This one of the most frequently asked questions I field as a Family Advocate. How do I make my ill family member take medication? How do I get my ill family member into detox and sober living? From personal experience, I know that this question is asked in desperation. I can remember seeing my own son lost in his head and he not even realizing anything was wrong. Each day his condition would worsen. Each day I lost him a bit more. Each day my own fear and anxiety increased.
My role as a Family Advocate is to listen with compassion, help caregivers explore their options, and create a workable plan. What does that look like? It is as varied as the people I serve. The following is part of my personal journey:
My son graduated from high school and his mental health, which was showing some strain, deteriorated at a rapid pace. He spent most of his waking hours in our garage mixing music from vinyl records. He seldom communicated verbally other than a grunt here and there, and he would shuffle from the garage (detached) into our home excessively – sometimes just to look at his image in the mirror. We had him see a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with schizophrenia and prescribed medication. Our son would not take the medication, but he did consent to seeing a therapist.
For months on end, I was his only human contact during the day while our younger son was at school and my husband was at work. I would sit in the same room with him watching TV just so he could have human contact. Occasionally, I would ask him where he saw himself in a year, or in five years, and explain that if he didn’t at least try medication, nothing would get better for him. At the 18 month marker, our son decided to try medication. He was not happy with how the medications made him feel, and he would not take them consistently. I am not certain how he managed, but he got employment and kept that employment for over a year. I had very little control over my son’s decision to take medication. He has since told me that his existence was so dark, his options were to die or to try something new. His therapist was worth his weight in gold because he was there to catch him when he was at his lowest.
We cannot force medication or sobriety on anyone. We are not in control. What we can do is collect information and resources and have them ready for when our family member decides to reach out for help. My best advice is self-care. Take time for yourself away from the caregiver role. Each family’s experience is unique. That is why it is necessary to sit down and explore options with each caregiver that walks into my office or calls my extension. Staying safe and healthy is important.
Written by: Ramona Winner
Self-compassion is a buzzword lately, and for good reason! It’s not only a woo-woo phrase used by people who drink green juice and use crystals; it’s also an incredible tool that we can all access anywhere, at any time, for free. Self-compassion has been proven (by science!) to have immeasurable benefits for all of us in many different realms of our lives. But, what are we talking about when we say “self-compassion?" What does it mean, how does it help, and how do we practice it?
Self-compassion can be defined as extending compassion to ourselves not only during positive moments, but also (and perhaps more importantly) during moments of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It means treating ourselves like we would treat a friend, offering ourselves kindness as we navigate Being Human (which, let’s face it, can be really tough sometimes), and giving ourselves permission to be imperfect and still deserving of our own compassion.
Self-compassion has been shown in numerous research studies to be a huge source of support in coping with the stressors of everyday life, as well as managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to Kristin Neff, who I consider to be the Queen of Self-Compassion, “people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.” It has also been proven to support us in developing greater self-worth, improved body image, reduced distress, and increased motivation. Self-compassion helps us to more easily bounce back from more challenging moments, rather than dwelling in them with the automatic self-critical thoughts we’re often too familiar with.
Self-compassion includes three main components according to Neff:
1. Self-kindness: replacing self-criticism with a more kind, gentle inner voice
2. Common Humanity: recognizing that suffering and failure are human experiences that we all have, and knowing we aren’t alone
3. Mindfulness: paying attention to our inner experiences in the present moment, without judgment.
To utilize these components – to be kind, forgiving, and loving towards ourselves—is much easier in instances of pride, achievement, or success; it’s easier to do when we’re doing well and life is going our way. What about when we make a mistake, do something outside of our values, or screw up - the times we really need our own compassion? This is where self-compassion becomes a powerful resource – even more so than self-esteem. Neff shares that self-compassion is more important to cultivate than self-esteem because self-esteem tends to dwindle when we fail – when we need it most. Self-esteem is hinged on success, on outcomes, and on external “stuff”. On the other hand, self-compassion shows up during times of challenge and reminds us we are human, we are still enough, and we can transcend those darker moments with tenderness and grace. While self-esteem is reserved for the “good” moments in life, self-compassion is accessible and supportive during the tougher moments, as well.
