Although she was 27 when diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Lucy, now 33 has struggled with mental health issues since her teens. Her Mum, Dad and brother supported and cared for Lucy until she was almost 30.
“A common symptom of BPD is emotional dysregulation and Lucy had emotional dysregulations since she was 14 or 15, which worsened as she got older,” Catherine says.
“Having Borderline is a horrible, horrible thing to have, but it’s also horrible for the carer and the family. The sufferer sees things as black and white. They love you or they hate you. You’re the best mum in the whole world and then you’re a bitch or a drama queen who abandons them.
“As a parent, you blame yourself. You ask yourself what you’ve done wrong. I thought of myself as the worst parent in the world.”
To cope with her family’s struggles, Catherine drank alcohol most days, and became increasingly insular and withdrawn. “I drank more than I should have done. I was never a heavy drinker, but wine helped me de-stress. Drinking alcohol is a form of self-medicating.”
“The thing about having a family member with a mental health issue is you don’t share your problems with other people; you can’t, because you’re scared that people will judge you.”
As her daughter’s primary carer for 15 years, Catherine felt trapped. “You don’t think there’s a way out. You don’t know what to do, you don’t know where to go and you don’t know who you can trust in a crisis. Once you’re caught in that cycle its difficult to find a way out of it.
“You become so tuned into the needs of who you’re caring for and everyone else around you in the family that you lose what you need; you forget about yourself.”
As her daughter’s problems intensified, cracks began to appear in Catherine’s family.
“When you have dysfunction in your family it can rub off,” she explains.
“Our good, well-behaved son began getting into trouble and the relationship between my son and my daughter started to suffer.”
After Lucy’s diagnosis, Catherine sought the help of the HelpingMinds, a mental health organisation. HelpingMinds suggested that Catherine take part in their ‘Recovering Our Families’ interactive, online course, which is designed to educate and support individuals and families in a safe, supportive space while providing tools to aid in a family’s mental health recovery.
The course addresses the common issues families experience, then provides tools to help families cope. “You don’t have to have a diagnosis in your family to take part in Recovering Our Families; it simply helps you see things from a different perspective,” Catherine says.
“The course offered me hope, the course’s chat rooms were very helpful.” Catherine was able to meet people going through similar experiences, and take hope from their positive experiences.
“When Lucy was first diagnosed I went on to a chat room and it was a terrible experience as it was very negative. This chat room, however, was very positive, and gave me a way of talking about what we were going through and gain a sense of hope for recovery. Positivity is one of the most important things when you are a carer.”
One of the most important lessons Catherine learnt from doing the course was about self-care: you can’t look after others if you’re not looking after yourself.
“As a carer, you have to find something that helps you cope. It might be going for a walk with the dog or going to the gym.
“You also have to try your best to maintain relationships with people you trust and that understand your situation. I have taken out all the negative people in my life; I want to spend quality time with quality people who offer me strength.”
Lucy is now doing well – she’s living with a room-mate and is able to make light of her condition. “She recognises what she’s gone through and also what we’ve gone through, and recognises how difficult that must have been. She’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, I’m having a borderline moment,’ which is a big change.”
According to Catherine, the course taught her the importance of positivity when dealing with mental illness.
“Positivity is so important, and this course taught me to maintain that through a crisis. It’s easy to get into a cycle of ‘hopelessness and learned helplessness’, but you need to re-set your way of thinking. Is your glass half empty or half full? I like to think that I look at the glass half full.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see a positive when you are really down and tired. I still have moments of fear when I think we’re going backwards, but I now know how to cope with those thoughts.
“Positivity does rub off, so it’s important to nip those negative thoughts in the bud.”
The economic value of informal mental health caring in Australia
Debbie Childs CEO of HelpingMinds, explains who informal mental health carers are and highlights the key findings from the recent report 'The economic value of informal mental health caring in Australia'. Read more at helpingminds.org.au/the-real-value-of-informal-mental-health-carers/ ... See MoreSee Less
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