It’s simple. Be there for them.
Treat them like a human being, look them in the eyes, and let them know that their disorders do not define them. Tell them that you love them.
Make them a cup of coffee just the way they like it on the days they can’t remember how to work the coffee machine. Pick up their medication from the pharmacist on the weekends when they can’t get out of bed. Ignore those weeks where they might smell a little “funky” because they haven’t had the energy to shower. Do not judge their eating habits during weeks when they’re using food as a crutch.
If they happen to lash out at you in anger, let it go as best you can, and talk them down to a safer level. Lend them a shoulder to cry on, no matter how tear-stained that shoulder may be. Respect their boundaries and do not expect them to readily tolerate things that make them uncomfortable. Learn their body languages, facial expressions and vocal tones, because it’s different for every person.
Most importantly, do not, and I mean do not, be afraid of them. As difficult as they can be during their worst times, they are almost always more of a threat to themselves more than anyone else. Behind all their symptoms, there is usually a loving, breathing, feeling and sad individual who only wants to be understood like everyone else.
Be kind. Be caring. Be respectful and affectionate, just like you would be with anyone else who you are fond of.
Lastly, this is not to say that you shouldn’t have a backbone while dealing with a sick loved one or that you should simply put up with ugly behaviors and compromising situations from them. At times, you will certainly have to stand your ground and let the other person know that they may be overstepping a certain boundary or making you feel uncomfortable, just like with anyone else.
I also am fully aware that sometimes, for your own mental health and well-being, you may have to step away from a relationship with someone who is struggling. Just know that mental illness can make a person unpredictable at times and that person genuinely may not be in control of themselves during periods of psychosis or deeper levels of certain diagnoses, and they may need your help to get out of that dark pit.
It’s not for everyone. Some people, no matter how understanding or loving they may be, just cannot handle a person who is facing this type of illness. I get it. But if you are that special someone, you can be a beautifully shining beacon in that person’s life.
My name is Emily Mulligan. I am 29 years of age, and I have spent my entire life suffering from severe mental illnesses. As I have gotten older, I have felt the need to share my personal story more and more. I have chosen what I believe to be one of my best pieces to submit, and I hope you all enjoy it.