Learning To Depend On Your Caretaker and Support System
This blog post is dedicated to all the caretakers/support teams out there who are caring for their loved ones and others who are going through challenges in life, mostly with mental illness.
Around the holidays, people can get more anxious than usual, and I know with bipolar I, I experience tension and mood changes. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather can be gloomy, dark and dull at the end of the year. This is when support groups and caretakers are needed more than ever.
Webster’s dictionary describes a caretaker as “one that gives physical or emotional care and support”. I like to describe a caretaker as an angel with wings because they uplift the individual who needs care when they are unable to take care of themselves.
The caretakers are the ones who have to be held accountable for their loved one’s actions, and are responsible for making decisions for them, when they cannot make decisions for themselves.
My support team consists of advocates and support team members that may not necessarily be responsible for my daily routines and medication regimens, but are there for me for my emotional support. Some patients rely on a pet or animal for emotional support and love. The animal is there for the patient, providing them with comfort and security. A person can have from one to a few caretakers looking after them. I have a team of people who I consider my support team, some are:
- my family members
- support groups
After my last suicide attempt in 2016, I knew that I had hit rock bottom and had to let my family take over. I decided something needed to be done or I needed help to survive.
What this support looks like…
- My beloved super support team consists of: my mother Agnes, along with my father, who were the first to help me change my mind about suicide. With her strong faith she made me believe in God again. My mother helped me and encouraged me to research the diagnosis and research how to attain a healthy lifestyle, with food and proper exercise.
- My strong brother Mwila: who taught me and instilled in me the importance and strength of enduring while suffering, which I will discuss more later.
- My doctors: (psychiatrists, therapists and natural paths). They help me stay accountable for my medication regimens, emotional, mental well-being and holistic outlook.
- My super support group: I heard about National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) from my therapist. I learned that they had many programs catered to patients and their families. I attended a few meetings before finding an awesome and great bipolar support group through my psychiatrist.
- My friend: Andrea, she knows my true story and she keeps me in line about my diet and helps me stay away from foods I shouldn’t eat, like sugar and processed carbs.
What my support team does…
When I woke up in the hospital from my suicide attempt in August of 2016, I looked at my mother’s face which displayed all kinds of disappointing emotions. She then said something to me I will never forget, she told me “Mwati, don’t ever do that do that to me again.” It was the way she said it that brought chills on the back of my neck. I told her, “I promise.”
Then I thought, that I had put my family through a lot but, at the same time not all of this was my fault. My mom especially, had to bear the burden of watching out for my triggers, researching, making sure I’m ok when I couldn’t. She was responsible for my care.
I remember when I hit my lowest point and I was throwing things and breaking pictures. I was so angry that I wasn’t getting better, angry at the world, angry at God. My other lowest point was where this “thief” bipolar had stolen my dignity, I couldn’t bathe on my own, I had no strength from all the medication I was taking. My mom and sister, who had come from Atlanta, had to help me shower. I knew then that I had hit rock bottom, that I couldn’t even take care of myself. At the back of my mind I kept thinking, something had to change, but how? I couldn’t get rid of this plague, this monster had taken me hostage.
I’m one of the lucky ones though, I have a support system like no other. My mom has been there for me constantly researching my condition since the day I was first diagnosed. She has been relentless in helping me heal, showing nothing but resilience and strength. From researching the right foods for me to eat, to showing me healing scriptures in the Bible, and telling me not to forget my relationship to God.
My other support…
Even though they are not all my caretakers, I have other people in my life that hold me accountable for my actions. For example, my good friend Andrea, whom I’ve known since college, always reminds me not to eat too much refined sugar, especially when eating out. Andrea knows that sugar triggers my mania. She reminds me and tells me not to eat certain foods that I think I can get away with.
In my super support group, we cover a variety of topics in life, like family dynamics and how they affect us as individuals with bipolar. Its nice to have that support team of people who are going through similar things you are going through. I think the bipolar support group, in addition to regular therapy where I participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, is very effective for bipolar. CBT can be described on the Mayo Clinic website as “a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or
therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”
CBT helps me as a form of therapy that works with training the brain to think positive thoughts, positive reinforcements and positive behaviors. Research shows that CBT when administered correctly, can effectively help with the symptoms of mental illness – specifically in my situation with bipolar, it has been a huge help.
