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Over the years, they’ve dealt with consequences of my mental-health issues (addiction, bipolar II). The last time, I desperately tried to stop the tears and couldn’t — the ridiculousness of it all made it seem so funny, I laughed and cried at the same time. Hysterical.
They didn’t think it was funny. They were exhausted; I could see it. We were in the quicksand of my problems and we were all alone.
As with many illnesses, the focus tends to be on the “ill” one, which is exactly how we were dealing with it. My loved ones have always encouraged me to seek professional help, which is fine, but we were all making a mistake by zeroing in, solely, on me.
It is difficult to get help unless you’re a bulldozer of motivation — not a characteristic of a depressed person or her drained family. As a veteran of Crazy, these days, I treat my issues pragmatically: as soon as I feel something’s up (or, rather, down), I talk to my family doctor. I immediately get myself on one of those lists of psychiatrically bent OHIP-covered Yoda-ancient doctors who tend to reside somewhere in Timbuktu (Mississauga). I mark down in my calendar when exactly I woke up feeling bleak — last time was May. Same week, I did an assessment with an uninterested CAMH clinician in rubber five-toe shoes (true story) who didn’t refer me or my family anywhere but who tried to push a new medication at the end of asking me things like: On a scale of minus five to five, how suicidal are you, five, you have a clear plan in mind?
Like what kind of clear plan?
Like you know, you’re going to jump off a bridge.
I had no plans to jump off of any bridges.
In the meantime — while I didn’t buy (into) Latuda and decided against getting some E — the only immediate support I relied on was my overworked younger sister, who’s too kind to say that she’s burnt-out, and my husband, who says this: “I feel frustrated and exhausted. You’re in perfectly good health, your son is in good health, you live in a nice house; you have no reason to be weeping. It looks, from the outside, like self-indulgence. I just wait for it to stop, basically.”
Yeah. Me too. I prefer to be strong and I feel guilty relying on people who love me, because, like I said, I can see how it’s making them sick in return. I grew up with a relative with a mental illness (not my sister) and I know that having to rescue this person constantly contributed to my current problems.
But since I am a bulldozer of motivation lately, I not only secured a therapist for myself (it took six months), but I also found out about many GTA services for families — from The Family Matters Open Family Forum for families of people with mood disorders, to places like FAME, Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere.
Christine Cooper, the executive director of FAME, says family members “need to be proactive as opposed to reactive: ask questions, seek resources (for themselves). At FAME, we put a focus on self-care for caregivers.” This might mean one-on-one therapy or attending group meetings or both. The main idea is to connect with others who live with someone who’s mentally ill and share not only strategies on coping but also the sort of frustrations my husband feels. (For the record, I relate: I’ve always felt murderous rage about my family member who I grew up with who had mental illness.)
Cooper says the support groups are growing, “It’s consistently 15, 16 people; we run 18 to 20 groups a month.” FAME also uses technology (to help families outside of the GTA) such as Skype; and they’re working with Telehealth Ontario to develop phone services. There are programs for children affected by parents with mental-health issues, as well.
There’s no doubt in Cooper’s mind that mental illness is a family illness.
The quicksand stops now; we can get out and get help and you can too — no matter which one of the five you are.