around them. I’ve felt afraid to move on, knowing that my brother will always be where he is. I’d be leaving him behind. We can become paralyzed by fear, and miss opportunities for our own personal growth. When fear rules, we live to survive, not thrive.
Susan Jeffers writes beautifully about the subject of "fear". In her book "Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway", she reminds us that the "doing" comes before the "feeling better". How to work through fear is the question -- and it’s especially difficult when dealing with a family member with mental illness, because mental illness brings in so many unpredictables. I typically go into various thought patterns prior to "doing" anything related to my brother Tom. Why do I do this? Well, I think it's because I'm "afraid" that I'll do or say the wrong thing, and possibly spoil a calm moment! Mental illness is unpredictable, and I’m afraid to rock the boat.
The truth is everyone experiences fear and it never goes away completely. Yes, things often get easier over time, but there will always be an element of fear when we are pushing ourselves to do better, to grow, and evolve as a person. Jeffers reminds us that if we have faith in ourselves to handle whatever comes up, we can diminish and work through that fear. What a wonderful reminder to take risks, with the self-confidence that we can handle it!
Evolving and growing while your family member is dealing with emotional issues is difficult to be sure. But dealing with and managing fear is part of life in general. Those of us with mental illness in our families may just get an extra dose. Jeffers reminds us that we must take risks in order to expand our self worth and live a full life. So take a minute right now and ask yourself: "How can I get outside my comfort zone today?" Maybe calling someone who intimidates you, or dealing with an unresolved situation, or even investigating a new career. These actions will bolster your self-confidence which, in turn, can do wonders for your own well-being. When you keep growing you increase your ability to care for yourself – and for others. It’s worth it.
If you are inspired to take action please share your journey with everyone by commenting on this blog.
As I get older I feel more "in control" of the fact I have "no" control over my brother's behavior. It's taken me a while to realize that mental illness is not something you can put in a box and move on. There are all kinds of twists and turns and the more you try to hold on and keep from skidding off the road, the more the person seems to have a hold on you and your life.......
Sometimes I feel like all those years I spent trying to morph Tom's behavior has been an exercise in futility. He never seemed to listen or take what I said to heart. Maybe it just allowed me to feel useful in the face of extreme uncertainty, like rantings, yelling at neighbors and hiding in the wooods.
Yes, I've come to the conclusion that trying too hard has been my downfall. But if I never "tried" i'd probably never forgive myself, right? No, I think the pressure of trying to change Tom is not good for either of us. I would have done more had I just focused on "being" with him instead of trying to see what's wrong and "change" him.
On this Sunday, as we ride back to his apartment after his stay with me, I feel that obligation to remind him about his "behavior". As he sucks down another can of soda I feel compelled to remind him, "You know Tom, soda is really bad for your bloating problem, try to drink water when you get home. You'll feel better."
"Yup" he mumbles
I'm not convinced he heard me so I push the issue, "Tom, did you hear what I said, do you understand why I said it?", sounding more like a grade school teacher than a younger sister. To my complete surprise (because he doesn't usually listen at all), he repeated what I said to him.
"Tom", I said, "You do listen!" To which he replied, "Yep".
I guess the lesson for me is that sometimes you think your actions are not making a difference but they are. In most cases they might not be having an impact due to the mental illness. But maybe it's worth keeping both cases in mind. It sure did boost my spirits to know I made a slight impact this day!
My blood pressure rises, I feel full of anxiety as I bring our lunch out and sit down with by brother "T". It is a glorious day - sunny , 70 degrees in October! T has just spent a few hours raking leaves at my house. He loves coming to my house because I feed him well, he sits around the pool, cooks out, fishes and does so many other things with my husband.
As we sit peacefully at the table munching on sandwiches and Fresca, my dog, Caesar commands attention so i start throwing the ball to him. I'm looking at the blue sky with my feet propped on another chair and can't believe this day's weather.
However, too much silence is never a good thing for T. He is insistent on flashing his mantras at me: "Dodgy sucked the life out of me", or "Matt's a loser", "Papa Bear (my father) called me a loser 30 years ago". He has this uncanny ability to remember things like this but of course never remembers the good things we tell him! This inability to get beyond these focus points is part of T's mental illness. Even though I understand "he can't help it", I feel especially protective of this wonderful day. I calmly look over at T and say , "Tom, this day is too beautiful to spend it talking about "ancient history" -- a term he uses whenever he's trying to pull himself back to the here and now.
"OK, OK, I won't" he says, which is followed up by a "ma says I have to stop complaining all the time".
Now it's my turn to take action. . . . . Thank goodness there is more raking to be done because I feel this conversation might have peaked. If you feel your blood pressure rising, do something to better manage your situation, install a boundary so others (including the family member who suffers mental illness) will know how to act around you.
If you find yourself struggling to protect your turf in the presence of others who suffer mental illness ----SIGN UP FOR MY FREE 7 PART AUDIO COURSE on" Boundaries " delivered to your email box weekly
Ocassionally when my brother Tom is experiencing a physical ailment (not related to his emotional issues), I sense that the doctor is skeptical of what he is telling him. Why, I think to myself, does the doctor seem to attribute his ailments to his mental dis-ease? Afterall, people with mental illness can also suffer physical ailments aside from their mental diagnosis! Unfortuanatley some doctors don't seem to view the world this way. Well, my brother did end up with an acute appendicitis and spent 1 whole week in the hospital. He had been complaining about this pain but nobody seemed to listen. Shame on us and let this be a lesson about the nature of doctors and perhaps families alike to gloss over complaints from people struggling with mental illnesses.
I am always grateful for the people like Beth Mchugh who take on the medical establishment for the way they sometimes treat and mistreat people who are already diagnosed with mental illness. In her article "Does Your Doctor Not Understand Mental Illness", Mchugh lets us know this is NOT ok to be treated like a "mental case" when there are real ailments lurking behind, despite the diagnosis of mental illness.
In this day of HMO's and hurried care, be aware that this may happen to your loved one and don't buy into it. Advocate for your family member and don't believe that "it's all in her head". Change doctors if necessary. Above all, don't ever settle for a doctor who is not respectful, open and willing to suspend judgment to give you the best care your loved one deserves.
So the challenge for this week is to really listen and tune in the next time your affected family member is telling you something. It could be life saving!
I live a pretty rural area. Some might consider it cosmopolitan but with under 20,000 residents I consider it rural! One of the things I like best about running a home business is being able to jump in the car and run errands on a whim. I just came back from running to the store and post office. The rain was pouring down so I had to dart about -- but the good thing about downpours is that I'm practically the only person in the places I go into so no lines to contend with!
On my way out of the mini plaza where I was, I noticed a little store with lots of "sale" signs. One big one read "Close out sale". Being a former small business operator (of the brick and mortar type) I know the pressures and pitfalls of small businesses in a changing market. This little store rents videos, but of course with Netflix, I can understand there is little room for the family owned small business and why they might be closing down.
The sadness I feel is not unlike what families might feel when someone they love is diagnosed with emotional illness. No matter whether it is depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder etc.. sadness can permeate the family. The old store (or the "former" personality) may be long gone and you feel a longing for better days before the illness was diagnosed. I feel that way about this little store too...... I want things to stay the same but I know they never do and the harder I try to grasp at the "old" ways the more they seem to slip away. Seems the same is true of a family member who suffers from mental illness. The more you yearn for and try to keep the "old" person with you the more dramatic the change can be. Embrace the new situation and yes, of course be sad but know that change is inevitable and the world keeps evolving and we must too in order to thrive instead of just survive. Try to reach out, talk about it, ask for support, know that "this too shall pass" and out of this difficult time a new life will emerge.
