At times you may question whether you are working beside each other or destroying yourselves. However, there are some huge advantages to having an illness and being the person to help another who is suffering.
This article is useful for you whether you have an illness yourself, help somebody with an illness, or both. I suffer with borderline personality disorder and I’m currently doing my best to help someone close to me through an undiagnosed illness.
“You truly understand. Even if you may not share the same illness or symptoms, you know the frustration they are dealing with. You have felt the anxiety, the looming sense of doom, the cycles.”
Having your own instability is challenging enough. But taking on the responsibility to support someone else with mental health issues is a double whammy. I’ve found that there are both positives and negatives to this situation, and am sharing my experience in the hope of assisting others.
Helping someone with an illness, without having one yourself
Obviously, I have never been in this position as I am diagnosed. However, when asking my friends and family about the experience of assisting me with my illness, I was left well informed on how it affected them. One of the biggest issues and barriers in this situation is a lack of common understanding. You have no idea how that person’s mind works, the thoughts and feelings they are processing or the reasoning behind their actions.
It’s alien and it can be very frustrating. I was told multiple times by the people in my life, ‘why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just listen? Why can’t you just switch it off?’ At the time, I hated everyone who spoke those words. I wanted the world to just get it, understand what I was going through and be there for me. I can almost guarantee that anyone suffering in that stage of illness will be having the same thought process.
It’s so important that you know, mental illness is not a choice. A lot of people have actually built these characters to keep themselves safe from outsiders, in fear of being subjected to more hurt and judgement. Being vulnerable is not an option for some of us, most of the pushing away is just a method of self protection. It’s crucial that it isn’t taken personally. As with all symptoms of mental illness, the reaction comes from emotions and triggers that reside within that person. You might say or do something small that triggers them, and they will react accordingly to the affect it has on them. This is how they are and how they truly feel in that moment of time; it isn’t solely anything you may have done, but it’s also nothing to be dismissed. Acceptance of the person’s mentality is the biggest step towards their recovery, with you by their side.
You are allowed to feel too
Yes, they are the ones with the illness. They are the ones who need the help right now. But that does not mean that you have to act as a robot. You are a human being with feelings and have every right to behave that way. Something they do may sincerely hurt you. It’s important that you let them know how their actions are affecting the people around them, but try to avoid pointing the finger and initiating blame and guilt.
- See also: Mental Health Today's 'Disorders Explained' information hub
I myself have learned to walk away from a situation, come back in a calmer mind-set with a refreshed reminder of what they are going through themselves. I will then tell them that being called names and physically lashed out upon hurts me and pushes my own boundaries. As someone with an illness, I can confidently say that by approaching a situation in this way makes all the difference. I think about what happened in my episode and I make a mental note of trying just a little bit more to avoid those actions.
One method I have found extremely helpful in assisting others is recording events. This can be anything from taking notes of behaviour and triggers, to actually video recording them during an episode. Looking back on these notes can really being clarity to the illness for both yourself, and the person suffering. You are able to notice patterns or change, anything that may trigger them, length of episodes and how they are able to return to stability. It takes a lot of dedication and work to fully work alongside a person with an illness, but in doing so they are able to recognise your dedication to them and it enables a building of trust.
Helping someone with an illness, being somebody with an illness also
[It’s] Literally proving to be one of the most challenging experiences in my life. I imagine it to be a clash of ice and fire; they can quite easily destroy the other, entailing its difficulty in working beside each other. However, there are some huge advantages to having an illness and being the person to help another who is suffering.
You truly understand. Even if you may not share the same illness or symptoms, you know the frustration they are dealing with. You have felt the anxiety, the looming sense of doom and cycles as they do. This works in the favour of both of you, knowing that somewhere in those crossed wires, you meet and spark something amongst it all.
It doesn’t matter too much in this scenario, but I have found that being someone who has come out the other side of treatment can be a huge inspiration for the other. With this can also come jealousy, anger and frustration at the fact that they are still struggling in a less stable phase of the illness. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the tornado of recovery. Letting them know that you understand exactly what they are dealing with, reassuring them that they will pull through just as you have done will have a hugely positive influence.
You will clash. You will dwell in circles of frustration and it will definitely take its toll on your own mental health at times. It’s important to remind yourself of the person you once were, how you once dealt with emotions and find the similarities in your loved one. Compassion and the dedication to understanding is the basis of providing successful support.
In my own experience, I do not do well with feeling rejected or unable to help somebody. So when my loved one pushes me away, it triggers me into an episode of me own. What I am now able to do is take a step back, remind myself of why they are doing this and wait patiently for their return. As I previously stated, you have every right to be the emotional human being you are in this too. Do not feel that you cannot express your feelings and concerns to your partner; they need to know that you are dedicated to helping and they should do everything in their power to respect you and allow you to help. Love is a powerful thing, in more ways than one.
Do not be afraid to find support for yourself. There are so many more charities available now that provide support for carers and family members. There are online blogs and NHS advice for the carers of those with a mental illness. Seek counselling of your own if you need it. Maybe even ask your loved one if you could sit in a session with them, to help you understand that little bit more. Take time out for yourself, do the things that make you happy. You cannot help anybody if you are not stable enough yourself.
If you are the person who needs the help
Let them try. We live our lives so engulfed in our loneliness and isolation within our disorder, we may not even know what love is anymore. We do not allow ourselves to trust, become vulnerable or open up our minds to an outsider. But for how much longer are we willing to live this way? How many more people are we prepared to lose? We are strong, creative, loving people and deserve just as much as anyone else does.
Would you let an infection in your body go untreated without medication? Would you tell a person with cancer to keep running from treatment, because they are scared? It’s an illness that we can cure. If we cannot cure it, we can treat it. We can control it. And if somebody out there is brave enough, has enough love and fire within their souls to pull us through to the other side, let them. The world is full of people that refuse to believe mental illness even exists, or that we are a lost cause. Keep the ones willing to be your guardian angels close and fight alongside them. I had nobody, and I’d have given anything to have had just one person by my side that did not give up.
Thank you to every amazing human being that hasn’t given up. Thank you for seeing us for what we are: people. We are not to be discarded. With the right help and the right people, we can be well again.