A very good doctor told me something I will never forget and I share it with my bipolar support group and others. Dr. Bradford Weeks gave me great support by showing me a very profound analogy or example, that I often think about when I’m in strife. Dr. Weeks told me:
You are a Ferrari. You are not a Jeep. You are more sensitive, more delicate, and more sophisticated than a Jeep. You are not better than a Jeep, just different. Agreed, a Ferrari is more expensive, but it’s not necessarily better. For example, if you lived on top of a ridge and the road to the top was full of potholes and ruts, a Ferrari would be worthless to you. But as a Ferrari, you need to take better care of yourself than if you were a Jeep. You can’t go off-road with a Ferrari. You can’t be sleep deprived or do drugs or alcohol to the degree that a Jeep can. You need to take high-octane fuel—vitamins and minerals—and not eat junk food. You need more maintenance than a Jeep does. That is just the way you are. You will always be a Ferrari, so you have to take better care of yourself than how your Jeep friends take care of themselves.” (excerpt from my book Strengthening Your Identity)
Some of us are Ferraris and that’s ok, we are just made uniquely different. It took me a long time to realize this. It took me a while to realize that I can’t hang out until 3 a.m. with my disorder, partying like I used to when I lived in Atlanta, I am a unique vehicle that needs rest. I ignored the fact that I had a diagnosis of bipolar. I didn’t know that I couldn’t put a lot of miles on myself like my “Jeep friends”, as Dr Weeks says.
To my “Ferrari friends”, you need to take care of yourself. Reduce alcohol if you are on medication, reduce refined foods that are not healthy for your mind or body. Be accountable. Be around a supportive group, one that will help you grow and reach manageable heights.
My brother, who is as I explained in my book, “Strengthening My Identity While the Shadow is in Front of You,” is my superhero. He reminds me that in life we have to endure to persevere to the end. He taught something very sacred to me in the midst of my suffering. As he states in chapter 18 of my book called “Enduring While Suffering,” he says, “There are somethings in life that you can only learn by being broken down.” In my book, I give a testimony of how my brother’s philosophy and words of endurance brought me back to life.
One day when I was suffering with my bipolar disorder, my brother Mwila told me, ‘Mwati, sometimes you have to endure in this life; you have to endure.’ At first, I didn’t understand what he meant, so I replied in my agony, ‘but I‘m suffering all the time.’ He corrected me by saying, ‘Endure; not suffer.’ He was right. Rather than suffering, we can choose to endure; when we do that, we can change our suffering.” (This is an excerpt from my book Strengthening Your Identity)
Endure vs Suffer
What Mwila talks about is when we suffer, or are in the midst of our suffering, we lose sight that this suffering is making us stronger, and thus we endure to build on our strength and resilience. While we are suffering, we undergo pain and tolerance with whatever we are going through in order to withstand future pain. We learn and are better equipped for next time we may experience affliction or hurt.
This was something profound that finally hit my mind with a heavy impact. When he told me this, I was rejuvenated. I learned that in life there will be heavy road blocks that will come in my journey towards solace and comfort. In my solitude, I learned that God gives you tests that you have to endure. Even though like me, it’s hard sometimes to see how you come out triumphant and delivered, while you are in the midst of your despair.
If you are alone, there are so many angels, counselors, and mentors out there who are ready to hear your story. There are lots of support networks out there for people suffering with mental illness and other issues. As mentioned before, I found the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support system was a huge help. I find support groups a refuge where I can relate to others going through similar challenges… our stories might be different, but our struggle is the same. Another outlet is the suicide hotline (1-800-273 8255) which was helpful to me. Even though I only spoke to the representative when I was in deep trouble, she helped me realize there are support systems out there for me. To anyone having a hard time, those angels truly are there for your journey of health.
If you are struggling with mental illness, it is not the end of the road, there are people out there willing to assist you. Sometimes in the midst of your struggle you have to make the first move. This can be hard when you feel like a heavy stone is anchored at your feet. But this is where endurance and perseverance come in. You have to fight for your life if you want freedom. The road will have road blocks, but like Dr Weeks, said you are a Ferrari, so take it slow over those bumps! You may not always agree with your caretaker or your support system during times of suffering, but sometimes they are right and know what’s best for you. They can help you with your fight for freedom.
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