And like my little store that is closing, I may not like what replaces it or how I heretofore must purchase videos, but there is something positive that change brings. It forces me to get out of my comfort zone and wake myself up to appreciate all that I do have.
My membership site can be a great place to start. There is a free membership waiting for you........
For the past 5 months I've been collecting survey responses from caregivers -- people dealing with mental illness in the family. I'm astonished at the constant theme of "self blame" and guilt that families feel about the person's illness. Almost universally, the parents feel this blame and guilt although not so much for siblings. Maybe the feelings are more hidden for siblings, I don't know.
So, if as a parent you find yourself in this predicament what are some ways to cope? Well, I cannot speak as a "parent" of someone suffering mental illness, but I do know that keeping yourself "well" is a critical component of self care throughout another's illness.
Top on my list of staying well is establishing boundaries. Although your situation may not change all that much over time, you do have control over keeping the situation in perspective through proper boundaries. Read more about this in my article on Boundaries .
My next favorite way to stay well and keep perspective is to enlist other family members to help in any way they can. For example, if you have a son or daughter who is mentally ill and who lives on their own but needs oversight, enlist family to help! For our family, my mother will take my brother shopping, my sister will clean his apartment regularly and a cleaning lady comes in to do the heavy stuff. It works beautifully. Best of all, it really takes away the guilt!
Finally, you must give weekly attention to your plans for "self care". What are you going to do "today", "this week" to treat yourself well? Will you take a long walk, call a friend or go to the movies. Maybe having a wine party with your favorite friend will keep things in perspective. I don't know what it will be for you but all of these things are ways that I keep myself well and maintain perspective of life and how you cope with your family member's illness.
I am always grateful to those who share their experience. If you would like to take a confidential survey click here: Or, if you prefer to comment at the end of this article, I love hearing from you!
Are you overwhelmed? Do you have trouble with self care? Do you wish you could say "no" more than "yes"? Sign up to receive my FREE audio series on how to set boundaries! This audio series is delivered right to your email box! Click here to sign up.
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If you are a family member who deals with another’s mental illness, chances are your life can get very full and often confusing. I hope this article about healthy boundaries helps.
OK, so your life has changed. Things are a bit different after the diagnosis of a family member’s illness. It could be a daughter with bi-polar, a husband with clinical depression or your own sudden experiences with panic disorder. These circumstances happen every year to millions of Americans and family members -- the “affected others” -- need to adjust and compensate for this new situation.
Presumably, if you are an affected other, you have the professional medical support you need to help your loved one. But you’re realizing that still things do not work as smoothly as they did before. This is hard! Learning how to implement boundaries and raising your personal standards are good ways of “surviving” another’s mental illness. Some things that used to be OK in your life suddenly are just too much. This is to be expected -- but not tolerated. Let’s consider a typical problem that most people face at some time in their life: people who drop by your home without notice.
Some people don’t mind drop-in traffic. However, at some point you may feel overwhelmed by this prospect since you are now dealing with the new challenges of a family member’s mental illness. If you used to be fine with drop-in guests but now find them overwhelming, you may want to implement a new “boundary” to improve your life and reduce your stress.
Without boundaries, you’re constantly tiptoeing around hoping your friend Suzy doesn’t suddenly pop in to “dump” all her woes on you. Caring for and worrying about your own family member can be a 24/7 preoccupation – do you really want to share the little time you may have left with Suzy, on her timetable? Most people fall short in the department of understanding what personal standards and boundaries have to do with “surviving mental illness”. When your life changes after a diagnosis, it is important to review your life and decide which activities are acceptable and which are not. In the above example of allowing friends and neighbors to simply stop by anytime they like, you may feel that this is just too much, given your new circumstances.
Here are my top three reasons to install boundaries:
1. Boundaries will decrease your stress level.
2. Boundaries will allow you to take care of YOU so you have more time to care about and for your family member who is suffering mental illness.
3. Boundaries will set a precedent of honesty and integrity, and free your mind for more important issues.
Here are possible options for dealing with the drop-in traffic:
1. Do nothing. Continue to cope with an open door policy even though you don’t want uninvited guests and feel increasingly angry that people just stop by.
2. Hide in the closet whenever someone knocks, hoping that they’ll eventually give up and miraculously disappear……… until tomorrow.
3. Develop and implement a new boundary. This may seem like a lot of work, but the truth is the amount of energy you spend NOT dealing with this problem is probably doing more to complicate your already complicated life.
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to NYC. I was accompanying my husband, Phil, to a Saturday morning breakfast meeting. He’s Working on an exciting project which requires raising money to bring a new motorcycle to the global market.
Yes, it is exciting to be sure! BUT, as someone who easily supports and gets
excited for someone else’s’ project, I had to ask myself: What things are on my to do list, what goals have I set for myself this year?
Lately I have been very preoccupied with how successful people set and achieve their goals. I'm also reminded of how difficult goal setting and achieving can be in the face of caring about someone suffering mental illness.
In my case, with my very energetic, entrepreneurial husband, If I’m not careful, he can waylay my goals and my focus for achieving things important to me. There are unlimited, and sometimes subtle, distractions which can sabotage my desire to achieve “x”.
And so when I returned home with my husband from an exciting trip to NYC for his business I started yet again feeling taken over by all the excitement of "his" project. So I put myself into action and pulled out my "goals" list that I make annually and started reviewing and refining it .
Goal setting can be a wonderful antidote to feeling overwhelmed and overtaken by another. I say this jokingly but I think women, especially are more prone to taking a back seat to others.
I know goal setting is a universal process and everyone seems to approach it differently, but here is my process for streamlining the goal-setting process.
And so as I return from NYC and all the excitement revolving around my husband’s project, I’m reminded not to become distracted with another’s goal (or someone's illness!). I’ve got my annual goal list in front of me and I’m reviewing and revising the goals I have for myself. I hope you will too because there will never be an optimum time for taking action on things important to you. Now is all you’ve got. So begin your list today!
I hope this inspires you to take some action today………………
I usually take time out each year to size up my life so to speak. I look at my goals, achieved and not, then make a list of all the things that have changed over the year. Usually I am a bit dismayed at the things I never got to but I always surprise myself with the things I did accomplish. But I'm always disappointed by the fact I let my secret dreams disappear in all the daily chaos of simply "surviving".
What I figured out through process of having good years and bad, is that writing my goals down increases dramatically my success rate! Yup, you heard me, simply taking the time to write my goals on a piece of paper and then stash it, increases the probability of success! Sounds easy, well the truth is writing down goals is NOT something most people do. I don't know why, maybe they feel that to write down a bunch of goals is to "see" all the things "they'll never do".
I mention the process of "goal setting" and review because for caregivers this simple activity should become almost a religious experience. Being consistent and true to your life as you try to care for others is probably more important than actually care-giving. It means that as your family member makes his/her way through healing you will continue to make progress in your own life. And this is no small feat when faced with mental health issues of a family member.
Investing in your dreams will improve your ability to give back!
