Loving, and being a caretaker to, someone with mental illness must be a tough gig. I know sometimes, when I look at my mother, who’s been forced to deal with my mental health problems since I was 16, I can see the exhaustion in her expression. I can hear the frustration in her voice when she asks how my day was and my only response is a shrug. I can see the lament in her face when I’m packing my bags to go to the Psych Hospital, again.  She’d never, ever tell me she was tired of me and all the baggage I come with, but if she did, I wouldn’t blame her for a second. Like all her friends, she should be a grandmother by now. Her daughter should have a home of her own, and a partner to care for and grandkids for her to spoil. But instead, she ended up with a fucked up loner who barely leaves the house, with only cats for her to dote over, which she does, frequently, like tiny little fur covered grandchildren. I know she’d deny she was disillusioned, but how earth could she not be? This wasn’t the life she imagined for me. Fuck, it wasn’t the life I imagined for myself. Mental illness can sometimes feel like one giant flaming shitstorm of disappointment after another, for both you and the people who love you. My depression manifests as constantly feeling like a complete failure to myself and the people around me. It can’t be easy to love someone so critical of themselves all the time. Any time she compliments me, I contrast it to my multitude of faults and suck the intentioned kindness right out of it. I don’t mean to do it. It’s just my default when someone tries to compliment me. When she suggests ‘smiling’ and ‘bucking up’, I cringe inside. I know she’s trying to help, but all that serves to do is make other people feel less uncomfortable with witnessing my misery. I guess she doesn’t know what else to say. Hell, what is there to say? I’ve struggled myself to come up with anything insightful or meaningful to say to my close friends who struggle with mental illness. All I can usually conjure up is “I’m here for you when you need it.” I don’t serve up platitudes and cliches. It’s nothing that a person who suffers from poor mental health hasn’t heard a thousand times before. Sometimes, all I can think to is let them know they can call me anytime day or night, and I promise not to judge. Kind of like Marge Simpson acting as the ‘Listen Lady. That’s about all you can do for someone you care for with mental illness. Just show up and be there. It doesn’t matter if you don’t talk. Shoot a few hoops in the backyard. Bring your nail polish to a friends place for mani/pedi night. Send them a book. Ask them if they’d like to go for low stress outings, like a dive in the country or just to check in on the kitties at the animal shelter. You don’t have to have the wisdom to cure them, or a magic trick to help their brains work properly…you just have to be there. And don’t be disheartened if your offers are rebuffed. It’s not unusual for people with Depression, especially, to isolate themselves. Let them know you don’t care if they’re still in the pyjamas, or that their hair isn’t done or the house is a mess. It goes a long way when a loved one can overlook those things. Assure your friend that you’re happy to both just geek away on your respective laptops in silence if that’s what they’d prefer. Sometimes, just being alone with company can make someone’s day a little better. Occasionally, I even like to have a Skype conference going while I do my own thing, just so I can occasionally look up and see someone’s face and ask what they’re up to.
And as a carer, make sure you look after yourself first. Like the way they tell you to put your own air mask on in an aircraft if things are going bad, then you can help the people around you. It’s okay to say no if you’re not up to things. You deserve long luxurious baths and fluffy dressing gowns too. Caring for someone who’s mentally ill can be exhausting and draining, but I promise you, your efforts don’t go unnoticed. You can’t believe how much we appreciate your hard work. I still think about the people who helped me 15 years ago, like my best friend as well as my boyfriend at the time. I’m still grateful to them every day for sticking with me when I was hardest to love. And so will the people in your life. They’ll remember who stuck around and loved them when their lives felt like they were falling apart. There will be plenty who offer empty platitudes, but very few who actually see them through. Carers who show up are worth their weight in gold and well worth holding on to. I can’t begin to tell you how we’d cope without you. This is for the people who show up consistently and who always have my back. I won’t forget you,.