(Picture Credit: kfor1240.com)
I have had comments posted to my website lately that express concern for my mental health. I have read every one and taken them into consideration because I am always interested in how other people see things. I was even told by one person to print up a post of mine and take it to my therapist for him to review and help me with. All of the comments give me a lot to consider but I feel like I ought to say a few things to clear up where my head is at.
First of all, let's face it, being a caregiver is hard. There are good days and there are bad days and anyone with any love, compassion, hope, a desire to make things right for our loved ones, and grief over the truth of the entire situation feels stress and feels helpless from time to time. Not only that, it's been my experience that even anger and frustration come into play. This is not said lightly by me as I have met countless people who feel exactly like I do. It's not easy and it never will be. It is heart-wrenching that our loved ones are sick and generally the prognosis is not good and all of this makes for a caregiver who becomes stressed out from time to time. Sometimes we even need to see a therapist ourselves and sometimes we need some kind of medication to reinforce the therapy we have sought. There is no shame in this, I think it should almost be a prerequisite for being a caregiver to someone who is seriously ill, and I think, if you're not already in therapy that it's not a bad idea to give it a try sometime. For me, I have a therapist and because I also live with bipolar disorder, I have medications I take to manage it. You could say I am fully covered in that department but that does not make me invincible. I am human and I am going to falter. Not only that, because life is cosmically balanced in my opinion, I will also triumph in places others might not expect me to triumph. This goes for all of you too. Caregiving will never be easy but I'm certain very very few of us would give it up.
Second, for me, what I struggle with, why I get frustrated and angry, is because I feel a great deal of pressure from the outside to "get it right" for Thomas. His therapist, while very well-meaning, puts a lot of pressure on me and sometimes, especially lately, it's hard for me to cope with. I think we tend to look to professionals for the answers to what is wrong with our loved ones with schizophrenia and to also depend on them to help. Sometimes my expectations of Dr. K. are high; I want him to make this all go away. That's unfair and unrealistic but I still wish for it. For his part, where I am concerned, each week, lately, has been met with a "homework" assignment, sometimes more than one, that Thomas or both Thomas and I must complete. The homework seems simple sometimes, in theory, but it's not most of the time. As a result, I walk away with Thomas from a session feeling like what's ahead for the week for us is difficult, if not impossible. I know that Dr. K. wants to help Thomas and I get him ready for the real world but he sees Thomas just once a week and often he really just doesn't have a clue about Thomas's reality once he's home and he doesn't have a clue about what my life is like outside of being a caregiver. Just last week I tried to explain to him something about Thomas and how he comprehends things and because it's hard for me to make sense of sometimes, it's even harder to try to explain to someone else, especially when there's just 10 minutes left in the session and I can't get my thoughts together enough to explain what is going on. All of this amounts to a great deal of pressure and pressure, at least inside me, breeds frustration and sometimes anger. I want to do what ever I can to help Thomas but it just isn't always possible.
Then there is life outside of caregiving. There are familial relationships to live with that aren't always easy to deal with. I'm sure many of you can attest to the pressures that spouses, parents, siblings and friends put on us. It's not just about caregiving and whether or not we are doing it right in their opinion but there is also the element of the maintenance of relationships that already had their own flaws long before we ever became caregivers. Then there are the tragedies, the other illnesses that claim family members or friends. For the first two years after Thomas was diagnosed, my dad had a stroke, 2 brain surgeries and then finally succumbed to death. While trying to take care of Thomas at his worst, I also had a beloved parent who was suffering and dying and who needed equally constant attention. My dad is gone now and I am left with only grief that creeps in from time to time but even grief takes a toll that puts a chink in my caregiver armor.
As such, taking all of these things into consideration, not to mention the myriad other things that any given day brings me, I do struggle, I'm the first to admit that my mental health is far from stellar, I am flawed in my relationships including my one with Thomas, and
Even still, I love Thomas. He is my only child. My commitment to him started the day I learned he was in my belly and it remains to this very moment and beyond. I will never be a perfect mom to him nor will I be whole and invincible, so yes, I will struggle but I suspect that so will all of you.
I know I'm not alone in this role of caregiver for someone living with schizophrenia and I know that I'm not alone in what I've said today. In fact, I think we are a community of like-minded people all over the world who fiercely stick together, fight for each other and, most importantly, fight tooth and nail for our loved ones even if we fail sometimes.
So, let's talk about my mental health. You know what? I think I am doing okay given the circumstances. I am in the game, I haven't given up and I will continue to do my very best to care for Thomas and myself including the others around me who need me from time to time.
I won't always do it "right". I won't always live up to people's expectations but I will always be trying my best.
And I know, so will all of you.
We're all going to be okay.