Do you ever think that as a caregiver, you are living in an alternate reality? That the world is going on around you but you feel entirely disconnected from it?  You live from day-to-day dealing with the ups and downs and highs and lows of your loved one’s journey through mental illness and it seems like a never-ending battle. Some days you just want to cry.

I love this quote by the Blessed Mother Teresa known for her humility and honesty. She once said, ” I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”
If you care for someone with a severe mental illness, you have felt like that more than a few times. As caregivers for the mentally ill, we handle many day-to-day issues for our loved ones until they get well.  We pay bills, order and pick up medications, set up appointments, do banking, provide housing, get counselling in place – the list goes on. It’s not easy.  And when we think everything is going fine, and he or she is managing,  we relax and then out of the blue,  we find ourselves helping him or her deal with another crisis. A financial issue, an emotional issue, a poor choice made,  a workplace problem, medication that is no longer working –  it never seems to stop.

How do we find the strength to deal with the stress?  Psychologists are there to help our loved ones, but they seem to have little time to help us understand what is going on in our loved ones’ heads. We are told to be supportive and that by being there for those who are ill, we will help tremendously in their recovery, which is true. But in the meantime, we put our lives on hold, sometimes for years.

Ignorance on the subject of mental illness is common. But I have found that even though we are overwhelmed with our role as caregiver at times, talking about it really helps. One evening, I gave a talk at my church about how mental illness had affected my life. People in the audience were in tears.  Finally someone who understood was addressing an issue they’d been afraid to talk about.  Two people who had never told anyone about their battles with depression, came and talked to me. Another had a son living with schizophrenia. She had never had anyone to talk to. So don’t be afraid to tell  your story. Tell others about what you are going through. Once people know your story, they can be amazingly supportive.  And even though we feel very alone in our alternate reality at times; we aren’t.

On September 22nd, we stressed out caregivers and our loved ones living with mental illness got some good news. Bell renewed its commitment to their “Bell Let’s Talk” campaign for a further five years with a minimum of $100 million in total funding for mental illness.

So, keep the conversation going.  And don’t just talk. Act.  Politicians need to legislate changes to make our lives as caregivers easier and to facilitate recovery for our loved ones.  I’ve attended seminars on mental health.  We are often asked for suggestions on how to make the system work better, but few of the suggestions ever seem to be acted upon. We need to listen to the front line mental health workers, too. They are doing their best, but we can help them do so much more.

About Bonita O'Neill

Bonnie O'Neill is a 67-year-old retired elementary school teacher from Ontario. At the age of 60, she began a seven-year journey - caring for her 26-year-old son who had just been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. This blog documents that journey. She loves to knit and finds that living with someone with schizophrenia is a lot like knitting. Sometimes your work is wonderful, sometimes it unravels, sometimes it gets tangled and sometimes you just want to chuck it.

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