An ideal caregiver, simplified, and then possibly over-complicated, by me.
After lengthy conversations with numerous people of varied backgrounds and levels of mental illness exposure, I have compiled a composite sketch of the ideal caregiver. Some points may seem contradictory, but the illness I suffer from is one giant contradiction. So bear with me, and feel free to comment with agreements, arguments, and amendments.
My ideal caregiver…
– May not understand, but takes the time to educate themselves, and uses that knowledge to respond and react appropriately
– Asks open-ended questions about me specifically, that are more specific than asking if I’m ok
– Isn’t easily exhausted.
– Understands that I don’t do it on purpose, that it doesn’t go away, and that I can’t always control it
– Believes me when I say that my thoughts, feelings, and behaviours have nothing to do with them or any of my loved ones
– Doesn’t shame me or make me feel guilty/afraid to express what I’m truly feeling; no matter how upsetting or shocking hearing it may be
– Embraces the good days, and doesn’t melt down on the bad days
– Respects that I feed off of the energy of those surrounding me; if you’re grumpy, I’m grumpy
– Accepts that I am not always the bad guy, but calls me out when I am
– Apologises when they are in the wrong, doesn’t twist it into how I’ve created a negative atmosphere
– Self deprecation is common in people like me. You don’t have to like it, but a certain amount is always going to be there. The negative nelly in my brain makes sure of that. If it gets out of hand, talk to me – don’t shame me
– Knows that they didn’t cause my illness and neither did I
– Admits if they can’t handle the huge undertaking that is being a caregiver of mine. There is no shame in knowing and accepting your limits
– Doesn’t hide their feelings for fear of triggering mine. I’m a big girl, I know how to listen and be respectful
– Isn’t condescending to me during panic attacks, down swings, or periods of mania
– Asks what I need, doesn’t tell me; and reacts and responds accordingly
– Loves me for me, because of all of my weird quirks, insecurities, and downright crazy attitudes, because I am worth loving, and I deserve to be loved without having to change to fit who others think I should be.
This is a very simple list that I feel applies to any human being, because when it comes down to it, that’s all I am – a human being. I am flawed, as are you, and everyone we’ve ever known. Flaws can be beautiful if the people living inside of them are nurtured and cared for, feel safe and loved. Stop defining human beings by the flaws that make them unique, and start loving the whole person.
Being someone with a flaw that has a name doesn’t make us bad people, being judgemental, ignorant, and impatient is what bad people are made of.
I am the most critical of myself, and I often project my opinions of myself onto others. I try to remind myself that everyone is entitled to form their own opinion, and it’s not right for me to assume how they feel about me. It’s a cycle: I assume the worst, negative energy is created, the other party reacts negatively and/or I lash out, and assume that they have a poor opinion of me. Rinse, repeat. I try hard to avoid these situations, but I am often affected by social cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Tone of voice, how your eyes move, where your hands are when you speak; all things that my brain converts into either ‘good vibes’ or bad ones. My most used phrase (admittedly not first spoken by me) is, “impact, not intent“. If you are a caregiver or close friend with someone who is living with mental illness, this is really a mantra that you should take to heart. Let’s say that while we’re talking you roll your eyes at something I’ve said. (Assuming that we’re talking about more than just sports or the weather) even though you may not even notice that you’ve rolled them, I did. I am analysing, conjuring all of the negative thoughts that I think you’re having about me and what I’m talking about. The impact of what you say and how you respond to people can have a major effect on their mental well-being.
I’m not saying that you should find out the life story of every passersby before looking or speaking to them, but I am saying that you need to know your intimate audience. Just as I can’t assume that you don’t like me, you can’t assume that you’re close relations can’t or won’t be affected by some of the things that you say.
Educate yourselves! Embrace your loved ones! And most importantly, be comfortable enough in your own skin that you don’t have to scratch the freckles off of mine. I have accepted who I am and what I live with, if you can do the same, we can all care for each other.