Friday, December 11, 2009

Family-to-Family Week 9

Note: One of our current Family-to-Family participants is writing a weekly series about her experience in NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's 12-week class. This is her ninth post.

Throughout the Family-to-Family course, we've been learning about our loved one's mental illness, and how to help them through communication, understanding and advocating for them. All of these tools will serve everyone involved in our loved one's care; but, as family members who provide support in so many ways, we need to make sure that our feelings and needs are not being ignored or suppressed by our focus on our loved one's care. If we don't make room in our lives for the expression of our own feelings and we don't set boundaries, we can become burned out.

An analogy to the importance of caregivers and family members paying attention to their own needs was brought up in class and is one that travelers have often heard as part of the pre-flight safety instructions: "If you are traveling with a child, kindly secure your oxygen mask before securing theirs." The reason for this is that if you don't help yourself first, you won't be able to help the child.

Having a loved one with mental illness can be a burden, but often we take the stoic route and pretend as if our feelings and needs don't matter as much as our loved ones. They do. In class we discussed what some of the typical burdens are. We discussed our own feelings and the specific burdens we encounter as a result of a family member's mental illness. And, we learned ways to make these burdens lighter by taking positive actions to balance out the heavy responsibilities that we shoulder. Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to let go of the guilt, pay attention to your social life and your health, and do things that make you feel good. It seems simple, but the payoff is enormous.

For more information, visit the Family-to-Family section of the NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania website.