If you are still reading this post you may be interested in joining me for a coaching group -- "Live Life Now!" - This is a goal setting program with the caregiver in mind. If you have forgotten your own dreams and want to resurrect them, join us. The cost is only 47.00 and it begins in October.
Resurrect your dreams now! No one is going to do it for you and if you do nothing, this next year will be much the same as this year. Moving through the fear, and getting back in touch with YOUR dreams is exciting-- don't delay, click above to read on........
If you are a family member who deals with another’s mental illness, chances are your life can get confusing and may need a fresh look at old ways of doing things. This article highlights the process of identifying your biggest problem areas and then makes suggestions for how to fix them.
OK, so your life has changed, things are a bit different after the diagnosis of a family member’s illness. It could be a daughter with bi polar, a husband with clinical depression or your own sudden experiences with panic disorder. These circumstances happen every year to millions of Americans and the “affected others” need to take action in your own life to adjust and compensate for the new situation you find yourself in.
Presumably, you have the professional medical support you need to help your loved one and now you seem out of sorts because things do not work as smoothly as they did before. It is my firm belief that learning how to implement boundaries and raising your personal standards is one way of “surviving” another’s mental illness. What use to be Ok with you has suddenly become a huge problem in your daily life. This is to be expected but not tolerated. Let’s consider a typical problem that most people face at some time in their life: people who drop by your home without notice.
Are you someone you allows drop in traffic at your house? Some people don’t mind this; however, at some point you may feel overwhelmed by this prospect since you are dealing with the serious issue of a family member’s mental illness. You may want to change this policy and implement a new “boundary” to improve your life and reduce your stress.
If you are challenged in your life by a family member's mental illness consider how your environment impacts your ability to meet this challenge with grace and patience. Applying simple groundrules for living well can have a dramatic impact on living well in the face of dealing with another's mental illness. This is especially important to grasp because, like my situation, my brother has been struggling for years with mental illness. And although life goes on, it certainly makes things easier when my own life is in order! One of my all time favorite books is by a professional life coach, Talane Meidener, "coach Yourself to success". This book has a wonderful section on "clean up your act" dealing with clutter, time, organizing and saying "no" more often. Talane has a wonderful way of stating the obvious and this chapter is no exception!
I've read and reread this chapter many times before actually taking any action. It's very interesting how I can collect knowledge, read books, surf the net and have all kinds of good intentions but never DO anyting with the information! Well, I have to say that once I decided to take action and make these things a priority for me, I felt a million times better. So think about how you can improve your home or office by asking a few questions:
Remember, in the face of dealing with another's mental illness, you will need more time, patience and stamina. Improving your environment and making it the best it can be will empower and energize you! Not to mention reducing your stress level and improving your own physical health.
OK , so your loved one is struggling with a mood disorder, mental illness, panic attacks or other emotional illness. What is a caregiver or caring person to do? Well, second on the list after supporting your loved one to seek help and begin to recover is YOU. That's right, your mental health may be in jeopardy living with a person with mental illness issues.
This is no time to be superman or superwoman. There will be ups and downs to the illness, or there may be a quick recovery. In any case you will be looking toward living in an environment of increased stress and anxiety, which could lead YOU to suffer from emotional illness. So here are a few tips to keep focused. Go ahead toggle over to your calendar and put one or two of them in as a "reoccurring " appointment. Don't simply read this blog entry and agree with me, take a simple action today, right now.......I'm watching :)
1. Find ways to deal with or manage your stress. We all have stressful lives but we can manage stress better. Notice when you are feeling overwhelmed and call a "time out". Go out to dinner, get a massage, go visit a friend or exercise.
2. There is strength in numbers. You may feel better if you share your situation with others going through similar things.
3. Allow yourself to accept support . This is often overlooked by caregivers. You are not the only person who can take care of a situation and until you allow others to help and sometimes even reach out and ask for help, you will be alone in your situation. In order to stay healthy yourself you must practice reaching out and allowing others to support you.
4. Mental illness of a family member often causes underlying feelings to surface. Consider doing activities which will allow you to connect with who you are, what makes you happy. Balance this with things which maybe you cannot change. Journaling is one way to be outwardly introspective. Many people have benefited from putting feelings down on paper.
5. Finally, if you are able to ----- volunteer! Now I know you are sitting there thinking that's the last thing you want to add to an already stressful life, BUT, many people report feeling a real sense of purpose and meaning when they become involved in community projects or church activities etc.
So if you are finding your caring role in a state of perpetual cycles without real movement try some of these things to support YOU while living with another's mental illness. Taking care of yourself will only add to your ability to care for someone else.
Well, the time has come for my brother's trek north. His monthly stay with me is something that feels like a burden at times. But overall i'd say that it's a good time to spend time and simply allow him to come to a new place and relax.
What I can't seem to change is my own inner reaction to the thought of his coming to my house for 4 days. I immediately get in the groove of food, trips, and conversation that sometimes end in my being angry. What will I feed him? Where will I take him? How will his mood be? These are all questions that are normal but sometimes I think I'm "getting too old" for this!
So how do I prepare for Tom's trip North?
1. I make sure I give myself a healthy dose of "it's only for a few days.
2. I remind myself how important this trip is for HIM and how it replenishes HIS soul.
3. I make sure I have a working radio where he can listen to the Red Sox --he's a huge fan
4. I line up any odd jobs my neighbors need done in case he wants to earn some extra money (this changes depending on his mood)
5. I make sure to have healthy food in the house and easy cooking meals so as not to add stress about that each day.
I guess the main thing is to try with all my heart to enjoy his company because the truth is, he's very funny, loves sports and I love him. So when all else fails I fall back on these basic truths and forget all the rest! There is no changing mental illness, only your reaction to it -- even then it's a constant struggle.
I recently interviewed Joan, a mother of 9 kids, one of whom has struggled with developmental disabilities as well as emotional illness. Joan speaks about her son's struggles and the cat and mouse games that sometimes come along with mental illness and the medical establishment for family members. However, toward the end of the audio, I'm overwhelmed by her advice. Simple but powerful words of wisdom viewed from the other end of the spectrum. Why oh why do we as family members never embrace the person before us and constantly set the bar for them. Why is it so difficult to accept what we know to be true? What is it that keeps us believing in miracles for our loved one? Probably because we love them, right? Acceptance has helped Joan, but it also might be a sign of just being plain ol' tired of hanging on to that hope for a different outcome of the diagnosed mental illness.
You can hear my conversation with Joan by clicking on the link below -
Letting go of expectations and replacing them with acceptance when someone suffers mental illness can be liberating. No, I didn't say it's easy to embrace the "new" person before you. However, the alternative might just be the beginning of the end for you as an onlooker, caregiver, or family member. When mental illness is in your family and a person suffers with daily living choices because of it, usually our first reaction is to suffer alongside with them. A seemingly natural choice. As the person struggles to get through daily activities sometimes and work through the illness to heal and get to a better place, our desire is to push and poke and Make them get well. We tend to hold onto the old person we knew and fail to "see" the person who is front of us. Perhaps their capacities have changed in light of the illness. Sometimes the desire to set goals and achieve things is put aside in favor of daily existence challenges.
So for people who are faced with a family member's illness I say, try not to set YOUR bar too high for the other person. Attempt to love and accept them daily for the things they achieve. And most importantly keep your own wishes and expectations quiet, share them with a friend but not the person who suffers - they have enough to contend with to get well and heal themselves.
