By: Robin Tidwell
Mental conditions can be classified as minor disorders, such as ADHD/ADD, learning disabilities or Asperger’s, or they can be much more serious, like bipolar disorder, clinical depression or schizophrenia.
Regardless, mental conditions affect not only the individual diagnosed, but the entire family – especially Mom – as well.
In spite of women’s lib and the ongoing battle for equality between the sexes, women are most often responsible for the health and well-being of their family. Moms usually make the doctor and dentist appointments, do the driving and take charge of follow-up care. They’re also more likely to encourage the family to eat healthy and exercise; they handle the scheduling, sign the papers and make the phone calls.
Doing It All
Most moms also spend a lot of time wondering “what if.” They dwell, they conjecture, they ask themselves if it’s their fault. They constantly have ideas on what to do, how to help, where to look for more information. They stress themselves out completely, trying to “fix” things. Sadly, this sometimes isn’t possible, and this focus can push everything else out of the way: nothing seems as important as taking care of the ailing party.
Dads surely do these things, too – just not as often. And usually men have a more laid-back attitude toward health and safety. They generally don’t feel compelled to “do it all” and don’t feel that special “mom guilt.” One isn’t better than the other, just different.
Communicating the Flip Side
This is why communication is so important. Undoubtedly, both parents will talk about the condition, what the doctor said, when the next counseling or physician appointment is. They’ll coordinate medication schedules and so forth. Both will spend time with the person who is ill, and both certainly want the best outcome for everyone.
However, communication is more than surface chitchat, such as “How was your day?” or “When did you say the next appointment is?” It means really opening up and telling your spouse how you feel: the guilt, the anxiety, the information (or lack thereof), the fears, the questions. Communication means you talk and respond to each other with love and respect. Your entire world has flipped upside down, and that affects everyone in the family, all the time.
Finding Meaning in Change
This person may look the same, but probably doesn’t think or behave the same way as others. But he or she does have many or most of the same hopes, fears, likes and dislikes as you, your husband, your other children and probably many people in the world as well. This is something to remember, something to hang on to.
But here’s the kicker: everything else is still important. Nothing has lost its meaning – not your marriage, not the other children, not even the person who is ill, and certainly not you. You are the same individual with the same hopes, fears, likes and dislikes, but now you are more. You are the caretaker for someone with a mental condition.
Learn More and Keep It Together
Educate yourself. Read, ask questions, take notes. Learn all you can about the disorder or illness so that you can advocate for your patient and your family. Garner support, a listening ear, wherever you can find one. Internet message boards and groups are a wonderful resource, as are community support groups. The former can be a quick connection; the latter enables you to get out of the house and be around other people with whom you have a great deal in common.
Most moms are likely the backbone of their family. Most things fall on their shoulders, and this includes their own self-care. Mentally, emotionally and physically, they must – maybe for the first time ever – put themselves at the top of the list, often even at the very top, before the person diagnosed with a mental disorder. Because if they fall apart, the child or parent may suffer, the family may suffer, and it’s much harder to come back from the brink than to avoid it altogether.