A few years ago, I facilitated a support group for a local organization for family members and loved ones who were supporting someone who had been diagnosed with a mental health challenge. We met weekly and to be honest, I gained as much from the group members as I believe I imparted. We laughed, encouraged one another, cried together, shared successes no matter how trivial they may have seemed to someone else, rejoiced over major hurdles; it was the most meaningful part of my week.
A few themes thing that kept coming up were, “How did we miss the signs? Where did we go wrong? How can we avoid making our loved one feel worse?” The closer we are to someone, the less likely we are to notice the little things, the subtle changes. It’s like buying a white shirt and washing it frequently. When does it become dingy? A little at a time, certainly not overnight. One day you look at it and realize you can’t quite consider it white anymore, not compared to the newest one you purchased, and you can’t bleach the dingy out. You can still wear it though, especially if it’s loved and worn and comfy. (I have a few like that and love them all.) You can’t blame the detergent you use or the washing machine either; you blame the source of the water.
I’m saying all that to say that there’s a biochemical reason for a lot of what our loved ones face so we’d have to blame genetics, the environment, diet, and any combination of the three before we look at choices the person may have made on top of all that. You certainly don’t want to start off by saying, “What did YOU do?!?!” and pointing a finger of blame at them, adding to the stigma our culture is so well known for.
I am excited to have had an article published this week on Marriage.com for couples on mental health that I think everyone can glean something from. There are local resources in almost every community that can provide factual and helpful information for your loved one and you to make coping with symptom management a bit easier. If your loved one isn’t ready, I would encourage you to go for yourself so you can learn to respond in a non-threatening and non-blaming way. NAMI, courses offered through Grace Alliance, and your local management entity can all be beneficial.
The most important thing you can do for your loved one is reflect hope and listen non-judgmentally to create a safe space. Check this page in early December for information regarding an upcoming Grace Alliance Family Grace group to start in January in High Point. Until then, I am holding the hope for all of us.