Updated: Jul 1, 2021
The biggest reason that I'm stable and thriving today (that's subjective, I know!), is my wife. When our lives were upended five years ago by my bipolar disorder diagnosis, she stepped up beautifully and has constantly been my mirror.
This World Mental Health Day, I thought I'd focus on the pivotal role of caregivers in the journey of someone dealing with a mental health issue. And share some personal reflections.
Tough love. Keeping the bar high.
There were months when I was a shadow of my usual cheerful, funny self. Poor world. Jokes apart, there were days when having a shower or going into work became a slog. For a type A personality like myself, not being able to do such stuff was extremely frustrating and I'd beat myself up daily about it.
In stepped my heroine (without the horse though - that's only for the films). She held me to high standards sometimes, and would push me to take tiny, baby steps. Like literally, a walk in the building premises was a HUGE win on some days and she made me celebrate it (even though I didn't think it was a big deal). On other days, when I didn't (couldn't) move from bed to have a shower despite all her efforts, she showed her compassionate side and said, 'that's alright, we will deal with these days together. Let's try again tomorrow.'
Her beautiful dance of showing tough love on some days with being empathetic and letting me be on other days, still plays a big role in my life.
Safety barrier. Trusting the other person.
'I know you better than you know yourself', I've heard her say many times. Grudgingly, I have to admit she's right. And it's extremely helpful when my moods start to show, and I'm not aware of how they are impacting me.
In the beginning, I used to get frustrated with her for not letting me be, and wanting to mollycoddle me all the time. I felt that I was being held back. But in time, I learnt to let go and trust her completely. I realised that the world will continue to spin even if I didn't get to 'that urgent work' or 'this amazing idea I just had'. The minute (ok, maybe it takes me a few hours) she tells me to be on guard about my moods, I begin to act and try to center myself. Once that happens, she’s more relaxed and it helps me get back to my ideas marathon - only this time, being more centered. It's been an amazing way for me to build my own self awareness over the last few years.
Keeping it real. Open lines of communication.
Being a true mirror to my constant barrage of ideas and opinions, is something that my wife does very well. She challenges my way of thinking, and keeps it real. I've been trying to articulate how this came to be, and I think the key to where we are at the moment - is the ability to have an honest conversation. I'd say we are FAR from being there all the time, and we still spar quite a bit. But there are times when we are able to share our fears and dreams openly with each other. And that helps to keep it real.
I know the journey has been extremely hard on her, and there are days when she's probably wanted to scream at me, but couldn't. Or despair when seeing someone she thought she knew, struggle through life. But she also tells me she comes from a clan of warriors, so maybe that helps (good luck to me getting this article through her editorial lens). But warriors need self care too, as the journey is not easy for a caregiver.
My mom is the other caregiver who has constantly inspired me with her patience and radical resilience. She was the absolute pillar of strength for my dad who dealt with bipolar disorder for over 45 years. This article is for her too.
So if you're still reading this, and you've got someone who supports you on your mental health journey, please give them a BIG, squishy hug. And tell them you love them. We know that as a caregiver, it’s never easy understanding what to do, or dealing with the chaos and unpredictability. But having this support is the best thing in the world. So even if we might not say this often, I'm taking the liberty of saying this for ALL of us (because, why not) - THANK YOU for being there for us. We see you.
Our inaugural program for caregivers begins on October 31. Set up a call with Daniel to find out more.
Caregivers is a generic term for people who support their family/friends/partners during a period of illness. In this article (and in our programs), we focus on caregivers who support people dealing specifically with mental health issues.