I was speaking with Sally, a long time friend and occasional client the other day. I've known her for over 20 years and I'm always amazed at her determination to "control" and recreate her mother's illness. Her mother has been diagnosed (many years ago) with bi polar disorder and yet she continues to attempt to mold her mother's behavior into something she, Sally can deal with. In the most recent traumatic event, her mother had been arrested with her two grandkids with her at a department store. Well this was a first, having grandkids witness the insipid character flaws the mania sometimes brings with it.
"How could this happen?..... what was she thinking?........ all of these questions along with intense anger ran through Sally's head. The first mistake is thinking that the ill person actually "thinks" about things before plunging in. Many times there absolutely is no thought process, the illness simply takes over.
So what is a single mother of a 5 and 4 year old to do about a mentally ill granny who is wonderful with the kids, loves them dearly? Well a few thoughts I have which are by no means new or novel ideas:
Finally, try not to think of this as the end. There may be a new situation which will allow you to include the person in your life without allowing them any opportunity to put your kids in danger.
It ocurred to me the other day that my mood changes slightly when I know my brother is coming to visit. Why does this always happen? Well for one thing I never really know what kind of mood and frame of mind he'll be in. He could be agitated and talking "ragtime" ( a phrase he uses, not me!) the whole weekend. Or he could be my terrific brother who enjoys the ball game and goes to see a couple movies and maybe even goes to the races with my husband. Yes -- these are all possibilities and yet the spectrum of "possible" behaviours has ME on the defensive and a little unnerved about the negative end of the spectrum.
Family members who live with the emotional ups and downs of their loved one's mental illness have an extra responsibility not to take on the illness of their loved on. As I consider my own subconscious behavior with my brother, I wonder 2 things: 1) Does my subtle behavior affect his behavior?, and 2) can I REALLY do anything to ward off the behavior I'm avoiding with him? I think it's YES and NO, respectively. After considering these factors I decide that for me I will simply take the day as it goes and make plans according to fun and enjoyment instead of "what ifs" and the gloomy thinking of "can'ts and shouldn'ts". Life is about taking risks and sometimes the personal daily risks to get outside my box of thinking and being can be the most challenging.
The other day I was having a conversation with a longtime friend. She happened to mention that a friend of hers was having problems with her son. Apparently he had been committed for observation after admitting he thought about killing himself. The circumstances surrounding this situation sounded more like post graduate, young person angst than clinical depression.... but that certainly is not for anyone but a professional to judge.
Well about 3 minutes into the conversation she proceeded to say that he was diagnosed with bipolar and that he's just a lazy kid and his mother simply thinks he's lazy and shouldn't be taking the prescribed medication, blah, blah, blah. Well, the kicker is that she explained to me that "we all know that bipolar is just schizophrenia anyway...." . Oh my goodness, how much she doesn't know and how certain she is of her knowledge. This type of ignorance happens all the time with many things. My sadness is that without knowing anything she proceeds to counter any possible diagnosis made and encourages her friend to stop the medication!
The first rule of thumb for all of us non certified professionals in the medical field is to stop diagnosing when you/we don't have the experience to make this type of call. Despite the surrounding circumstances, do we really want to put a person in danger because we "think" he's simply lazy? No, I don't think so. What I take away from this experience is that misconceptions and ignorance abound and we must be sure this doesn't keep us from getting the professional advice for the person who suffers from a mental disorder.
The word "lucky" of course is not meant in the traditional sense. But I feel somewhat grateful that my brother is willing to take medication to improve his symptoms that come with his illness. For a great majority of people suffering from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, they might be unwilling to take medication to relieve symptoms. Dr.Peter Melgaard Thompson refers to these people as "non compliant", or those patients who fail to follow doctor's orders. Some may feel that putting foreign substances in their system is not good. However, if they weighed the benefits of relief to "perceived danger" they might come to a different conclusion. Still other people who suffer mental illness decide to take prescribed medication but don't have the best overall improvement or alleviation of symptoms.
What's a family to do? Well quite honestly I do feel "lucky" knowing what the alternatives are for my brother and for us, his family. Don't get me wrong, seeing the side effects he suffers is no picnic, but there again is the benefits to side effects assessment that family members and the person have to weigh. In the end it can be a zero sum game and leave family members a bit discouraged and eyes glazing over. But never give up on what is possible, continue speaking with doctors and therapists about possible alternatives and get as many ideas and support people involved. Sometimes persistence pays off.
Six-year-olds diagnosed and medicated for bi-polar disorder? Prescriptions to keep young children quiet, calm, attentive, cooperative? I’ve been appalled by stories about the growing trend to diagnose children under the age of 10 – and medicate them so they fit better into our lives. This may sound like a rant, but I’m going to try very hard to highlight what I feel is wrong with the rush to diagnose and medicate young kids.
Under no circumstances would I ever agree to medicate my six-year-old because a psychiatrist “thinks” he has bipolar disorder! I’m not discouraging professional help when things are really wrong. But when did we start giving up our own common sense? Why do we now look to the outside professionals first, before making our own assessment and doing everything possible to deal? And why are we surprised that professionals diagnose – that’s their profession! They know parents are stressed and need to be able to control their child. They assume parents have no time to reorganize their lives and family to benefit the child, without having to resort to medication. Yes, many times simply fitting into a professional category of diagnosis is the “guiding” force. It’s so simple it’s seductive. But it’s also premature. Mr. and Mrs. Parent, you are not a victim here, you have other options, and hard decisions to make and implement.
As a stepparent, I experienced many trying times when medicating myself and/or others would have brought great relief! Every reasonable adult knows this. Suffering and stress are part of life, and our society delivers them in unhealthy proportions. But we have choices about how we deal with them. We can act as if this craziness is out of our control and that we just “don’t know how to control little Johnny.” We can look for an outside fix -- a pill to make it go away. Or we can dig deeper. I think the truth is we are less willing to “compromise” our own life -- to look at ourselves, our family, our living situation, the amount of time we spend with our kids, what they are watching on TV – and change what’s outside our child, instead of what’s inside our child. This means taking time, making sacrifices, maybe cutting back at work to be at home more – it means being a parent. Sometimes it’s easier to get a diagnosis and a pill. I have some suggestions for our culture of parents who are racing to get to………. I don’t know, you tell me where you’re going in such a hurry.
Here are my top suggestions to slow the train down and stop the quick fix medications for children:
I'm always amazed at the breadth of “emotional wellness issues”, a.k.a. mental illness, present in our society. Recently, at a social gathering, I was speaking with a young man who told me he was quite anxious about things. Over the next hour it was evident that his anxiety caused problems for him, both in his personal life and at work. Despite this evidence, he said he knew how to "manage" it. I mention this because whenever people talk about "mental illness" they often are embarrassed about their pain and trouble coping. And people listening go into a sort of contortion with their face, shrink away like they might "catch" something, or simply don't engage in the conversation out of fear and ignorance.
Severe anxiety is classified as mental illness and, like many other mental illnesses, can interfere with living a full, enjoyable life. If you live with someone who suffers anxiety or panic disorder, you know the angst they feel, and you’ve seen how that person’s life – and the lives of everyone around them – is altered in various ways to accommodate the person's illness.
The fact is many, many people suffer from various mental dis-eases which cause significant problems in their lives. Consider the man above. His inability to socialize with ease and constant worry prior to going to social gatherings cause him ongoing distress. Since he was not currently seeking "help," I offered to send him some information he might find useful, including therapists specializing in cognitive behavioral strategies as well as visualization. Mental illness can improve with attention, just like any other illness or medical condition.
