I am Important, Too | A Blog About Supporting Caregivers
Caring for someone with a mental illness can be – let’s just say it – exhausting. It’s ok to admit that we can’t do it all; we can’t do it alone. Loving someone who doesn’t love themselves is in itself its own battle. Sometimes we think we can love enough, care enough, do enough to make them better, to make them change, to make them see the hope. But, depression is a darkness, a fog, through which it’s near impossible to see the way in order to simply put one foot in front of another, let alone see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. While caring for someone else, we risk losing ourselves in it all. Without boundaries, respite, and leaning on our own support system, we risk doing more harm than good. We must find ways to fill our own tank, as we use our fuel to carry others who can’t carry themselves for the moment.
Let us be the role model to those we care for and ask for help. Help for us. Caregivers know the weight of mental illness all to well. And yet, they are frequently forgotten in the storm. This is why we build community. Those receiving treatment are continuously instructed to build their support system and fill their network with people who will help hold them up, care for them, and remind them what tomorrow brings, when needed. We forget that those people, the ones holding out their arms time after time, also need the same healthy support to continue to maintain the capacity to support their loved ones. Creating community, one that meets our needs in a variety of ways, is essential to health. We cannot live in silos, nor can we expect to stay well, our loved ones and ourselves, without connecting, communicating, and resting when we need it.
It’s ok to take a break. I am giving you permission, right now, to recognize when you need to step away, even if just for a few hours, to make your life, your needs, your health, a priority. We cannot help others get well if we are not well ourselves. Consider the distorted message caregivers send when they give until depletion and forget, or worse, forgo, their own needs for decompression, debriefing, and space. Renewal comes from a place of peace and rest. Just as we provide space for those struggling with mental illness to take steps both forward and backward, we must extend this patience and gentleness to caregivers. If you are a caregiver, do yourself the favor and ask yourself what you need today, this hour, this minute, to rebuild hope and find optimism for the future, not just for your loved one, but for yourself and for this world. It’s easy to become “jaded” or cynical when we find ourselves seemingly pushing against that which is heavier than we alone can manage. Find a way to set down your load once in a while, see what it’s like to experience reprieve. Do not expect of yourself what is far and above what you would ever expect of someone else; you are human, you have limits that must be honored. Caregiver, be kind to yourself.
Written by Lauren Robbins, MS, LPCC, LADC