Feeling overwhelmed from supporting someone with mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes we can struggle to admit our true feelings. Here’s a little bit about how I felt when my brother was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression.
Recovery in Mental Illness
I worry that my brother will die by suicide. Even typing those words feels frighteningly intimate because this very real fear is an unspoken one in our family. (This post contains a trigger warning.)
This past weekend, my brother and I were reunited after quarantine -- seeing each other in person for the first time since March. He drove over to my house and met my new puppy, and we spent the day walking, eating, and generally catching up.
I spoke a little bit in my last video post about how my family all had different ways of supporting my mentally ill brother when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. What started as a reason to argue has turned into one of our greatest strengths as a family – how lucky are we to have so many different types of support to offer our loved one and each other?
My family members each have a different supportive style when it comes to my brother's mental illness. In the early days of his depression and anxiety diagnosis, we used to judge each other for these differences -- each of us believed that our approach was the best one. I am looking at supportive styles differently, now.
Since my brother was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, all types of people have tried to give him advice on his mental health symptoms. Many of these people have no experience of a mental health diagnosis themselves -- and while they mean well, their mental health advice could actually exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms if my brother followed it.
I must confess, family therapy is something our family has never tried. My brother underwent intensive cognitive behavioral therapy when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and the facilitator recommended a family therapy session. My parents declined -- I guess the idea of everyone sitting down and talking about their feelings to a stranger didn't feel right at the time.
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?
This post was particularly difficult for me to write because mental health hospitalization is not easy to talk about thanks to mental health hospitalization stigma. This stigma is profound, and both the stigma and the hospitalization itself places great strain on both the individual requiring treatment and their loved ones. I struggled with what to write, who to write it for, and if I should even post at all. If you know me or have read my page, you will know that I write for HealthyPlace because my husband has a mental illness. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He also writes for HealthyPlace as a coauthor of "Creative Schizophrenia." Since his last hospitalization, we moved halfway across the country, had our third child, bought a house to renovate, found good jobs, and learned to work through his minor relapses. A couple of days ago, his condition deteriorated. He suffered a significant relapse and displayed signs of dealing with a significant psychotic episode. Even though I blog about coping with a family member's mental illness, I dreaded what came next and the response from those around us. As I drove him to the hospital, I felt the sting of stigma over his mental health hospitalization.
Emotional validation counteracts the lack of stability that may accompany living with a family member suffering from mental illness. Indeed, that lack of stability is challenging to endure. My husband and I usually live day to day or week to week without knowing what our future might hold. Yet, the best way to cope with this instability is to work together and focus on emotional validation.