Later that week he thanked me. He said he gets so wrapped up in himself and his problems that he forgets there are people and resources out there that could ease his anxiety and improve his life. I think that is true for most of us. Yes, there’s a lot of support out there, and many good people just waiting to help us feel better.........
The more we persist in pushing difficult things away, they more they reappear in our lives. Here’s an example. When working with a client recently, I learned that her greatest fear was telling the truth to her husband. Her truth revolved around her need for time alone, improved communication between them, and more intimacy. Her fear was that if she asked for these things directly, her husband would think she was just "being a woman," or that she was needy. She was most afraid that he’d say "no" to her requests. Of course, all of that is possible, since we can’t control how someone will react to our requests. However, it’s also possible that her husband might react well. By saying nothing, she would never know. Ultimately, being true to one’s own feelings and truth is what matters. Even in the worse case, you are being open and honest. You might not get what you want, but fear is not ruling your life. The idea of being open and honest with a family member with mental illness stirs up a similar kind of fear. Most caregivers weigh the relief they "might" get from sharing their thoughts and feelings, with the "guilt" they might feel from burdening their loved one with mental illness. All that speculation can be downright paralyzing. Is saying nothing out of fear fair to either of you? Just because a person suffers mental illness does not mean you cannot have frank communication in a kind, gentle manner. In fact, it's good for the soul, provided your loved one is getting the help they need and you are being supportive. You see by keeping quiet, you’re also removing the other person's free will to respond. Who really knows how they might react? You’re insinuating your internal dialogue on them, without giving them a chance to listen and have their own reaction. I'd say that's a tad unfair.............
The more we persist in pushing difficult things away, they more they reappear in our lives. Here’s an example. When working with a client recently, I learned that her greatest fear was telling the truth to her husband. Her truth revolved around her need for time alone, improved communication between them, and more intimacy. Her fear was that if she asked for these things directly, her husband would think she was just "being a woman," or that she was needy. She was most afraid that he’d say "no" to her requests. Of course, all of that is possible, since we can’t control how someone will react to our requests. However, it’s also possible that her husband might react well. By saying nothing, she would never know. Ultimately, being true to one’s own feelings and truth is what matters. Even in the worse case, you are being open and honest. You might not get what you want, but fear is not ruling your life.
The idea of being open and honest with a family member with mental illness stirs up a similar kind of fear. Most caregivers weigh the relief they "might" get from sharing their thoughts and feelings, with the "guilt" they might feel from burdening their loved one with mental illness. All that speculation can be downright paralyzing. Is saying nothing out of fear fair to either of you? Just because a person suffers mental illness does not mean you cannot have frank communication in a kind, gentle manner. In fact, it's good for the soul, provided your loved one is getting the help they need and you are being supportive. You see by keeping quiet, you’re also removing the other person's free will to respond. Who really knows how they might react? You’re insinuating your internal dialogue on them, without giving them a chance to listen and have their own reaction. I'd say that's a tad unfair.............
Well, Easter was not the relaxing get together I anticipated. Usually there are about 30 people including immediate family, in laws. Sometimes the emotion of joining all this family together is too much for Tom, my brother who struggles with mental illness. Most of the time he is excited and very "into" the day laughing and enjoying being with his family.... being part of something that feels good. Many times those suffering mental illness are isolated and in some cases forgotten about.
For some reason yesterday was different. He was angry and crying and talking nonsense about the neighbors and needing to move to Florida (a thought he frequently goes back to when life is unfair). Like most family gatherings, my sister and I are the ones who "notice" Tom's frame of mind and attempt to "redirect". As Tom was sitting there, my sister on one side and me on the other he seemed to be relishing the attention. My sister's approach is to reaffirm our love for him and tell him he's not moving away from us because we love him. His tears keep coming and he seems to get more agitated. Meanwhile we have a double birthday party going on and a potential explosion simmering in the corner 5 feet away.
So, the only thing that came to my mind was my own desire to have Tom keep his end of a bargain I make with him. He keeps on the straight and narrow, shaving, being nice to neighbors, getting on his bike etc., in exchange for him coming to my house for 4 days every other month. I'm not proud about it but, yes, i did pull it out of my "trick box". I said, "Tom, we have a deal. This is not a day for you to start all this, not on Easter. If you're not willing to keep your end of the bargain than I'll have to rethink our agreement". To which he quickly seemed brighter and less concerned with his tears and said "I'm keeping my end of the bargain, I am."
Of course this tiny "threat" is something we as parents and human beings might use as a last resort. But for Tom it seems to bring him back to what's important to him, coming to my house for fun, relaxation etc. Of course this is not the end of my job. For the next 15 minutes or so as Tom mingles with people I quietly bump up behind him and say "not today, not on Easter" when I hear him going back into his downward spiral with someone else.
He seemed to get progressively better by not being "allowed" to digress and being redirected to talk and think about other things. So when I left the party, I have no idea what will happen, but what I do know is that he was looking forward to his next visit as he said to me "so Mary you'll call me in 4 weeks so I can come up ..." . "Yes I will if you keep your end of the bargain. For now I feel like i've won a small battle but the nagging sense that he lives on the verge of these ups and downs is heart breaking but I guess, "It is what it is" as Patriots coach, Bill Belicheck always says.
“Yard by yard, everything is hard. Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch”
I find amazing clarity and newfound energy after cleaning my office and organizing files. Sounds kind of simple, but the truth is caring for the space we live and work in profoundly impacts our ability think clearly, act rationally, and generally feel better about life. I know when I take the time to dress well and put on make-up before facing the day, I feel like I can take on the world. Well, the same thing happens for me when I prepare my environment, and have things around me that add to my life, instead of detract.
Is your home the best it can be? This doesn’t mean fancy or perfect – it means a living space where you feel nourished instead of drained. Write down the things that are not so pleasing to you. Maybe it’s the kid’s messy room or the T.V. blaring 24-7. Maybe it’s a disorganized workspace or even the idea of friends dropping by unannounced. You don’t have to have House & Garden home in order to make your home a beautiful retreat. Make a list and little by little make your space and the way you use it pleasing to you.
It is true that taking care of your environment won’t change the fact that you have a family member living with mental illness. But it can empower and energize you. Creating a calm, clean, organized environment can provide the mental rest and inner resources you need to face this ongoing challenge.
Here are a few of my suggestions for simplifying your life:
Imagine walking into your kitchen and there are files all over the counter, a week’s worth of newspapers, and old mail piles on the kitchen table. Picture having to pay bills or get ready for a meeting in that space. Does that energize you? I know it would make me feel like running back to bed or out the door! Having a tidy, welcoming place to conduct your life is important.
How awful that we seem to allow our ability to laugh and enjoy things to be usurped by a diagnosis of another's "mental dis-ease". True, it is not a funny thing to be sure. However, our ability to laugh, live and learn in the midst of this difficulty is the very thing that will move you forward. Laughter is a remedy for many things. So try relinguishing the power you'd like to have over the situation and find something funny to laugh at today.
"Getting through the night is becoming harder and harder. Last evening, I had the uneasy feeling that some men were trying to break into my room to shampoo me. But why? I kept imagining I saw shadowy forms, and at 3 a.m. the underwear I had draped over the chair resembled the kaiser on roller skates. When I finally did fall asleep, I had the same hideous nightmare in which a woodchuck is trying to claim my prize at a raffle. Despair."
