Most of us have experienced an interaction with someone that was completely illogical. Because of this illogical nature, it became frustrating. The most frustrating part is that there appeared to be a clear way through the problem and the other person just wasn’t seeing it.
That is what it feels like to have a family member who is mentally ill. You think, “If only they would…,” things would be so much easier. You can insert anything there. If only they would realize life isn’t so bad. If only they would be rational about this situation. If only they would stop hoarding. If only they would stop losing their temper. If only they would stop drinking.
The thing is, they can’t. Well, they can, but it is a momentous change. Think of it this way. We all have that one thing we wish we could do differently, but it feels impossible. If only I would stop eating chocolate I would lose weight. If only I would stop watching so much TV I would get more done. If only I would schedule things better I would have more time. If only I would ride my bike to the office instead of driving I would be so much more fit. You can insert your own personal challenge here. That one that feels like it makes so much sense, but you just can’t do it.
That is what mental illness can feel like. The person knows it could be better, but it feels impossible to change. It is like being asked to build a monument without any tools. As a family member, you can help to provide them tools, but even more important, you can have compassion when they still can’t figure out how to use those tools. You can support them and love them for who they are. You can set boundaries with them to protect yourself, but also be compassionate. You can let go of expectations that they will make the same kinds of decisions you will. And you can be there for them, holding space for them, without picking up their illness for them.
A wonderful speaker and author, Heather Plett, talks brilliantly about “being the bowl” and just “holding space” for each other. Let us all just try to hold space for those who are struggling with a mental illness. Someday, you will need someone to hold space for you.