So, how do we practice self-compassion (emphasis on the word practice)? First, it requires mindfulness: pausing, being present with how we are feeling without judgment, and recognizing when we might need our own compassion. By practicing mindfulness, we give ourselves an opportunity to transcend the automatic negative thoughts that may come in a situation, and we empower ourselves to introduce more self-compassion into our lives. Once we are mindful of our moments of suffering, we can then implement self-compassion practices into our daily lives.
Here are some concrete ways to practice self-compassion:
· Ask yourself what you would say to a close friend in the situation
· Give yourself permission to be imperfect and still be good enough.
· Strive to cultivate acceptance of all of yourself – not just the joyful, positive parts.
· Approach situations with curiosity, rather than judgment.
· Develop a self-compassion mantra that involves the three components listed above.
· Write yourself a letter from the perspective of someone who loves you.
· Speak kindly to yourself during both “good” and “bad” moments.
Self-compassion isn’t about making our pain or suffering go away; it’s about learning to be with it, and with ourselves in it, more kindly and lovingly. I hope this summary of self-compassion sparks something within you, or inspires you to practice it as you encounter your own moments of struggle in life. Being human isn’t easy, and being our own worst critic is the last thing we need during moments of suffering. We all deserve our own kindness and compassion, and it’s a tool we can all add to our kit and carry with us as we navigate our daily lives.
Lisa Olivera, LMFT #106546
Facebook: Lisa Olivera Therapy
For a person who does not have depression, understanding it will be a challenge - but thankfully, not impossible. When people opens up their heart and mind to educating themselves about depression, it is a positive step forward into developing an acceptance of it in society. What’s more, their powerful action can encourage generations in the future to advocate for its importance.
This is how to explain depression to someone who doesn’t understand:
It’s a mental illness, not a mindset or choice
One common assumption associated with depression is the fact that it is a mindset that can be overcome with positive thoughts - but that couldn’t be any farther away from the truth; people cannot just “get over” their depression by changing their attitude. Depression is a legitimate mental illness that is caused by environmental factors, personal circumstances, or genetic and biological elements. For example, sometimes people will have depression because they had a traumatic experience in life, arecurrently in a situation that continually puts them in a lousy headspace, or their brain chemistry is off-balance. In a nutshell, no one chooses to have depression.
Disassociating from reality is a common occurrence
Depression tends to make a person produce irrational thoughts about themselves, that consequently, causes disassociation from reality and the truth. For example, depression provokes feelings of worthlessness which can trigger suicidal idealization or even propel someone to attempt suicide. Additionally, individuals with depression naturally isolate themselves from relationships and interactions with other people because they may believe they are a burden due to their depression. In reality, they are worthy and are not a burden to the people they love. Their minds just make them believe otherwise.
“I am more aware of my feelings than you think”
Individuals with depression know that they need to be positive to have a good day, but deciding to maintain a positive attitude is much more complicated and difficult for them. It’s a thousand times harder since depression depletes motivation. The most heartbreaking thing for someone is being well-aware of depression, but not feeling any desire to participate in the activities that once made him/her happy or the fact that sometimes, he/she suddenly experiences depressive symptoms without an apparent reason.
Seeking help is not easy
Because mental illness has a prominent and negative stigma in society, it discourages individuals from seeking help. Admitting you have depression is one of the most frightening and intimidating things to do; and since this is the case for the majority of people with depression, many of them do not seek help in the first place. Furthermore, anybody would initially feel uncomfortable at the idea of talking to a therapist or taking medication since doing so might express they have “given up” or they need pills to upkeep their mood. Nothing is wrong with admitting you need help or have depression, and it certainly should not be looked down upon to take medication. But to this day, people are still afraid to associate themselves with any sort of mental illness because they do not want others to think poorly of them or be outcasted.
The most common actions feel like the most incredible achievements
Getting out of bed, taking a shower, eating a meal, and even brushing one’s teeth are milestones for individuals with depression. What is easy and routine to another is the most challenging act of the day for some. Depression always drains a person’s emotional and mental energy, which can make any simple act feel like the tallest mountain to climb.
Depression is difficult to explain to a person who has not experienced it. However, what matters most is that there are conversations about depression in the first place. Hopefully, one day, sadness and depression and other mental illnesses, for that matter, won’t feel like taboo topics. Instead, they will be crucial subjects to approach, and taking care of one’s mental health will always be just as important as maintaining physical well-being.