Family & Illness

I wanted to come clean about a few things here. I was not an easy kid. In general, I would say that I was not easy to be around once I hit puberty.

There were many reasons for this, most of which are not relevant to include here, but one of the reasons was the fact that I was dealing with a mental illness.

Both of my parents tried to get me to see a doctor when I was quite young, but I refused to go. 

What were they supposed to do? Drag me there?

I recall one instance where I agreed to go, but then changed my mind on the car ride there. The doctor, who was apparently “the best in Niagara” for paediatric psychology visited me in the passenger seat of my mother’s van in the parking lot, urging me to come inside.

It wasn’t going to happen.

The point is, she tried. Again and again and again. It may not have been through any of her or my father’s efforts that I got help, but they laid the foundation that eventually saw me get the help that I needed.

From the perspective of someone who may be dealing with mental illness, hearing it for the first couple of times really takes you off guard. You are shocked and offended. It is likely true that you have been questioning your own actions and reactions to things for quite some time now, but to hear it come out of someone else’s mouth, especially someone who you count on to have the best opinion of you, it is a lot to take in.

I imagine that it is true that most young people, and even adults, will be initially resistant to the suggestion that there may be something wrong with them. You are, after all, talking about their brain and the image that they present to the rest of the world. To think that that image may be skewed from the one they have pictured of themselves in their own minds is really, really hard.

If you feel that you have a friend or family member who is in need of assistance from a mental health professional, I would absolutely do some of the ground work, as my parents did, before you approach them about it.
  1. Know in advance which doctor you would like to go to. Most have specialties, so you may have to do some research. Psychology Today is a great resource for finding someone that can see your friend or family member. They have great filters that allow you limit your search to the specialty you are seeking help for. If you require a psychiatrist, you can often get a referral from your GP. In Ontario, it is important to note that psychologists, counsellors & therapists are not covered under OHIP.
  2. Once you have found the individual that you are hoping to see, contact them and apprise them of the situation. Tell them that you have not yet approached the person in need and ask them for advice on how to do so. Each person’s individual personality & illness is completely different and so it would be silly of me to lay out some catchall approach for “how to speak to a crazy person”. It will be different depending on your circumstance. It may even be dangerous, which is why it is very important that you discuss this step with a professional, give some background on the individual, and formulate a plan that you think will work.
  3. Make the appointment. I would recommend making the appointment right away before you speak to the individual in need, but the mental health professional that you are dealing with may have a different opinion on this than me. The way I see it is that usually these things book WAY in advance.. sometimes months. The last thing that you want to do to someone who is dealing with a mental illness is to give them something to stew about.. at least, that is the case with me. Personally, I think that 1 week’s notice is suitable. I would probably not make the person aware that you have had the appointment for longer than that because then they may get upset that you were keeping something from them. Just know in your heart that you are taking certain steps and making certain decisions with your friend or family member’s best interest in mind.
  4. Plan ahead. Create an agenda of how the day will unfold on the day of the appointment. For me personally, I like to pad my appointment & travel time by an hour each way. This isn’t going to be a “normal” day for the individual. You want everything to be as leisurely and casual as possible. For me personally, I absolutely HATE waiting. I would much rather be sitting in the waiting area of the doctor’s office vs sitting on my couch at home, waiting to be able to leave to go the appointment. Maybe your friend or family member is completely different than me? If you have this conversation ahead of time, things will unfold the way they want it to on the big day!
  5. Be as calm as possible. The person at the centre of all this is very likely going to be extremely stressed out. Try not to be dorky calm. We know when you’re putting on an act. Just be yourself and really try not to be affected by our stress. We need your calming influence. We need your support. We just need you to be there.
  6. Open your hearts and minds to the possibility that sometimes the individual that you love is not sick. It is certainly possible that someone you know and love may need to have a conversation with a mental health professional without being mentally ill. It is inappropriate and offensive to rattle off terminology that you may not be educated about without some sort of confirmation from a professional.
  7. If your family member or loved one is truly in need of a mental health professional, please do not give up after the first try. For my parents, it was literally dozens of tries over about a 10yr span to no avail. But it made me more open to the idea that there may be a problem when I was approached by someone outside of my family circle years later. Had my parents not put in the initial effort, I may not have been as receptive to that next person being concerned about me.

I don’t live in the same city as my parents anymore, but I know that if I need their support, there is always somewhere that I can go. I know that they will listen to me and try to sympathize. They put in the effort. And I know that that isn’t always easy.

A lot has changed in our relationships since I was put the mood stabilizer (the one that followed the lithium), Epival. I will discuss Epival in greater detail once I have attained my medical records and do my continue the run down of my former and current prescriptions.

It has been suggested to me that this is “fake” or not representative of my true feelings and emotions. Like I said, I was a difficult child and I had a difficult childhood. Having some assistance to know how to file those things in my brain is not fake. It has allowed me to organize my feelings and discard certain things that I had been holding onto for far too long.

There are very few reasons that anyone should keep grudges against family members, or anyone else for that matter. I feel that when you hold a grudge against someone, you usually have a specific event or a short string of events in mind, while the person that you are holding a grudge against has lived a lifetime before and after those single moment(s). They are more than what you are judging them for.

Grudges are extremely one-sided and in almost all cases and the only person who is being hurt is usually the person holding the grudge.

I really hope that there will be some family members who read this post and find it useful when dealing with their loved one.

For anyone reading this post who exists on the mentally ill side of the coin, know that your family member or loved one is doing their best. Unfortunately, it is true that they will almost always get it wrong the first time around and you have to make room for their mistakes in your brain and in your heart.

Isn’t the effort worth something?

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