Love is in the air. And on store shelves, television ads, social media posts…
In so many ways, we learn that love is defined by chocolate, roses and diamonds.
Celebrating love certainly is sweet. And so are those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.
But true love—whether for a relative, friend or significant other—can be challenging. And it requires more than annual offerings of flowers and jewelry.
Even more so when your loved one has a mental illness, addiction or developmental disability.
This is a struggle that most of us face at some point, so I asked our team of HopeStarters to offer some tips. They provided a wealth of knowledge:
- Talk openly about mental health and offer help in connecting to services. Even if they don’t take the help right away, they are aware and can reach out when they are ready. If you need help finding resources, you can turn to www.rappahannockareacsb.org or www.mhafred.org/helpline/.
- Detach with love and take care of yourself. Like the analogy of the oxygen mask on airplanes—where flight instructions remind you to put your mask on before helping others put one on—when caring for loved ones, we must take care of ourselves first to be able to help others.
- A good way to support is not have unrealistic expectations. Do what works for the person or your family. Even if that means missing out on what you thought would be a fun time, a tradition or a rite of passage. If there is something they just can’t handle and you know that, don’t try to force it just because it’s a “special day” or a holiday or because other people are around. (Some tips for managing holidays when your loved one has autism or a mental illness)
- Drop everything and just focus for a few minutes every day—Give them a space to vent and share their frustrations, no matter how mundane or bizarre. While in that space, be entirely supportive. Be the person they can trust. Pick another time to address issues that need attention—at this time, just listen. For many people suffering from mood disorders, anxiety, hallucinations, or delusions, having someone they know they can trust is essential. Creating that safe space gives you the foundation you will need to tackle other issues—such as medication compliance, hygiene, drug use, household chores.
- Always know that recovery from mental illness and substance use disorder is possible—even when it feels impossible.
- Understand the value of connecting with someone who’s been there. There are many Facebook groups filled with other people who share your plight (I personally am in six Facebook groups for parents of children with autism). And when it comes to treatment for mental illness or substance use disorder, peer supports are available to guide individuals on the journey through recovery. RACSB has several peer-led, drop-in support groups, including a new one to specifically help people who are grieving while in recovery from addiction.
- Educate yourself. This will help you find resources for yourself and your loved one. Additionally, you will be able to learn about behaviors, habits or challenges that are common to your loved one’s illness, addiction or disability. You will also find strategies that have helped others. Some helpful resources include:
- TED Talk: Depression, the Secret We Share
- SAMHSA: Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders
- Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change
- How a Brain Gets Hooked on Opioids (PBS)
- Addiction in its Simplest Form: A Short Animation
- Memoir: Bipolar, A Breakdown
- An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
- Understanding Bipolar Disorder: The Essential Family Guide
- A video showing what it is like to have autism
- Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia
- Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism
- Anxiously Ever After: An Honest Memoir on Mental Illness, Strained Relationships, and Embracing the Struggle
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Rappahannock’s Family to Family program