how to love someone with mental illness
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Health and Wellness

7 Truths About Loving Someone With a mental illness

This time, it was all about her: the one whose life was turned upside down as she not only watched her daughter fight, but as she also fought alongside her, doing anything and everything she could, but never feeling like it was enough.

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I'm the mom--I'm supposed to be able to fix it. But I couldn't; I can't.

I sat there across from my mom, the pain in her eyes evident as she looked at me, a desperation in them that made me want to give her some sort of reassurance, that made me want to comfort her and make her believe it would all be OK.

But I couldn't.

This time, I was just there to listen. No fixing; no consoling; no words at all, save a few here or there to encourage her to continue.

This time, it wasn't about me. It wasn't about my struggle, what I went through as I fought for recovery.

This time, it was all about her: the mom, the one whose life was turned upside down as she not only watched her daughter fight, but as she also fought alongside her, doing anything and everything she could, but never feeling like it was enough.

It was about her own struggle, the insights she gained and the lessons she learned as she herself faced the demon of her child's life:

1. All the small things became big things

Every phone call incited fear of what was on the other end--were you OK? Were you drinking? Were you feeling hopeless and alone?

Not to mention, every meal not eaten was a potential relapse. Were you skipping more than just your morning snack? Had you really eaten dinner like you said? Were your clothes fitting just a little too loosely?

The once small, normal things in daily life that usually wouldn't warrant a second thought became issues, became not normal.

2. You can't fix it

As a parent or loved one, the natural instinct is often to fix the issue, to be the protector.

I was supposed to figure out everything, she said. I was supposed to be the one who could take care of you, who could take away the pain.It wasn't just feeling helpless, but genuinely being helpless.

I had to learn that this time, it wasn't about fixing it for you. I couldn't. It was about being there in any way you needed, doing whatever needed to be done. I might not have been able to take away the pain, but I was NOT about to let you walk through it alone.

3. The fear doesn't go away

It doesn't matter how long it's been; the fear doesn't go away. Seven years later and as far into recovery as you are, I am still scared.


Scared of what? I asked.

I still fear that one day, it will be too much. You will succumb to your illness, unable to fight it anymore.

I still fear that it will take your life.

4. You want your kid to have a normal life

I wanted you--want you--to worry about normal things, to be able to make normal mistakes.

I want you to worry about making grades in college, about how to respond to the cute guy's text, about what you and your friends are going to do this weekend.

I want your mess-ups to be procrastinating until the last minute on a huge paper, spending too much money or saying something hurtful to a close friend.

I don't want you to have to worry about if you will be able to make yourself eat or if you will ever fully come out of the depression and anxiety.

I don't want you to have to worry about slipping, about relapsing… about dying.

5. You want them to feel loved and accepted

One of the hardest things is to watch you as you fear the reaction of others, to hear that you worry about not finding a man who will love you, eating disorder and all. As your mom, that hurts my heart more than you can know. I want to take away that fear, that insecurity, to show you who I see.

But again, I can't. I can only continue to help you fight to see the real you, the you beneath the disorder.

6. You are going to mess up

I have learned a lot, sure, but I still mess up. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing. Should I force you to go to therapy? To inpatient treatment? Should I hand feed you and physically stop you from exerting yourself too much?


Then as you began recovery, it was learning what to say and what NOT to say. Do I respond when you ask if you look fat? Do I answer honestly when an outfit isn't flattering?

And perhaps the hardest--how do I know what's really going on? How do I decipher what you are really trying to say when you say you feel big, when you feel gross? Is it depression? Are you lonely?

Half the time, I said the wrong thing, reacted the wrong way. I got mad when I shouldn't, said things out of fear when I should've remained calm, got irritated when I didn't think you were actually trying to recover. But I learned--I am still learning. We are still learning, together.

7. Always look for hope

You can't stop.

As a mom, my role was so much more than physically taking care of you. I had to fight for you, had to believe that there was hope, even when I couldn't see anything but darkness. I had to push forward, to lean on friends and our church to provide hope and strength when the strain began to wear on our family, when the internal struggles your dad and I had threatened to erode our marriage.

But I knew that I could never give up. I could never stop trying to find some semblance of light.

Because I knew that as soon I did, as soon as I let that light go out, I could no longer be what you needed, no longer support you in the capacity necessary for your recovery.

Which would mean you would flounder. After a while, you would relapse. And then, you would be gone.

I would be gone.

Without hope, none of this--you, how far you have come, the woman you have become, the life you have gotten to live and the future you are working toward--would be possible.

I sat back from my computer, allowing myself to finally look at her again. The look in her eyes from before, the one swimming with the endless dark nights and terrifying times, had been replaced by another one.

This one was more subtle, more soft. A smile pulled at the edge of her lips as she looked right at me, looked into my own eyes filled with a myriad of emotions.

Hope, she said, fully smiling now. That's it.

Through all the darkness, through all the hurt and pain, hope must endure. It must.

Because one day, that hope becomes more.

One day, that hope becomes genuine belief.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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