When I first got a mental illness, I didn't want my family's help. I wanted to tackle this beast on my own. But it just got worse.
Family is Our Strength
We often neglect what a valuable resource family is and their support. We don't appreciate them yet they can be our super power. As Muslims, family connections are an integral part of our faith and culture.
Without our loved ones, our recovery and wellness would be very difficult. Moreover, to have a meaningful life, you need connections...social connections. Family support matters because we are social creatures and the worst form of punishment can be isolation especially for one who has a mental health challenge.
When you get diagnosed or realize you are suffering mentally, either with anxiety or depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out to a family member. They are often, not always, the closet to you, know you well and have your best interest in mind. Of course there are exceptions but this is generally true of healthy families.
Staying connected with your parents, spouse, siblings, kids or even extended family can add meaning to your life. They can be a hidden strength when it comes to fighting the dark demons inside you. Connecting and reaching out to your family helps you but it also takes the focus away from your pain and makes you think about them. Talking to them for support is good but there is an interesting phenomena that occurs. As we talk to our family about our pain, we can often see the turmoil they are facing.
Families Living with a Loved One with a Mental Illness
I must confess, I am guilty of this. The very premise of my work is supporting Muslims with mental health challenges. However, in this article I highlight the plight of the family members that live with someone with a mental illness. Not only do they see a loved one suffer but they feel the pain themselves. This could happen because they are connected with the sick person but their trial could also happen because of how difficult it is to live with someone with a mental illness.
This fact came to my realization when I started listening to my loved ones and what they go through when I am unwell or at the hospital. Much of the focus is on getting help for me but what about them.
Struggle as an Opportunity
Your parent's or spouse's suffering doesn't take away from our pain. At the same time, this struggle is an opportunity for us to get out of our dark hole and climb into their dungeon and see just how dark it is there, if not more. Believe me, this shift of perspective and empathy can do wonders for your health, even if you are sick. Seeing their pain and understanding them is essentially a way for you to help them. And God helps you as long as you are helping someone else. Alleviate someone else's suffering and watch yours subside. I make this claim with certainty as my advocacy work has done wonders in my own mental wellness.
At the same time, some families can be tough to deal with. They may have very little knowledge about your mental health challenges. They might also be toxic to your health. In that case, you need to decide whether their support is going to strengthen you or hinder your progress. Be aware that one of the biggest traps of Shaytan is to split up families and tear them apart through fights and drama. Consult a third party like a psychiatrist or therapist and see what your options are if your family is not supportive.n
Grow Closer Together as a Family
Do your best to use your mental health challenge as a way to strengthen your bond with your family. Grow through this challenge. Alhumdulillah that is what happened with my family. If they know very little about your mental illness or challenge, educate them in a kind and empathetic manner. See things from their point of view. They might feel very confused about how to handle your situation or even how to help you. They probably have to walk on egg shells around you because of your sensitivity and mental state. That is not an easy feat.
When your family is utterly toxic and is actually hindering your progress, educating them or seeking their support might be futile. It might be better to seek external support from friends or a group or even a website like this.
As for getting support for your family, there are many organizations that offer help and services to caregivers and families. Reach out to these organizations (a simple google search will show you support groups in your area). In the U.S.A. you can reach out to NAMI and in Canada, you can reach out to CMHA. Lastly, you can also check out your local crisis center (more on that in a future post inshaAllah).
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