The truth is, years ago I may not have been able to laugh at this quote. But it feels so much better to be honest and be able to laugh at something if I think it's funny. If you've been avoiding "laughing" and doing enjoyable things because you feel guilty that your family member still suffers, get over yourself and do it anyway, you'll be very glad you pushed yourself!
I was cleaning out my office this week and came across some papers from a class I took while in the counseling program. It simply amazed me how the quotes and things jumped off the page. I seem to remember that it was just "another packet" of classroom information....... I was simply too busy and rushed with "life" to appreciate this wonderful packet of the professor's many years of teaching and wisdom. But the seeds were planted and when I read these quotes now, some 5+ years later, I understand more than ever about their power and meaning.
Below is a quote that is especially relevant, I think, to family members dealing with another's mental dis-ease. . . . .
"The recovery of your sick or return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you.
Do not believe it.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
I know it seems "out there" to find peace in the midst of turmoil but the more things change the more they stay the same.... who said that? I'm not sure but the reality of a mental illness diagnosis can be life altering and maybe focusing on one's own growth and development can show us the way. Facing the truth and not being afraid of the situation or who we are can be liberating. I've been there and understand the challenge, but I can tell you it is a worthwhile endeavor. (Thanks, Dave!)
Millions of people suffer various types of mental dis-ease. The National Institutes of Mental Health classifies mood disorders; panic disorders; agoraphobia; anxiety disorders; asperger's (ASD's) eating disorders; ADHD; suicide; schizophrenia; social phobias; alsheimers' and autism all under the umbrella of mental disorders. If you think about the millions of people who suffer, my guess is that the number is triple the number of "affected others" trying to help the person or living with the person who suffers mental illness. As a family member, it is important to get the best information available and not to avoid the topic of mental illness. The implications can be far reaching both for the person who suffers and the family. Educating yourself on the mental illness is one way to take control of your situation even if you cannot change the diagnosis. The worse thing you can do is ignore the signs and think "it will pass". Get the facts, get professional assistance as needed and get educated. Many times treating a disorder early will keep it from turning into a more serious problem. The clearest example I can think of is depression. If not treated the person can turn to suicide. Although there are no guarantees that treatment will stop suicide, knowing that you have the chance to keep someone alive is all the information you need to take action. Read more about each of the mental illnesses and statistics on the US population affected by it.
........ as a special bonus, you will receive a 3-month membership to my Circle of Support!
Have you noticed the feeling of aloneness that seems to sink in after the person has visited the therapist, psychiatrist and other professionals? You know that feeling that you and your family are "alone" with this diagnosis and what if "x" happens? Then again, what if the person decides to go off their medication which is helping them? These are but a few of the questions that surface time and again for families dealing with someone's mental illness.
Call to Action!
Conduct the family meeting:
This is the first step at getting your life in order after the diagnosis. I urge you not to simply keep the diagnosis a "secret" from the "children" - or to be brave and deal with it alone. Including the family in the diagnosis and treatment plan models responsible behavior and takes away the stigma so often associated with mental illness, like depression or bipolar disorder.
Don't wait, start now. Your life is altered but certainly not over, just as it might be with a physical diagnosis --- down but not out as they say. By having a family meeting and following these steps toward communicating with family members your feelings of empowerment will soar. You will not change the diagnosis but you will clearly articulate the problem, discuss what has been advised by professionals, and discuss the impact on the family and strategies for supporting the family as life continues forward.
I've called my e-workbook: "After the Diagonis" because this can be the most difficult time -- as one friend referred to it "where the rubber meets the road" . The time when all the conversation and professionals have discussed and prodded and set up their best guess at a treatment plan. In my experience many things happen after this phase is done. And in fact, the professional advice continues presumably throughout the life of the mental illness.
What is missing is a strategy for families, a roadmap for dealing or living life again after the diagnosis. There will be changes, grief and loss, anger, boundary issues and downright confusion on just how to go on. Segment One of my workbook is targeted toward this time in a family's transition. This workbook is a step by step guide for conducting a successful family meeting, the goal of which is to acknowledge, understand and move the family forward in the face of another's mental illness.
What you will have once you complet this Meeting Planner workbook?
This book is comprised of 26 pages of worksheets, communication tips, a meeting planner and a strategy sheet to focus the problem at hand and get the family involved and feeling empowered about the situation.
For an interesting meta sight for anyone whose life is touched by mental illness....click here. I was perusing this sight and saw one of my articles picked up and posted. So of course I wandered around and yes they offer some interesting points of view. As I was meandering through the internet files of bloggers and mental illness I was astounded at the volume of people blogging about their own struggle with mental illness. In comparison I found very very few bloggers who are "caregivers" or family members of mentally ill people.
What I find so intriguing is the fact that blogging seems to be a wonderful outlet and creative form of expression for the mentally ill person. And in fact many of the blogs offered a beautiful artistic presentation unlike blogging in general. Why are so many people who struggle with mental illness blogging ? Well, not unlike other people, they have an instant community of people facing similar challenges. Sharing their thoughts and having others affirm their feelings with their own stories can be a way to stay connected.
Why, I wonder did I not find many of the "caregivers" or family members blogging? I suspect their plight, although clearly of a different sort, is equally compelling. Blogging can be a wonderfully slightly anonymous way to vent, have fun, be creative, and let loose in your own home. This can be a quick antidote to the chronic, often long term situation with mental illness in the family. In addition, the health benefits of journaling (or blogging) seem clear. Click here to read about the health benefits of journaling.
So for those of us dealing with a family member's mental illness, this is good news that blogging is so popular. --- maybe your loved one could benefit from blogging. All it takes is 4.95/month and away you go into the blogosphere. And what are the benefits? Well, read some of the blogs and feel the energy, release, pain and pleasure that is put out there. It's really not for us to judge what the benefits might be. Our job is to keep an open mind and assist the ill person toward wellness. And don't forget your own blogging potential...... it can be good for the soul!.
Throughout my childhood my brother Tom took up much of the family energy due to his mental illness. It wasn't his fault or ours, it just happens that way in families. As I think back on how my parents dealt with the challenges there are things I think they could do better. Hindsight is 20/20, I know, and they did the best they could but for families in crisis there are always improvements to be made.
Here are 5 ways to improve the family situation in the face of a member dealing with mental dis-ease.
In the end, there are many challenges families face if there is mental illness in the mix. Be proactive, realize this is manageable, and keep others involved in the process.
Why, I wonder is it such a dirty little secret if we nurture our beings? You know the little twinge of guilt you feel telling your husband or wife you did something nurturing. I typically choose one type of activity that nurtures me like massage therapy, or lately my choice is Reiki therapy. Whatever it is, somehow I always feel slightly guilty and non deserving of basking my body and spirit in something which renews me. Sounds a bit crazy even as I type these words.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way says it this way:
"Any little bit of experimenting in self-nurturance is very frightening for most of us."
Well, whether or not it is in fact a frightening prospect, if you are a family member living with another's mental illness, it is required activity. The option of not "tending to the self" can lead to serious conditions for you. Burnout is one thing that can happen. You see, despite the pain of healing from mental illness, you too have revovering and healing in different ways. That healing requires energy and nurturance.
