This page may include affiliate links. There is no cost involved even if you click on a link. The Caregiver's Journal may receive a commission if you decide to buy the product, service, or simply click on a link, which is immeasurably appreciated.

Friday, January 24, 2020

How to Weather the Storm of Mental Illness

The following was originally titled "Stormy Weather" by my friend, Elizabeth Waters, a fellow caregiver. Elizabeth takes care of her son who battles mental illness. Sometimes we forget that caregivers take on many different situations. She walks us through the stormy weather of mental illness and how she finally learned to give it to God. 

Stormy weather was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and reprinted here with permission. 

Stormy Weather

I was a calm person on the outside, but on the inside I battled stormy weather. The atmosphere in my home was turbulent and it kept me on edge. It made me anxious and nervous. I didn’t even want to come home after work.

I knew it wasn’t healthy to live this way but I couldn’t do anything to fix it. I had no control over the situation. I lived with a son with a mental disability and it affected his temper and emotions. At times Jacob could be perfectly normal and other times his explainable rage would shatter the peace in our home like a rock crashing through a window. 

It was not unusual to hear shouts of profanity in the middle of the night.

“Where is my cell phone!" I need to find it right now!” 

He would flip on the lights in our bedroom and demand we help him find it.

Then there were the times of dread—when I sensed upheaval was coming. I felt nervous while cooking dinner. There were not many things that he liked to eat. If I served something he didn’t like, he would insist I make a different dinner for him. And he would not give up on his request. He followed me around as I cleared the table and prepared to do the dishes. “You’re starving me!” For some peace, I would have to slip out the door and into my car and take a drive. 

I loved my son and I tried to do everything I could to keep the peace between us. He actually wanted to get along and would accept a hug and sometimes even apologize. My heart went out to him as I thought of the strong emotions he must wrestle with—and the friendships lost and the loneliness he must feel.

I felt lonely too. 

I could not easily go to my husband for support, because he was hurting too, and we did not always agree on how to handle Jacob’s issues. Our tempers would flare and leave us feeling distant from one another. 

When I’d share with my friends about my difficulties with Jacob, they didn’t know what to say to me. They would often respond: 

“I’d hate to have your life.”

“You are such an angel.”

“Kick him out!”

So I stopped talking about it. It was a hard thing to bear alone. On some nights I would log into my computer and search for forums—looking for anyone who might be going through a situation such as mine. I came across other voices crying out, only to find their comments were labeled “three years ago.” 

Deep down I knew the only person who really understood was God. He knew exactly what I was going through because he could look down and see me every day. I prayed and asked him for strength. I re-read his promise in the Bible, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

Not long afterwards, a well-meaning friend reminded me that living under constant stress could do serious damage to my health.

“It can kill you.” 

Her words haunted me. I tried to shrug them off, but deep down I knew I had to change things. I lay awake at night and worried about it. I had to take care of myself. But how? 

I knew I couldn’t kick my son out. He would not be safe walking the streets. As I contemplated and prayed, a thought drifted into my consciousness.

Accept your situation. You need to accept it as part of your life.

But I did not want to accept the fact that my loved one might never recover. Nor did I want to accept that my life would never be quite “normal.” And I wasn’t ready to accept the possibility of my family member living with me the rest of my life.

But the more I thought about it, I knew what I had to do. I had to face reality. And I had to make the best of it. 

And so, one day at a time I began accepting the situation. As soon as I changed my attitude, I felt myself relax. I didn’t need to fight my circumstances anymore. I didn’t need to wallow in self-pity. I didn’t need to compare myself with others.

This situation was not going away. It was part of my life and I would have to work with it and learn to work around it. 

My priority should be thankfulness. So I began to thank God for everything that was right in my life, even if it was just the purple pansies blooming in my garden—or an affectionate lick from the dog.

Second, I made sure I carved out some time for myself. At first I wasn’t sure what to do. I was so accustomed to focusing on my son that I had forgotten about the activities I had once enjoyed. I heard a voice in my thoughts: Go back to your roots—what have you always enjoyed since you were a child? Warm memories of playing the guitar, writing, hiking, and tennis filled my mind and lifted my spirits. 

Today, I spend, a few hours a week doing at least one of these activities. And if that time doesn’t work out, because of an emergency, I don’t sweat it. My life will have emergencies, and I will get through them.

The days are better now, because I look forward to “me” time and I’m becoming more aware of my blessings. In addition, I don’t feel so alone anymore. I’ve joined a support group NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for people who live with loved ones with mental disabilities. My husband and I are doing better, and every day God gives me new strength.

I wish I could say things have improved with my son. But it’s hard to tell. On some days the skies are clear, and on other days the weather is wild. But there is one thing I do know. If I take a deep breath, relax, and accept my situation, life gets better—both for me and for my loved one.

392x72 ; 8/9/16


  1. This sounds silly, but I've never thought of myself as a caregiver until you said this. Mental illness is as much of a an illness as physical illness. Thank you.

    1. I commented on your blog Jessica, but it's so true--indeed you are a courageous caregiver. I suspect that a lot of people taking care of someone who battles mental illness might not think of themselves as caregivers. But they are ... you are.

  2. I need this reminder today as I deal with my toddler being full... toddler. Thanks for the encouragement ... I definitely need to find acceptance in it. Even if I "get nothing done" Today is a day the Lord has made, too.

    1. Absolutely. As a matter of fact I was thinking that would make for a great blog post. Taking care of those toddlers. You're my hero, Christina.