Volunteering with Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) – either by taking on the role of a support leader or trainer for their classes – has been extremely rewarding. A new class just started last week and I’m a trainer. Like the three other classes I have been involved in, I gain new knowledge and insight every lesson. Here are three examples of things I have learned:
(1) Misery loves company
It sounds rather clichéd, but relationships with individuals going through a similar plight can be very therapeutic. It isn’t something to be wished upon others, but it’s a relief to find a fellow sufferer. Such relationships have a level of understanding that goes far beyond empathy, and “I understand” means a lot more. That being said, however, it is possible for such relationships to be harmful.
(2) I can be a burden
This is something a lot of people like to tell unwell people is untrue, but they’re not fooling anyone. People have walked out on me when I become too much to handle. While it hurt, I do not hold it against them (anymore) for putting their wellbeing first – it does not make them bad people or liars. Nobody is obligated to be responsible for me. Even if it may seem like a dereliction of duty, my caregivers can walk away. Nonetheless, they dedicate so much of their lives to me instead of caring only when convenient (if at all). They have put my needs ahead their own many times. They are willing to risk damaging our relationship or do things “frowned upon” if they believe it is for my own good.
Even if I cannot find an internal motivation, I owe it to my caregivers to work towards recovery. I do not want to waste their effort. I have met people who had loved ones kill themselves over a decade ago, and it isn’t something they can “get over eventually” and be relieved afterwards, which is what I told myself. The grief and the guilt rides upon their shoulders every day of their lives. My caregivers don’t deserve that.
(3) Death is just one way of “losing someone to mental illness”
I grieved the loss of sanity and the person I was before illness. A lot of people with illness go through that, but it didn’t occur to me that caregivers feel the loss too. The person the caregiver loves becomes so enshrouded in illness that it’s extremely difficult, if at all possible, to see the person behind the illness. The line between character and illness blurs. The person might even seem like someone else entirely.
There is a lot more I have learned that changed my worldview and the way I respond to certain situations, such as how I’ve learned to stop blaming individuals by default for having misconceptions or skewed perceptions of mental illness. Instead of anger, I should respond with patience and work on raising awareness instead of berating and reprimanding people. Raising awareness is one of the reasons I started this blog and, hopefully, it will be able to clear up some of the misconceptions and skewed perceptions.
(It’s surprisingly pleasing that “misconceptions and skewed perceptions” flow so nicely)