Mental health caregiving is a stressful job; here are simple strategies to help decrease your stress and help you remain optimistic:
Not only do I have an adult son who has bipolar disorder but I am also a police officer in one of the most violent cities in the country. People often wonder how I remain optimistic and not get caught up in the negativity. To be perfectly honest I do have some bad days, sometimes awful days. Days where I don’t want to get off the couch or I cry myself to sleep at night, but there are several things I have learned along the way to cope with life’s turmoil, so I don’t get stuck in very dark places. Hopefully, through my journey, I can inspire others to find their positivity.
1) Learn to talk about it
Almost every day when I leave work, I call my mom. I tell her all about my day—even the bad stuff I have seen or dealt with. What I am really doing is purging those emotions. My mom is my safety net and by sharing things with her it makes it easier to let it go altogether. I don’t hide in the shadows about my son’s diagnosis. I speak open and candid about our lives. I am not ashamed.
2) Forgive yourself
I am by far a perfect parent. I have given up the idea of becoming Donna Reed. I am a single working mom who is trying to do her best. I couldn’t make every game or take my son on vacations, but I continue to be supportive and have unconditional love.
3) Don’t worry about judgment
If I had a dollar for every time someone offered me parenting advice or scrutinized the job I do, I would be a rich person. I don’t care what people think or say about me. Those people don’t pay my bills and probably couldn’t survive walking in my shoes. Anyone quick to judge another person is probably struggling with their own demons and is trying to deflect attention from themselves. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, but it is the strong people who are willing to open their closet for the world to see them.
4) Every situation is temporary
Life can change in a second. One minute my son was homeless, and I was preparing for the worst and the next minute he was on a plane going for treatment. Life changes in a heartbeat; learn not to dwell in those bad moments because hope may be around the corner.
5) Surround yourself with positive/supportive people
I don’t expect all my friends and family to understand my world, but I do expect them to listen and hold my hand during the rough times. I also made a conscious decision to surround myself with those who don’t engage in drama or negativity. I value myself too much to let others tear me down with bulls@!t
#6) Don’t self-loathe/Poor me syndrome
There is nothing that irks me more than those who have the power to change a situation and don’t! When my son was diagnosed with bipolar, I could’ve easily unpacked in my pity party and let everyone continue to feel sorry for me or I could stand up and try to better the situation and fight for him. I chose to fight every single day, and the power is also in your hands.
7) Deflect anger with kindness
It almost makes me laugh when I think about this. I cannot even explain what it is like to work anti-police protests for hours on end having people in your face call you all kinds of vile names and say things in the effort to provoke a negative reaction. I will not allow myself to be lured into their negativity. When someone is angry, simply saying a few kind words can sometimes change their tone and demeanor. You no longer have to engage in a power struggle.
8) Learn to educate not debate
I don’t defend my job or my parenting skills, but I try to explain what it is like to live in my world and walk in my shoes. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and that’s exactly what it is. If people can feel empathy for your situation, then you have taught them something.
9) Build a village
There is never going to be a magic pill or a magic wand, so take the time to seek out the right people to support your loved one. When my son was younger I used to do a weekly, (sometimes daily) email blast to his teachers, doctors, therapists, neurologists, etc., and anyone else that was a supportive person in his life. I was the CEO of his treatment team.
10) Find a good therapist/support group
I wouldn’t be where I am today without help. I couldn’t do this alone. We are parents and caregivers, but we are not superheroes. It is ok to ask for help. Always learn to lean on others for strength when you can’t find your own. You will be amazed by how much stronger you become.
Julie Joyce is a Chicago Police Officer and the mother of an adult son who suffers from bipolar disorder and ADHD. Over the years Julie has been a strong advocate and volunteer with National Alliance for Mental Illness, The Balanced Mind Foundation, and has assisted with the creation and implementation of the Advanced Juvenile Crisis Intervention training (CIT) for Chicago Police officers. She is certified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Negotiation Team as a Crisis Negotiator, has conducted presentations on mental illness for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Office and has had the opportunity to speak to legislatures on the need for special education funding. Julie has also conducted educational presentations for DCFS on interventions for kids with mental illness. Along with her son, she was interviewed on NPR, WBEZ, for the “Out of the Shadows” series which focused on juveniles and mental illness. Currently, Julie spends her time raising awareness and advocating for people living with mental illness.
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