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Navigating the Rocky Shoals of Someone Else’s Mental Illness

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My daughter and I share the unfortunate and dubious honour of being bipolar. What we do not share is how we approach the disorder. I am a bipolar warrior and fight for mental wellness every day. She does everything in her power to avoid dealing with this serious illness

This past spring and summer, she went on a terrifying and terrorising journey of psychotic mayhem that spanned two states and many towns. 

Her episodes and escapades nearly brought me down with her, undoing almost two decades of relative calm and successful management of my bipolar disorder

If you read my blog, you are familiar with this situation and its disturbing details.

There have been further incidents since my last post. There have been two hospitalisations without ensuing mental health care. She is currently as stable as she can be. We live daily with bated breath and fingers crossed. So far, so good, although she is beginning to avoid us. That is not a good sign.

In my case, I am attempting to learn anew how to navigate the rocky shoals of her severe mental illness while managing my own. I could barely pull myself back from the abyss I fell into this summer as my brain went on her journey with her. My mental health was at risk. My coping strategies failed.

What happened to me as I tried to make my way back? First and foremost, I suffered tremendous guilt from having been affected by her illness. Second, I felt I was being selfish, even though I couldn’t control the symptoms I was experiencing. Who was I to utter a single complaint when the entire family was writhing in distress over the bizarre and frightening things my daughter was doing?

How self-centred could I be to be distraught myself? I was utterly unmoored and, at the same time, filled with self-loathing. I didn’t dare utter a word to anyone about my struggle, fearing that they would see me for the selfish monster I saw myself as. 

So I did what I have done many times before. I held my counsel. It was like wading through quicksand. Finally, and after much painful reflection and agony, I resolved to take control of myself.

I decided that I would figure out how to manage my behaviours and feelings while hers were bombarding meuld not manage hers, but I could undoubtedly manage mine. And so I took out my old trusty toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms. The one I had stopped using just when I needed it most.

I started meditating and practising yoga again. I had a long talk with myself about what I could and could not control, regardless of the outcome of letting go. I tried to make peace with how high the cost of letting go might be. I resumed doing the things that make me happy. I let the light back in, even though that light is sometimes dim.

I still fear a renewal of her psychotic behaviours will rock my foundations. But I won’t borrow trouble. Instead, I will deal with things as they happen and not before.

What can you do? You have to care for and take care of yourself. What does that look like? I can’t tell you because it’s unique to each person. It would help if you exercised, perhaps learn to be quiet and even meditate. Do the things that make you happy, even if they are small things.  

Accept what you can and cannot control. Most importantly, let light into your life. And do not, under any circumstances, criticize yourself for faltering under the stress of dealing with someone else’s mental illness.

This is true in any case, but most certainly, if you are also struggling with your mental health issues. Be kind and loving to yourself most of all. And, no matter your beliefs, perhaps try prayer or two. As the saying goes, any port in a storm. 

They slip through the cracks of a dangerously broken mental health care system.

Deb Wilk writes for various publications, and she runs her blog, Living Bipolar.


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