Step by Step version # 2398

Step by Step version # 2398

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a flu bug of some kind. The usual tired and achy feeling, so I retreated to my bed, got lots of sleep, took some painkillers, kept hydrated and ate when I could. When I was starting to feel a bit better I would go sit on the couch, watch a bit of TV, have a cup of tea, then go back to bed to sleep. I didn't have much energy to do anything, and I knew it needed to take its course. I could not fight it, or hurry it up, or just snap out of it.  I just needed to take good care of myself, remind myself I would not feel like this for ever and not push myself.

I had to cancel plans, going for coffee with friends, a birthday lunch with my best friend, Ringette practices and a book reading and signing by author Matt Rader  ( http://fccs.ok.ubc.ca/faculty/mrader.html)

 Some of these things I could re-book, or start up again when I was feeling better, but not the book signing. Matt was my creative writing instructor at the local college here a few years ago when I took the plunge to take a writing course and he was very supportive. I was looking forward to seeing him again.

Recouping from this bug gave me lots of time to think. I was getting well wishes from my friends and family, telling me to get well, hang in there, and if there was anything they could do for me, I was to let them know. I am fortunate.

As I was lying in bed, I was thinking how for most of those with a mental illness or mental health challenge, they do not get this kind of support. Then of course, as I had time to think I started to wonder why and what I could do about it.

As I had plenty of time, my mind wandered and I thought about one of the things I tell the psychology students I talk to.

I was a young adult when the AIDS epidemic hit in the early 80’s. Even though I was married and lived in a small town, I remember the fear, and misunderstanding that surrounded it. Being told that you could catch it by being in the same room, not to hug anyone with AIDS, and of course the blaming and shaming that went with it.

There was a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of fear. In time the medical community, and then the public started understanding what this was all about, and research was being done, and things are now different.

I only wish this were so for mental illness.

I understand that part of the problem is, unlike a broken arm, you cannot take an x-ray to see where the brain is broken. Mental illness is a lot more complicated than that. There is still fear, shaming and blaming that happens, but I am hopeful that it is slowly changing. More people are talking about it and bringing it into the open and “Main Stream,” but it could get better.

So what can I do, to help it along its way?

I have amazing support from friends and family, and the professionals in my life, but it did not “just happen.” It took a lot of work and soul searching on my part. I needed to become educated about my conditions, so that I could educate those around me. The next step was probably the hardest, I needed to not only ask for help, but let people know what they could do to help me. 

This could be anything from phoning or e-mailing a friend and asking them to take me out for coffee, or go for a quiet walk with me, or make me a cup of tea. Other times it meant touching base with my family doctor more often if things were getting rough and to have an intake plan ready for when I do need to go into the hospital. This explained what I had done up to that point to stay out of the hospital, why I was there, and how they could support me so I could get better.

I also needed to acknowledge and accept that supports in all areas of my life help me become successful. An example is when I took my writing course, I let Matt know about my condition. Luckily he had taught past students with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I let him know what kind of support I would need. So, when I forgot what we had talked about in class, didn't understand something, or what the homework was, I would e-mail him and ask him to send me a quick reminder, and that was all I needed to get me back on track. This helped me complete the course successfully.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that talking about and bringing mental illness out into the open is a two sided coin. Yes, we need to start educating and talking about what mental illness is, and is not, but we also need to start talking about what will help those of us with an illness.

Visualize two hospital rooms. One patient has just had surgery of some kind, in the other room is a person with a mental illness. Chances are that the person who had the surgery will have visitors, flowers and get well cards and wishes, the one with the mental illness will have fewer cards, well wishes and visitors. I have experienced and seen this.

So, when we are having a tough time with our illness, please tell us the same thing you would tell someone who has a physical illness.

Things like, “I hope you feel better soon. If there is anything I can do let me know. Would you like a hug? Can I make you a cup of tea or warm a blanket for you? I’m sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? I don’t understand your illness, could you please explain it to me and tell me how I can support you. I am by your side through this. Just wanted you to know I am thinking about you.”

I know that one of the hardest things for those that love us, is to see us in pain and suffering. I know the feeling of utter helplessness when a loved one is struggling with a mental illness. If they had the flu I could give them Tylenol and ginger ale, when they are struggling with a mental illness I can’t give them anything to take it away.

But I want you to all know, that even though you cannot give us anything to take it away, your love and support and acceptance does help us. And please, do not take this struggle personally. What I mean by that is that we are not doing this to make you miserable, or to feel bad. We have an illness. And just like a physical illness we are sick. And no amount of cajoling or criticism, ie “just snap out of it”  “if you really cared about me you would get out of bed” – is going to hurry up the process anymore then if you told that to someone with pneumonia. In fact, we will feel more shame for our illness.

Communication and understanding is the key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I find it amazing as I talk about mental illness,  be it formally, or amongst peers, once people realize its OK to speak about mental illness, more questions are asked, concerns voiced, experiences shared and we, and our communities, all become richer for it.

Those are my thoughts for the day
cheers and be well
Suzy
To learn more about mental illness, supports or how you can support a loved one visit  
For info on youth and mental illness visit
http://www.forcesociety.com/news

To learn more about a the great writer Matt Rader visit
http://fccs.ok.ubc.ca/faculty/mrader.html








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