The Caregiver Club

IBPF recently did a lecture about families and bipolar disorder that featured both consumers and caregivers – there was someone living with bipolar disorder, their parent, and their sibling. Now, I thought that was an amazing idea because I have five siblings. Yup! Five. I am the baby (halo ensured here). We hear from consumers often about their experiences once diagnosed and what they learn. What about caregivers though? Having five of my own siblings, I thought that I would put a prompt out there for the caregivers in my life. 

I asked my mother and my sister to “pick a subject, write something and send it to me.” What I got back was interesting! Now, both are completely different people in many ways. They view life differently but are both two of the most positive people I know. 

My mother, my main caregiver, took a direct approach and wrote sort of how I do. About how we’re all different, humans in general. How support is so important in a consumer’s life and the ability for a consumer to be open with their caregiver. Here is what she had to say: 

“I’m a caregiver for my daughter who has Bipolar Disorder Type I. She was diagnosed at 19 and I can say, I would like to share with other caregivers what I’ve learned through seeing what she went through when she was first discovering herself. 

There are many things that can tip you off when the person you care for comes into that part of themselves. Each person is different. No different than someone without a disorder. We all have different hair, skin color, personalities etc… I was very lucky that my daughter came to me and let me know that she wasn’t feeling ok, that something was off. I knew, for her to be that strong, she had to of had the security and openness with me to come forth and open up further. That, I think, is very important. 

Support is very important for people living with bipolar, no matter what form it may come in. I’m glad I can do that for my daughter. In the following four years, there have been some scary points, mixed with lots of learning and tears. Now, there are lots of confident smiles and learning of herself that is absolutely beautiful to watch. I remember to always, as a caregiver, be watchful but never criticizing. Always make sure your door is open and let them be themselves until you see them not being themselves. That’s when it will alert you to intervene in a positive way. What may seem abnormal to you, may seem normal to them, if in an episode”– My mother

So, as you can see, she took a direct approach to helping other caregivers and how she helps me. She intervened in my life a few times when I was first diagnosed but when I started to recover and ultimately recognized my own signs, she took a back seat but is still one of my main caregivers. She sits on a throne in my head. My mom notices the small, insignificant-seeming signs that one might not notice but if seen, could stop an episode from happening.

Now, my sister took a different approach. She openly spoke of how she viewed mental illness in teens until it was in her face. Then changing to how she would have changed her views and how she supports me now. Here is what she had to say:

“Growing up, the one thing you constantly hear about any teen having up and down moments is that they’re going through a phase. Sure, some teens “go through a phase” and it’s just assumed that they are screaming for attention, but no one ever stops to take a closer look at those teens who might actually have an underlying illness – they just get grouped into the stereotype that depression and impulsive tendencies are just a normal part of teen behavior. It’s only when you have someone close to you be diagnosed with a specific illness that you understand the difference between the two. 

Admittedly, I was one of those people who assumed that any teen acting out was attention seeking. It was not until my own sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I began to understand that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I began to see that her bipolar disorder was affecting her ability to be comfortable in social situations such as work or family functions.  I began to understand that instead of judging her reactions to things, I should have been trying to help her overcome them because turning a blind eye was making me just as awful as the people who were still grouping her into the stereotype.

I guess one could say that I was relieved to find out that her illness had a name, and that treatment was possible to make her happier. I was relieved to know that my sister, who struggled so much as a teenager with other health problems, was able to manage yet another part of her challenging life. It was only then that I began to understand that instead of assuming it was a phase, I should embrace her diagnosis and be there as a caregiver, even if it is just a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen.“– My sister.

As you can see, she grouped herself with those giving stigma until she changed when she was faced with it. All teens go through phases. Mine just happened to be part of an underlying mental illness. She watched our oldest brother go through his teen years and then watched four other kids go through them. We all had our phases. And believe me, I gave them a reason to see my actions as phases. I am an angel, I’m sure they will agree with me. But I was all over the place as a teen. From what types of clothes I wore, to impulsive actions, to who I hung out with day to day. 

I think, mainly that what they both showed here, shockingly in different ways, is that support is the biggest form of love that a consumer needs to know is there. You know those trust exercises, where you fall back and let the others catch you? A caregiver’s support is like that. They catch your moods, your emotions and your actions. They lend an ear, a shoulder, an eye or a conversation. Sometimes, it’s good to ask for that ear or shoulder from someone that can give you different views on your situation. Sometimes, it’s good to ask for that eye to keep watch over you or a conversation to help you back onto the path of recovery.

I think knowing that, if your caregiver isn’t available, you have another person to catch you is a big part in recovery. 

Read the rest of Michele’s blogs for IBPF here.

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