On a recent visit home, we walked into the neighborhood liquor store, I notice he's beaming with pride, eager to blurt out to the clerk, "This is my sister I was telling you about she's a newscaster from LA. She's my better half." My brother knows that simple introduction just bought him more store credit on his alcohol tab, because after all addicts are the Da Vinci of creativity for their supply, especially in a small town.
Booze has been more of a crutch for him, a way to self-medicate a more serious problem, one that went undiagnosed far too long. He's bipolar with severe social phobias. Growing up his mood swings threw me off. My one time protector from bullies would go from rage to tears within minutes, I knew in those moments, he didn't even understand why. His daily battle is dealing with the mental warfare brewing in his mind, at times turning irrational with thoughts of ending his life, giving up just for mental peace to hopelessness you'd never want to see in a loved one's eyes. The struggle is watching him spend hours each day trying to 'man up' as he'd say, just to walk out the front door and face society. My fear, is one day he'll stop trying and never leave his home. Yet, when his eyes aren't glazed over from uncontrollable racing thoughts and ADHD he has a gift to make people laugh. From his incredible dance moves to self-deprecating addict jokes he will do anything for a smile, because for him it's a badge of acceptance, one he yearns for even though he tattooed his body and face to scare people off. His armor of ink is really to protect himself, a mind and body full of fear.
From an outside perspective I'll see his body react to fears, but I don't actually see the fear or the threat. My mistake is assuming it's not real, because what doesn't make sense to me, makes perfect sense to him and that's what matters.
It's easy to ignore people with mental illnesses when you can't relate or understand. When you see the homeless man screaming, twitching and afraid, most people turn their heads. Condemning those with mental illnesses when attached to a horrific crime. What's often not discussed is the impact a family can have on their loved one afflicted, from helping them to making them worse, more isolated. I wish growing up the signs and behaviors were taught in school, like Sex Ed, make it mandatory. I know it would have helped my family and likely saved lives while helping to erase the stigma over the years.
I won't throw a bunch of statistics at you but currently our jails and prisons have become the new hospitals for mental health patients with nearly a quarter of the inmates suffering from mental disorders.
Imagine mixed signals from your brain, a broken gauge on your emotional knob with no strength or control to turn it down. For some it's being thrown into a helpless childlike state when dealing with certain aspects of like, but it does not mean they're not fully capable. In all my years covering social issues, I've learned some simply need a little more love and support then others. It may be draining at times, let's acknowledge that but you can handle it, you'll see your much stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for.
THE ISSUE: Whether a loved one grows to understand the mental imbalance on their own or not, it's unlikely they will speak up and ask for help. The fear is judgment by family and friends, or worse playing on their paranoia.
Fear and Anxiety shrouds rationale and buries all hope during a mental episode. Both can overshadow the love and support felt at home even life long memories of good. If you're informed and take the time, measuring someone's level of fear and anxiety can be detected.
HURDLES; the stigma is negative and the symptoms and signs aren't mainstream enough for families to properly identify. Those with mental illnesses are very good at hiding their true feelings and thoughts.
You can help! Keep in mind you'll never be able to lift the emotional and mental burden they carry. That's their own mental battlefield.
Just because YOU don't understand it doesn't mean it's not real.
Just because YOU see an easy fix doesn't mean it can be fixed.
Don't love by judging, by forcing, by controlling thoughts, fears or moods of others, you'll never win and it won't help.
HOW TO HELP:
-Listen judgment free
-Share if ever you can relate, ignite a candid, vulnerable conversation
- Don't try to solve, just understand and acknowledge
- Reassurance through mental strengthening. Tell them they're not alone, it's more common then they'd expect, give examples to widen their isolation.
- Understand no amount of love will ever be enough to stop or take away their pain, but it helps to hear it routinely.
- Reminders of Better Days, reinforce the dark days don't last
-Help emotionally by reminiscing joyful memories.
-Keep them active and distracted during an episode.
- Do not live in guilt because you don't struggle with the same obstacles, it won't help either of you.
-Embrace your good days as much as the bad ones, it's a roller coaster ride but one millions are on as well, take solace in the universal heartache.
- Teach: There must be mainstream awareness in schools teaching the signs, symptoms and discuss stigmas of Mental Illnesses in society. Frequent Dialogue not only saves lives it lessens the isolation and fears.
-Don't turn your back! If emotions or outbursts get too much to bear, take 'me' time, step back to grow your strength but don't threaten someone already broken, don't yell or scream it's the same as the old phrase, kicking a dog while it's down. Re-address when you've regained perspective.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.