Speaking as someone who cares for someone with a mental illness, we face a lot of criticism from people who don’t “get” what we’re going through as caregivers, don’t we? I remember sitting down shortly after Christmas one year to enjoy a glass of wine with my landlady. After the usual “how did your Christmas go” chatting, she said, “I want him out of here.” “Him” was my son who I had brought back to Ontario to live with me. Living with a severe mental illness, he had nowhere else to go.
I had been plunged into a bewildering and frightening situation. Unkind words from the uncaring don’t help. For me, a phone call to my local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association was a lifesaver. I became part of a LYNX team and I was taught that when we work together, recovery for people living with mental illness is not only probable but possible, although it may be a lifelong journey.
Knitting a life back together stitch by stitch is hard. I realized that I needed support myself. Like with knitting, you need the right tools. I joined a family support group – Journeying Together is one such group. Talking to other caregivers really helps. You realize you are not alone. You get wonderful help from those who have “been there, done that”. Sometimes you get tired of being strong; sometimes you want to lean on someone. You cry, you laugh, you share stories, you support each other.
One insightful woman said at one of our meetings, “You know, if my son had cancer, there would be all kinds of help out there.” Schizophrenia is one of those “invisible” illnesses. And like my former landlady, people don’t always get it. I remember encountering a man on a bike in a park. I was walking with my son in the Schizophrenia Society’s Walk for Peace. He said we were a “bunch of bums and there is nothing wrong with you”. Your support group gets it.
Recently, my family support worker signed us up for yoga classes. The classes focused on meditation and body awareness. I had no idea how stressed out I was until I tried to relax in a yoga position. For me, yoga, knitting, walking, and writing this blog are helping me on my caregiving journey.
We get so caught up in looking after our loved ones that we forget about caring for ourselves.
Remember: you are the light in someone’s darkness. You owe it to yourself AND to them to keep your light shining. And like my family support group leader asks us at every meeting, I ask you: “What have you done for yourself this month?”
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.