Are you up for the "self care" challenge?
And so the challenge for this week is for you to pick something to nurture your soul. Think about what you enjoy - bubble baths, golf, antiquing, visiting friends or having tea with yourself. Whatever it is just schedule it and go do it. Put the activity in your planner, make arrangements for someone to join you if you like, and go!
How do I start the life coaching process?
Contact me to schedule an appointment for a Discovery session, which is the initial, structured session that forms the foundation of our work to follow (during the Discovery session we will explore values, focus areas and goals). Then we can decide what kind of schedule would work best for you.
What types of services do you offer?
1. 1 on 1 Coaching with me
2. Group Coaching
3. Mary's Circle
4. Coach on Call
What makes personal life coaching so convenient and yet powerful?
Life coaching can be conducted on the phone in the convenience of your home or office. Realizing that we all have full and busy lives using the phone and internet (email, instant messaging and on line support rooms) make receiving on going support and educational opportunities readily available without travel. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
How do the words partner, collaborate, and alliance help define life coaching?
As a personal coach, I view each and every client as creative, resourceful and whole, thus being capable of setting and reaching goals and finding your own answers. I do ask lots of questions to keep us focused, however! Our coaching relationship is a designed alliance and you get to "design the coach" based on your own personality style and needs. Your goals, needs and dreams comprise the agenda and you set the tone for each coaching call. As your partner, I will always see and point out your greatness and potential, even when you lose sight of it.
How is life coaching different from counseling and psychotherapy?
Life coaching deals with the present and future. It does not examine the past but instead creates your future. Many of my clients have found the coaching I provide to be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. Counseling and psychotherapy usually deal with problems and healing. It entails working with the past as well as the present. Also, life coaching is not considered a mental health service per se and is therefore not covered by health insurance.
What are the advantages to working with a life coach whose background is in counseling?
I really understand people and the dynamics of change. I am warm, wise and non-judgmental; I have good intuition and insight and make all my skills and wisdom available through coaching you. When I coach, personal growth happens.
How is personal life coaching different from consulting?
As a personal life coach, I help you find your own answers. People are more likely to take action if it is something they themselves have come up with and not been told to do. A consultant is an expert who dispenses advice and has all the answers. I do not give advice per se but do problem-solve and brainstorm with you.
I recently took an old book off the shelf. I remember when I bought it 5 years ago -- it was a present for my mother but I decided to get one for myself too! The book is a gem and is layed out so you can read a "pick me up" each day of the year. I frequently give this book to my clients as a reminder of the simple joys that many of us miss in our daily life. Simple pleasures are just that "simple" but their ability to transform the day or a soul is limitless.
The book, "Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy" by Sara Ban Breathnach, is a wonderful reminder of how to recover and nourish your authentic self. For some reason the lessons in the book seem even more poignant for caregivers who have more trouble than most tending to their own needs. So pickup the book and leave it on your coffee table to read with the morning paper. A bit of nourishment along with ever present world and family problems is a good bet.
I recently tried to convince my brotherTom to retire after many years of working many jobs. His employement history truly was a family affair. Most mental illness in the family affects everyone and ours is no different. Whether the illness is depression, phobias, or, in our case, schizoaffective disorder, employement is always a struggle. For the lucky one medication helps them live a full life. For Tom it was never that easy. He went through special training and caseworkers and wonderfully supportive work sites. Demoulas/market basket was very good to him overlooking his little problems.
Well, after many years of being a supportive sister and family member, I think it's time to throw in the towel and have Tom retire. You see, even though Tom says he wants to work, it never quite ends up that way. He goes to work for weeks then everything seems to colapse and he begins his routine of being late, not going, not wanting to do the assigned tasks, saying how stupid it is etc.. My husband and I even tried a few years ago to train and hire him to work with us in the diner, but it was not a good ending. My husband was heart broken.
While it is true that his life could be more "enjoyable" if he had a job, his life is not so bad. It consists of watching tv, visits with family members and trips to the movies. We also bought him a bike which he seldom uses. But I know he wants more. And this "more" is simply being part of something and contributing something. He was always so proud of his paychecks when he got them. And of course he complained all the time about his job(s) but so does half the population!
So I guess asking Tom to retire is our way of helping the family deal with the employment problem. If he doesn't work than we don't have to worry if he shows up clean shaven and looking spiffy. So you see, in effect, we have somewhat orchestrated his retirement because our lives are also worth living and at some point the exhaustion factor and reality sets in. And the truth is, it's a full time job to keep him in a job. Sor for now it's Red Sox Nation and day trips with your family members. We love you "T" but it's time to retire. Is there something you've been holding onto with a family member? Holding on to a desired outcome that just simply will never be........ let go it feels good.
It is so interesting to me how my reactions have changed over time. When I was a teenager my brother's fits and outbursts use to throw me for a loop. Now years later I understand the ebb and flow of mental illness and how it goes. I guess there's one good thing about growing older:) .
Recently my big brother Tom or "t" as we affectionately call him was hospitalized for his gallbladder. He had never been in the hospital for a "medical" non mental illness related problem so this was quite a trip for him. Luckily we were able to secure him a private room so he could feel more comfortable. I went to see T on the third day of his stay. He didn't say much, which for him is unsusual. I could tell he was frightened, laying in his bed very stiffly not wanting to move for fear of pulling stitches out or causing harm to all the attachments to his body.
T started talking about "papa bear" (my deceased father) and how he had been in this room during many illnesses. He continued reminiscing and then broke into tears. I got the feeling he was seeing his own mortality as he lay there in bed recuperating from minor surgery. Although slightly more complicated due to his obesity. I wanted to go over and reassure him that everything would be ok and soon he'd be home. But somehow I felt his angst and couldn't really say anything except, "it's ok T, let it out". He sobbed for a few minutes and then abruptly stopped. Sometimes, even as caregivers to those who need comforting -- we come up short. In this case his suffering seemed more of the kind that all humans feel from time to time despite having a "mental illness diagnosis" .
My brother Tom has a new caseworker. This is always something I dread since they usually don't read the file or ask any questions. Instead this caseworker immediately assesses his situation and deem him fit for employment. Not only that, she says, "I've talked to the psychiatrist in our office (who is not Tom's psychiatrist) and he thinks we can change his medications to reduce the "ruminations".
Well, I love my brother and I respect the people trying to help him. Only trouble is my family and I have been living with Tom and trying to help him for 40 years! Although I know the case worker means well, sometimes the energy and passion is misplaced. I'm the last one to "give up" on Tom, however, there are natural limitations of his illness that have to be dealt with here. And having a new caseworker jumping in trying to "solve" issues that are oh so not "solvable" is really more overwhelming than the mental illness itself.
Am I striking a cord with anyone about chronic mental illness? Do you ever get tired by the "up beat" let's "fix 'em" attitude. Of course, I know better than anyone that the medication changing can be dangerous and detrimental to his well being before we see any "possible" improvement.
Weighing the pros and cons of proposed game plans should always be assessed but not necessarily implemented. Families are usually the best gage of whether to implement a professional's game plan or not. Go slowly, use your common sense and believe in your own judgment. Science and professionals are but one piece of the puzzle.
