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How to Support Someone From a Distance

April 13, 2020 Nicola Spendlove

How to support someone from a distance is a question that I've been asking myself almost every day recently. There's a literal distance between myself and my brother right now due to COVID-19 restrictions, but he's also crying out for more freedom and control over his life -- how do I balance giving support with giving space?

My Brother's New Chapter

My brother has anxiety and depression and has been under the direct supervision of my parents since becoming unwell in 2014. Just over two weeks ago, he spontaneously moved out -- the night before full lockdown was enacted in Ireland. My brother had talked about renting his own place soon but had described a gradual transition with plenty of support -- not fleeing in the night to somewhere nobody could reach him.

What I've Discovered Since Supporting Someone from a Distance

Withdrawing Support Feels Scary

My family's initial reaction was panic. What if living unsupported is too much pressure on my brother, and he needs our help? None of us can drive to his new house. What if we can't get through to him on the phone, how do we know that he's okay without being able to knock on the door? What if this overnight change of routine triggers his symptoms, but he has to stay in the new place until the lockdown is lifted? 

With all that being said, I get why he did it. Mental illness pushes the pause button on so many milestones in life -- I can see why being told yet again to postpone your goals for an indefinite amount of time would trigger immediate action.

Too Much Support Feels Stifling

At first, I called my brother several times a day under the pretense of giving vague homemaking advice (which he saw right through). He soon gently asked me to stop. It was then I realized that he is secure in my support -- that I don't have to remind him 50 times a day that I'm there. It's okay to let him instigate the calls sometimes.

It's scary to support someone from a distance when you're used to being hands-on. Control over situations makes us feel safer -- but I have no right to control someone else's life and the choices they make.

The Unexpected Joy of Letting Go

My brother rang me today to ask for a recipe, and I grinned the whole conversation, listening to the excitement in his voice. As sudden as his exit was, a person who flees in the middle of the night to his new life is someone who desperately wants to live. In spite of my fears, I'm so glad my brother is in that headspace now.

Are you supporting someone from a distance? What helps you and the person you're supporting the most? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2020, April 13). How to Support Someone From a Distance, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2020/4/how-to-support-someone-from-a-distance



Author: Nicola Spendlove

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Laurie Box
May, 26 2020 at 2:57 pm

My son is 34 and has lived alone in an apartment for 6 years now. His mental health diagnosis is schizoid personality disorder but he has paranoia and is hearing derogatory voices too. He is not able to drink due to court monitoring him so his mental health condition is more obvious than when he was drinking. I help him financially so that he can live alone. He recently asked me to leave him alone for a week. Reluctantly, I agreed not to text or visit. It is very hard for me since I constantly have him on my mind BUT with his request, comes a little "break" for me and for him. I will check in with him in a week and see what he thought of the break and how he is doing, It may continue and I may just be in touch weekly. For now, he seems to take care of things for himself but he doesn't go out much at all. I grocery shop because he feels everyone in public talks about him...It is always so difficult to know what TO DO and what NOT TO DO...He seems to be getting worse mentally but he is taking medication at the moment and seeing a counselor (due to court requirement). I am hopeful but have been through so much already that I have to be realistic and ready. I just found this website and like hearing from everyone. It somehow helps me feel better...I am truly not alone in this. I wish all of these people would get together and talk but their diagnoses keep them sheltered away...ugh...

May, 27 2020 at 3:57 am

Hi Laurie, thanks so much for sharing about your experience with your son. Like you, hearing the stories of others definitely helps me to feel less alone.
The week of no contact must be nerve wracking (I know my imagination certainly runs wild when I haven't heard from my brother) but as you say, if it works out it could be a positive thing for both of you. I wish I had advice around what to do and not to do, but I think we're all just acting in good faith and hoping for the best. I certainly relate to the "realistic and ready" comment -- I ricochet between that and blind hope and optimism! It's not an easy journey to say the least -- but we're in it together.

April, 17 2020 at 11:03 am

This is such a beautiful tale, thank you for sharing! Your brother is lucky to have you and it's wonderful for you to be able to recognize exactly what he does and doesn't need right now.

Lizanne Corbit
April, 14 2020 at 2:29 pm

Thank you for this beautiful read! So many of us are navigating these interesting times and that includes things like how to give and receive support from a distance. This is so honest and relatable, I love that you touch on the concept that "too much" support can actually feel overwhelming because this is one I think many of us can easily fall into during these highly charged times. Wonderful to read. Take care!

April, 15 2020 at 4:29 am

Thanks for the comment, Lizanne! One thing I'm definitely learning through this experience is also that support needs fluctuate -- my brother can need more support some days than others, but also I can need more support in how I support him some days than others. Strange times but plenty of learning to be had. Hope you're keeping safe and well!

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