There are SO many articles out there offering advice on how to help someone you love who is battling depression and anxiety. I have read many of them (mainly to give myself some reassurance that I am doing this right). I’ll be honest, for the most part they have been really helpful. But I’ve found it very difficult to find anything that gives you the full reality of what it is like when someone you love has been admitted to a psychiatric facility.
I appreciate that it’s not ‘one-size-fits-all’ with these kind of things, but as someone who has been through this, I feel that giving people some ‘top tips’ about what to expect may be useful. So here it goes:
1 - Your version of ‘normal’ WILL change, and it will happen quickly.
I know that may seem like a really obvious statement - how can your version of ‘normal’ possible be the same when someone you love, who is normally at home with you every evening, helping you cook dinner, watching crap TV with you and cuddling up to you in bed every night, isn’t there any more?
Simple - it can’t. Not THAT version of normal anyway.
My advice would be, where possible, to figure out a new (hopefully temporary) normal pretty quickly.
Still having a structure to my days has helped massively; it has meant that I know what free time I have to do the menial things like cook/clean/do laundry, or to respond to any messages/phone calls I’ve missed, or even just to plan some proper down-time to process what has been happening and get used to the silence of being home alone.
It may sound overly dramatic, but don’t underestimate how completely bloody weird it will feel when you get home to an empty house after a hospital visit – for me it just feels like something is missing! Gary and I have spent very few nights apart since we have lived together, and it almost makes you forget what it is like to be alone in your home. For the first few nights after my folks left, I was freaked out by every little noise in the flat, which seems bloody ridiculous considering how long I have lived here and how old I am! But after a few nights, this became my new normal.
2 - You will feel guilty for feeling OK…
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked how I’m coping, if I’m ok and been told to make sure I look after myself too.
I’ve even had friends who have been surprised that I only took the first week or so off of work, or that I have still made time for a hair cut for example (husband’s orders by the way). So, fair to say, I’ve had a few times where I’ve thought, ‘Shit - why am I not falling apart? Why do I feel ok?’
And it DOES make me feel guilty.
How can I possibly still find it in me to laugh at memes on social media, or focus when I’m at work, or plan to meet friends for lunch when my husband is in a mental home!?
Well here’s the thing: it’s not my first rodeo!
I have already seen someone I love go through severe depression, attempt suicide and regularly self harm. I also used to volunteer at a helpline called Get Connected (now ‘The Mix’) where dealing with people in crisis, or at different stages of planning their suicide was a regular thing. Add to that the fact that I also see a psychologist once a week, have a great support network around me, STILL have the love and support from my husband, and trust the doctors and nurses responsible for his treatment, and it’s basically a recipe for being ‘OK’.
And you know what? That is OK!
3 – But it’s OK if you are NOT OK!
I’ve always been a big thinker, but never a big crier… until this happened. And although I am OK most of the time, when I am not, I accept it - I cry, and I allow myself the time to process my thoughts. I think it’s absolutely essential!
DO NOT ignore how you feel, or what you are thinking; let yourself cry if you need to (even if you feel like you have to hide it!)
My thoughts have been scary, terrifying even; they have made me feel shit. But you know what? All of that is SO important.
Ignoring the enormity of the situation isn’t going to help anyone, and, in the long run, it’s important that you process what is happening as it will help you support your loved one better, and make sure you both come through the other side stronger.
4 - Friends who act ‘normally’ round you are invaluable
I’ve never been the kind of person who likes being treated with kid gloves. And I think it’s fair to say that neither me or my husband want our lives to be defined by what has happened over the last few weeks. So those people who manage to talk to both of us about anything else other than the psychiatric hospital, Gary’s progress and how we are both feeling, have been invaluable to us both.
I mean, it’s really lovely that so many people care so much and want to know how we are doing; I think we’re both still quite overwhelmed by just how much support we have received… but it’s so refreshing when I get a text from a friend whinging because they are having a shit day (even if they do then backtrack and say, “sorry, I know you have it worse at the moment”)
The glimpse of normality is a welcome distraction, and just because we are focussing so hard on getting through this whole experience, it doesn’t mean we care any less about what is going on in your lives!
5 - Difficult conversations will happen a lot… but some people are not prepared for them!
After hearing my husband say he wanted to end his life, I was still surprised at how easily and naturally the ‘professionals’ dealt with it. I learnt quickly that simply asking my husband if he was ‘ok’ wasn’t enough. Even asking if he had had ‘dark thoughts’ wasn’t enough. I learnt that being direct in what you are asking is absolutely necessary in order to assess the risk (or, more positively, the progress) at hand.
My usual questions of, “How are you my love?”, “How has your day been?,” “What did you eat?”, just did not cut the mustard, and were changed pretty rapidly to “Have you felt suicidal today?”, “Do you want to hurt yourself”, “Have you taken any steps to do this?”, “Do you feel safe?”.
For the first couple of weeks, suicide and self-harm were common-place in our conversations. They still are to an extent, and I think they always will be. When someone is in the middle of this kind of crisis, it’s important to remember that they aren’t scared of these conversations… if anything, having them makes them realise they are being taken seriously.
Having these conversations with someone outside the immediate circle however, is a different kettle of fish! I know it’s wrong, but I still chuckle when I remember the look on my mum’s face when I said flippantly, “Well he doesn’t want to kill himself today, so that’s good!”
6 – A bad day doesn’t last forever… but inevitably, neither does a good day
In a way, I think one of the toughest things about this situation was believing that Gary wouldn’t feel this way forever. Once ‘suicide watch’ was over, and I thought he had turned a corner, there were still many bad days ahead of us… to be totally honest, there probably still are!
The days when he didn’t want me to visit because he didn’t want me to see him ‘like this’ - messy hair, messy beard, vacant look, no motivation to even manage eating, were difficult to go through truly believing that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
But each time I ignored his request and went to visit anyway, and I always saw a glimmer of hope in something he did or said.
I learnt pretty quickly that the next day could be completely different; a good night’s sleep, going down for breakfast, managing to attend every group and seeming much lighter when I visited.
But then again, that could change in an instant. It’s a cliche, but it really is a rollercoaster - you never know what is round the next corner or over the next bump.
7 - …but in the end, every bit of stress you feel, moment you worry or tear you shed is worth it
Because things DO get better, the drugs DO work (alongside therapy and psycho-education) and your loved one CAN fight this.