Wow, I feel so much better today. I've been feeling pretty blah for a while now, thinking maybe a touch of the flu or maybe a touch of winter blues. I went to my Reiki appointment. Yes, you heard me, Reiki, a wonderfully relaxing energy enhancing traditional technigue. I've been going to my Reiki Master for a couple of years now and really enjoy the sense of well being it seems to bestow upon me. Like all things good for me I tend to slip into old habits and I stopped going for some months. Yesterday was a tough sell, I really didn't want to go. But I forced myself, yep, "out, out, out you go" I said to myself. And you know what? Today, the morning after my treatment my entire being and perspective is feeling great today. My body feels more relaxed and I feel great that I did something for me. As a caregiver you do have to force the envelope sometimes but do it for YOU. Your life will be there when you return.
When you care about someone suffering from a mood disorder, taking care of yourself can be a challenge. Mood disorders run the gamut from chronic and clinical depression to panic disorders and bi-polar disorder. In addition to the stress of caregiving, family members have the added burden of trying to avoid the "isolation factor” that is part and parcel of mental illness. It’s easy to see how this happens. Caregivers often believe nobody knows how they feel, or that things will never be ok. When you do have a morsel of time, you may be too down, feeling unsocial, or even tired to do the things you enjoy. Sometimes your only option is socializing with the person affected by mental illness, which may not feel like much of a restful break.
Since mental illnesses can be both chronic and cyclical, it is important to be kind to yourself, as the caring family member. You need to take care of yourself whenever you can – and even when you think you can’t. "Self Care" is a phrase widely used by personal coaches and refers to making your "self" a priority. This can be challenging for caregivers who frequently forget themselves as they care for the ill person. Caregivers especially, are prone to thinking of themselves as an afterthought, if at all. Neglecting yourself over time can result in adverse consequences for the caregiver, including burnout, shame, increased stress, and anger, in addition to isolation. Being proactive to stay well is important to avoiding these consequences – even if the ways you express self care are minimal, they add up to keep you healthy. Here are some ideas for taking time for your "self," to help you to keep on giving.
As a caregiver and someone who is watching a loved one struggle with a mood disorder, figuring out if and how to involve alternative therapies is one more challenge.
Alternative therapies – techniques that usually fall outside of the realm of conventional treatment -- is a hot topic for many traditional therapists and psychiatrists. It is certainly true that traditional therapy and medication or a combination thereof have provided relief for many suffering mental disease. Yet a great many other affected people don’t receive the relief they seek. And the truth is we don't know how many people are actually "cured" or "healed" from traditional therapies. Perhaps this is why alternative therapies have assumed a place alongside conventional healing modes. In fact, they are also called “complimentary” therapies because they are often utilized in concert with traditional approaches.
Have you ever noticed people in your life who have a unique ability to get you to revolve around them? At every turn it seems you are quick to rearrange your life so as not to "make waves". Maybe you think it's the best way to keep "the peace". Well, as we all know too well,keeping the peace comes at a price. In order to have the stamina to make it to the end and in one piece, it's necessary to stop revolving around others, despite the fact it might be "easier". Does any of this resonate with you? I know in my own life, dealing with my brother, Tom, I have acquired the ability to simply solve and fix problems. Well, this is not too healthy and can have negative consequences on others, giving them a false sense of security and heaping more responsibility on yourself than needs to be. "Stop the insanity!" I say. There are healthy, effective ways to be a loving caregiver without giving in to the pressures of taking the easy route at first.
Click Here to receive my 10 tips for being a healthy giver!
Sometimes I feel like I'm flying blind when I don't have enough information or the support I need at work or at home. I know that to be my best I need to have 3 things : information, a plan and the proper support. No surprise there, I guess. Well, it's no different when dealing with a person who is diagnosed with depression or other mental illness. The three steps toward organizing your situation might look something like this:
By now you know my brother, Tom. Tom suffers from schizoaffective disorder. I have Tom come to my house every couple of months to stay for a few days. During his last trip to my house he seemed to have a good time, it was pretty normal and "without incident". In fact, he seemed to have a wonderful time. I treated him to healthy soups and salads and we watched (or rather HE watched) slice 'em and dice 'em movies all weekend. He loves really scary things! Me? I'm afraid of the dark... so we agree to disagree.
Well, about a day after I dropped him back at his house after staying with me, he apparently started acting out. Due to his mental illness, Tom sometimes starts ranting and raving about things in a somewhat threatening manner. I won't go into details but my mother was able to calm him down after a while. She immediately called me to ask "how was Tom up at your house?" -- I think she was secretly searching for a reason for this sudden outburst of activity. No such luck..... I told her Tom had a great time. I wonder what we'd do if we found a connection between his trip to my house and his sudden rage. That probably wouldn't change the fact that he simply had a bad day and acted out. The ups and downs of mental illness can be perplexing and painful. I'm not sure how many years we've been going through this with Tom, but the truth is: sometimes there is not reason for his "bad days". And quite frankly, I think he deserves to have them once in a while. I certainly wouldn't want someone watching over me wondering why I act the way I do sometimes!!
My big brother, Tom, has challenges beyond my understanding. He struggles with schizoaffective disorder. Although I've never looked up his "diagnosis" in the official record of mental illnesses, the DSM, I know he has problems. I know this by his fixations on seemingly benign things that happened 20 years ago. Or the threats he might make from time to time to family members who love him.
Tom goes through cycles, ups and downs, which is typical for people suffering some types of mental dis-ease like schizoaffective or bi polar disorder. Despite his struggles, my parents have always required Tom to work and forge ahead as best he can. I lost track of the jobs he's had, mainly because there have been so many!
Over the years my siblings and I have taken on various roles in his life. Most of us have simply drifted away from him ignoring his desire to spend time with each of us. My hunch is that many "affected others" ignore and stay away because they don't understand the illness or they feel compelled to "do" something to make "it" better. It can be very challenging and frustrating for the caregiver/ or affected other to interact with the person without feeling overwhelmed.
There are ways to stay connected to or participate in the life of someone struggling with mental dis-ease. My top 5 list includes:
It was sunday and time for my big bro, Tom to go home after his respite in NH. This is the part of his stay that I dread most. He sleeps until I wake him up, usually around 11:: am or later, then he begins the slow process of getting his clothes and bag together. I usually incentivize (is this a word?) this activity with "Tom, if you can get ready in 3 minutes we'll have time to stop at Dunkins". Ohhhh I hear him say followed by, "ok". And sure enough I only have to say one more time "Tom are you ready?" and down the stairs he comes. As difficult as it is to see how Tom's life plays out in his struggle with schizoaffective disorder, it is, I'm quite sure more difficult for me to accept the fact that no matter what I do I can't improve or change his life. BUT, what I strive to do is do little things like providing incentives to keep ME sane. Such is the way with children sometimes --- you can either constantly tell them what NOT to do or you can provide incentives for reaching the goal. I feel tricky sometimes but the alternative is to make Tom feel worse by me directing and yelling at his every move. Of course I can tell you first hand that this approach doesn't work for him or me. I end up feeling like a ogre and a failure for not being able to control my temper and who knows how he ends up feeling, but it can't be good. And so, as I drop him off at his one bedroom apartment, he gets out of the car and struggles in the back seat for his bags. I fight the urge to yell "don't pull that over that or you'll spill your tea!" Instead he gets the bags out without incident and my blood pressure recedes. As he ambles down the walkway I'm feeling that old twinge of failing him. Yes, it still comes back and when it does I have to consciously remind myself of the importance of simply BEING with Tom instead of DOING anything that I think might change him.