Lifeboats

I want to talk about living with mental illness. Not a poetic, romanticised picture. Not a personal log to spark empathy or pity; but what you might notice when you live with someone who struggles with their mental health.

Let’s split it into stages, let’s keep it anonymous, let’s generalise a really specific and internalised experience, within a family unit. Before I begin, let it on the record that I’m not a professional, I’m not in anyway trying to turnover the work in which goes into unpacking an individual’s experience. Do not read this and think I for one second, know anything for sure.

This is from the outside looking in. Coming from love. From hurt and exhaustion, but mostly from love. This is not advice on how to react. Nor is it in any way, an attempt to demonise a very common matter. I don’t think that mental illness is beautiful, I think it’s testing and painful. More often than not the people going through their own problems, and the people that can only look on; they get stuff wrong. Really wrong.

In speaking on these experiences, I hope you might resonate. I hope you know you aren’t alone. If you are someone or love someone that’s having issues with their mental health; here’s a few simplified examples of what I’ve experienced living alongside a person, who sometimes can’t see past their illness.

Irritability

Some days it’s subtle, other times the slighted attitude turns into rage. I would often consider the smallest of details so not to rock the boat. However, I’ve come to terms with the notion that this is not about the room one walks into. It’s usually about the repression of feelings one can no longer ignore, that one falls into.

Distance

This is a split between distance from what one is known to do; and distancing oneself from people who truly know them. Sometimes you might not see them for days, and they’re just down the hallway. Sometimes they have entire sides of themselves you weren’t introduced to, purely because each facet taps into a different state of mind.

Anxiety

I really wanted to title this preoccupation. This might be considering every detail of a hypothetical. Reading into or misreading a situation on a very deep and triggering level. Projection into the future and causing worry, or some days dwelling on the past. Anxiety takes both physical and nine physical forms, both of which I’ve watched and it took so long for me to feel like I was empowered to be helpful and empathetic.

Guilt

Whether it is tangible reasoning behind it or not. Guilt is an incredibly consuming process. For the person I love this is a major gateway to shame, distance or repression of emotions. Guilt (along with all of the stages stated) can be experienced, and an individual without mental health issues will have the tools to process and unpack those feelings in a way someone whose struggling may not.

Personally to watch someone ashamed or uncomfortable with their choices, is an incredibly hard thing to do. When I as an onlooker can’t change the circumstances in which someone might feel guilt, I am at a loss for how I can speak on it convincingly.

Rebuilding

The hardest part of persevering through the lows, is trying to be present in the highs. In the thick of rough patches, I find myself in the wrong mind set as a support person. Watching someone you love, enjoy themselves and live their truth, should be rewarding. Don’t feel guilty about considering how long this might last, I do. I consider what triggered their high in the first place- is it a sustainable source of fulfilment?

Try to remember that while mental illness often feels all engulfing, there is so much more to the person you love. Although the bad days seem so draining and testing for everyone involved. That person you keep fighting for, they are an entire universe of good things, along with the challenging.

Remember to try your hardest not to take things personally, to allow distance within reason. To allow feelings to be felt, for moments to be had; but that this illness is not the end of us. Remember to take care of yourself, you cannot pour love from an empty cup.

This is not the extent of mental illness as an experience. I don’t have a degree in social work. It’s just a daughter, grand daughter, sister, aunt, friend- loving the people who give her so much joy and purpose. It’s loving the people in my life for everything they have to offer, the good and the bloody hard to handle some days.

It’s a call out to anyone whose reading thats been pushed away or attacked or genuinely confused by what just happened; yet you call back. You visit once more. You still go home with your significant other. You make your parent a cup of tea and close their bedroom door, so they can have space. You still ask your mate to coffee again, the following week.

Keep on loving, as hard as you can, unconditionally. Keep on taking care of one another.

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