November is “National Family Caregiver’s Month” and a good time to honor those who stand by, support and habitually assist family members who deal daily with mental illnesses. Catherine P. Downing is such a caregiver and a friend of The Well Community. Below she captures for us some of the hidden blessings of helping a loved one with mental health difficulties.
When mental illness is embedded in the warp and woof of a family’s life it is hard to see how your loved one’s struggles and your ongoing caregiving could possibly weave into anything good. But if you look closely you may uncover a few threads of blessings subtly streaming across the fabric of your own heart.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to recognize that spotting good things in the midst of hard situations can help to bring healing and hope. And somehow, giving thanks adds strands of joy amid the darker times. In fact, maintaining a posture of gratitude may be one of the most effective ways to navigate the holidays!
Caregivers often develop deep and positive character traits that offer reasons to be thankful. Even though we may not readily identify with or easily accept these adjectives, they are fair descriptors of many caregivers.
- Compassionate. Those who walk a path of daily struggles are better able to empathize with others on similar journeys. We develop a tenderness toward those who suffer and are able to sincerely respond with compassion.
- Inquisitive. Since every new medication or circumstance prompts new situations, caregivers are constant learners. We study, read, listen and research to know better ways to help our loved ones.
- Inclusive. Mental illness impacts every race and socio-economic part of society. As we interact with other families, we step outside our own bubbles and share life with others very unlike us. These relationships expand our world views and our hearts.
- Attentive. We learn to pay attention to how others are responding to their own situations, to their environments and to us. We have a stronger sense of “impact awareness,” noticing and caring about how our words and actions may be perceived by others.
- Patient. From waiting at mental health clinics, to walking step by step through the day, we have many opportunities to become practiced in patience. Some of us learn that impatience reveals our need for control, and exposes the naked truth that we have none.
- Faith-filled. Our own limitations in understanding and in dealing well with our loved ones’ struggles with mental illness can make us easily aware that our strength and hope must come from God. Dependence on Him enables us to carry our own loads and offer to lighten the load of others.