Having witnessed mental illness in the family in the form of schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder, I am well aware of what a caregiver for a patient of mental illness experiences on an everyday basis.
No two days are alike. Sometimes, the peace and calm offer a much-needed respite from the preceding chaos. At other times, it’s like the calm before the storm, waiting to throw life in disarray, leaving the patient and you—the caregiver—with not a moment to understand what hit them!
Life as a caregiver to a patient suffering from any kind of illness can be like walking on a tightrope. Every step needs to be taken with utmost care and caution lest you end up losing your balance.
Any illness—be it physical or mental—not just affects the patient, but also the entire family, more so the primary caregiver. Caring for the patient becomes your life’s main aim and you slide down to the bottommost spot on your priority list. You cease to give yourself any importance because there is neither the time nor the inclination to even consider your needs.
And yet, it is the one most important thing you as a caregiver can do for yourself—look after yourself, YOUR NEEDS! Today, I would like to share with you all a few tips on looking after yourself so that you are better able to look after your patient(s).
The number one thing our psychiatrist advised me to do on discovering my husband’s Bipolar Disorder was to seek counseling. Counseling helps you understand what it is that you are up against and how you can deal with it.
The one thing that you can do at your therapist’s is open up about your feelings. A therapist regards you and your thoughts objectively. They do not judge, they do not put a label on you, or admonish you for entertaining all kinds of thoughts.
They help you understand the situation and how you can deal with it and at the same time look after yourself. The most helpful thing about therapy is you can talk out your innermost feelings without any guilt or fear of being ridiculed. I can’t even explain to you how relieving that is!
Indulge In A Hobby
Cliché as it may sound, having a hobby is the most helpful thing you do for yourself. It’s the one activity that you do just for yourself and for your own peace and enjoyment. It could be anything as long as you are able to give it a specific time on an everyday basis.
Spending even 30 minutes doing this particular activity can de-stress you like nothing else can! So, indulge in it without an iota of guilt, because you deserve it.
You could also maintain a journal and write a page everyday to relieve the stress that builds up each day. Keep your mind busy with puzzles of all sorts as they give your mind a break from the stress and encourage you to focus on something other than the illness. It’s one of the best workouts for the mind and you so need it!
Talk About Your Fears
I remember how during my mother-in-law’s schizophrenia episodes, I would find it extremely difficult to even swallow my food. It would feel like I was chewing on paper and I would keep drinking water to help push the food down my throat lest I threw up! That’s the kind of stress a caregiver undergoes in tense situations and moments when the illness takes complete control of the patient.
You are well aware that it’s an illness and that the patient is not at fault, but, as in the case of mental illness, the behavior of the patient can completely throw you off balance and leave you huddled in a corner, trembling with fear.
I would blurt it all out when on my visits to our psychiatrist and would feel so much better when he would gently nod his head and say how well he understood what I was going through. I would share with him how I feared I would lose my mind, to which he would assure me that I would be perfectly fine and I need not worry.
Motivating words like these wouldn’t necessarily change the situation, but they would definitely give me some amount of courage and hope that I would be fine, come what may.
Speaking aloud about your fears is NOT a sign of weakness. Every human being is scared about something or the other. But, a caregiver for a mental illness patient is fearful about almost every aspect of the patient’s life and the illness – such is the enormity of the illness.
Have A Close-Knit Circle Of Well-Wishers Around You
Keep your friends and family close, because you will need these people by your side more often than you would like to believe. It’s a tough road ahead for caregivers of mental illness.
The uncertainty, the panic, the anxiety in unusual situations can often leave the patient in a frightened condition. This will leave you alone to deal with the patient, their condition, and the situation, all at once.
Having someone by your side to deal with at least one of the above aspects will give you courage and support. Never hesitate to ask for help, especially from people closest to you. Let them know what you are going through and how they can help you in any given situation.
Look After Your Diet, Health, And Sleep
You need all the stamina and the rest you can get to nourish your body and mind so that you can look after the patient better. Always remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup!
Follow a healthy diet so that you are strong enough to deal with your demanding job. Follow an exercise regimen that suits your schedule, your needs, and your body type. Do what you can do to keep yourself strong, physically and mentally. Remember, physical exercise keeps both your body and mind fit.
It can be quite difficult to sleep peacefully when you know that a person prone to anxiety or depression sleeps in the next room and that they depend on medications to help them sleep. Also, let’s not forget that sometimes those medications fail to do their thing!
So if you are unable to get a good night’s sleep, call over a relative to look after the patient while you get some sleep during the daytime. Sleep is as necessary to the patient as it is to the caregiver. It’s what rejuvenates your body, inside out, and helps you stay healthy.
This Too Shall Pass
Believe in the maxim, “This too shall pass” and you are sure to feel better and hopeful that someday, things will calm down; that someday the medications will work their magic and help the patient live a better life.
Always live in the moment. We tend to frighten ourselves with dark imaginings, the uncertainty of the future or the tough times in the past and disturb our peace of mind.
Why not just be in the present moment? Live it wholly, experience it completely and watch it live its life and move away. Nothing is permanent. The moment that comes will pass. Difficulties are all a part of life and help mould you; they make you stronger and give you a better understanding of life.
Live Life One Day At A Time
Live for the day. Do not think about tomorrow, just do your best today and you will be doing yourself a huge favor. An illness is like a synonym for uncertainty – you never know what tomorrow might bring along with it. So, why worry about the unknown?
Be your own motivator. Assure yourself that whatever happens you will definitely be able to deal with it for you are made of stronger stuff, and watch your fear dissipate.
It’s only when you take good care of your body, mind, and spirit that you will be able to look after the patient and face the situation.
Be it through correct diet, sleep, entertainment, or through motivational words to cheer you up as you go along fulfilling your duties, caring for yourself will go a long way in helping you deal with whatever life throws your way.
Put yourself on the top of your priority list. The illness of your loved ones is not what your life is all about. There are so many other areas of your life that matter to you and bring happiness to you and your family. Cherish those moments and aspects of life and treat the illness as just a tiny part of your life.
And finally, be grateful for all you have. Every night, before going to bed, note down five things you are grateful for each day and at the end of the week or the month, take a look at the long list of blessings bestowed on you. Believe me, you will be happy you have the life that you do.
Shilpa Gupte is a health and wellness blogger at Metanoia, a wellness website. Writing is her passion and she writes about health, nutrition, and self-care. Being an artist, she also shares her artwork on her blog.