Caregiving our mentally ill loved ones can be one of the loneliest jobs in the world--and one of the most stressful. Stigma pervades mental illness and contributes to labeling those who suffer from it as less than fully human. Admittedly, we've got a tough road to vanquish the myth, but we can do something about lessening our own stress. Acknowledge to yourself and others your caregiving role. Be honest with yourself. You've taken on a super task: loving and caring for a loved one whose illness may have extreme behavioral issues. Do what it takes to be informed, but above all, reach out to stop that stress-burnout cycle of isolation, exhaustion, and collapse.
According to Alexander Drane (ARCHANGELS CEO), labeling yourself as a caregiver for a mentally ill loved enables you to
a. Receive credit for it.
b. Gain support from family members and friends.
c. Cultivate a language of care.
d. Locate supportive resources.
When others recognize the important work you're doing, you will likely receive an outpouring of sympathy and a recognition that we're all in the same boat together.
Gaining support from family and friends is critical to ease your burden of care. Let people know how they can help, from simple tasks, such as phone calls or fixing a meal to complex assistance, like finding the right therapist for your loved one.
Cultivate the language of care (see Post below). Joining a support group can yield positive results and allows you to hear how experienced caregivers talk about their situation. This also offers another opportunity to share your story and learn from the stories of others.
Locating supportive resources could begin with contacting your local National Alliance for the Mental Ill (NAMI), an organization for both caregivers and your mentally ill loved one. Share your burden, but also your accomplishments. Let other caregivers know how you assisted your loved one in money management, finding a therapist, navigating legal aid, or coordinating a demanding schedule.
We can add one additional feature of stress reduction: practice self-compassion. Who better deserves to give love than one whose heart overflows to others? Self-compassion is nothing more or less than acknowledging your caregiving, accepting your limitations as human, seeing yourself as a good person, and reconciling any difficulties by reaching out for professional help. By accepting self-compassion into our lives, we invite the gift of the “power of the pause”—bringing intentional awareness to the moment, allowing freedom from the tyranny of reactivity. Self-compassion is an invaluable tool for being more of your best self each day. This experience is a way to notice that each moment is an opportunity to be self-forgiving, and more expansive to others in your world.