Disclaimer: This is a highly emotional subject, on which I am only giving my opinion. If you feel you need to talk to some-one, please scroll below where there’ll be links to mental health services.
“I would love to hear your thoughts on how to support a friend or family member who is ill or disabled. Having to deal with a life changing experience like that takes a toll on those around them, too.”
When I received this question, I could feel the weight of responsibility settle on my shoulders, but I also felt my passion for mental health improvement fire up. This is clearly a highly emotional and sensitive subject, and I absolutely want my comments to empower and positively guide, not alienate or isolate those who are involved in this change.
Supporting somebody else, physically or emotionally will take it’s toll. There’s no way that you can commit yourself, assisting or taking full responsibility and not seeing a huge and potentially negative affect on your mental health, as well as physical health. Having a good support network is a luxury it seems, with a lot of people not experiencing one in times of need. I guess that’s why we blog; to find the support network online these days, because feelings are easier to talk about through a screen.
The key issue I feel from the question is how to support someone who has become ill. That change, that movement, that loss. When somebody that you love becomes ill it may be incredibly stressful, and illnesses range from physically becoming disabled, to diagnoses of cancer, or losing use of a part of their mind, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I think the best way to support others is to first of all, manage your own feelings.
How can I manage my own feelings?
Allow yourself to grieve
People don’t often associate somebody they love becoming ill with loss and grief, but it absolutely is. It’s not physical loss, it’s emotional loss. You will go into the grieving process, and it may last for the entirety of that persons life. You are experiencing a massive change. With change comes loss of some kind. Loss of friendship, loss of stability, loss of mobility. There’s always loss sitting on the back seat in the car of change, always. And loss feels absolutely horrendous. It sits in your pit like a constant flu. Giving you the tremors and a fever, forcing you into bed, removing your energy and want for nutrition. It’s so important to allow yourself to experience and release your emotions. Or they’ll sit in your stomach, boiling up every so often.
Grieving is a bird, that sits in your garden, that tweets now and again, letting you know you have loved and lost in some way.
Find your support network
Support networks look different for everyone. For some, it can be friends and family, talking about it and feeling together. For others, it can be losing themselves in events or by carrying on like normal and finding support from normality. You may find there’s only a few people you can discuss the emotions with, or maybe you don’t want to talk to anyone yet because you find it’s too much. There is no right or wrong way of coping or feeling, but reaching out to some-one will help you. I’m also sure your friends and family will want to help you.
Take Care Of Yourself
This may sound basic, but just basic care can go out of the window when you’re focused on somebody else, focused on making their life comfortable. That’s wonderful, that they have you. But you also need you. You are no good to others without ensuring you’re feeling OK yourself. We use our minds and our bodies sometimes as if they’re robotic, moving around as much as we like, feeling horrendous emotions and expecting things not to change. We put so much pressure on ourselves to meet the needs of others, we forget to meet our own needs.
Keep some independence
Independence, again, isn’t really something we identify as being that important when we’re feeling highly emotional and are in survival mode. If somebody you love is unwell and you’re feeling the weight of the responsibility to look after them, you may find you dedicate most of yourself to them. Which is absolutely amazing and those people are the special people in life, but they need to let others help. If your loved one has been offered physical support or emotional support, encourage them to take on what they’re happy with. That way you can gain some independence from that person and live your life, too. What happens with complete dedication to somebody else without your own time is your mental health takes a good kicking. You’ll isolate yourself from your friends, maybe refusing to go out because you feel you can’t leave your dependent other. Maybe you’ll find you don’t want to socialise as you’re feeling quite low and grieving. Take your time, but use your support network to go for a coffee every so often, or go to the local shop for daily walks. You are doing an amazing job, but try to look after yourself in the process.
How can I support my ill loved one?
Keep them company
Isolation is one of the most common and scariest feelings to experience during big changes in your life. It’s different from loneliness, it happens only in your mind and cannot be seen from the outside. For those that feel it, it’s SO important for them to have their own support network. Maybe that’s you. Maybe that’s exactly how you support your friend or family member, by being there to talk, or just having dinner with them. Just by spending time with someone, you are improving their mental health, and hopefully yours.
Be on the other end of the phone
Small but important. Reaching out and communicating can be so important for those that are going through a change and illness. They’ll probably be confined to the house whilst in recovery, or not able to go far for the future. Because of this, they might rely on their phone or online and calling/texting others to keep socialising and communicating. Just being on the other end of the phone will be supporting your loved one to feel more connected to their reality and help them engage in their life in different ways.
Talk about how you feel, to enable them to
You may think this isn’t appropriate, as they’ve gone through alot and you don’t feel its the right time to talk about your own feelings, but by opening up conversations about feelings, we are inviting others to feel OK to do it too. We have this thing in Britain where we all act out this play where none of us are able to discuss our feelings and we all pretend everything is OK until we’re behind closed doors. Or even for some, that’s still not a safe place to be sad. You need somewhere that’s safe to be sad, so you can get upset without worry or guilt. Talking about how you feel with your loved one may enable them to talk about how they feel, too.
Arrange a positive event for them to look forward to
If they can manage getting to the local coffee shop, maybe make a date where you all go for a coffee and cake. If they’re fine getting around, maybe book a movie or go to the theatre. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but having things to look forward to keep us feeling positive, whatever it is.
You are not alone, we are all fighting something… and it would be amazing if we could leave support for one another below if anybody feels they’d like to share their thoughts 🙂
If any of this information has made you feel emotionally distressed and you’d like to speak to some-body, you can call Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us) on 116 123 any-time of the day.