Sharon: Building Support

In the past, Sharon cared for her mother who lived with mental illness. Now she needs to provide care for an adult child living with mental illness. After Gabrielle’s first hospitalization, she attended the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Family to Family class, which helped her deal with the emotions surrounding the realization Gabrielle had a mental illness.

Note: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) offers an 8-week Family to Family class, specifically for family members who have a relative living with mental illness. Participants learn about: 1) major mental illness, medications, and side effects; 2) skills in coping, problem solving, and communication; and 3) community resources.

I teach about 100 classes a year and have been a social worker for 30 years in this community. I wouldn’t be ashamed if people knew me there. . . I wanted to be able to be transparent about my own distress. The very first thing we had to do was to share in the class in one word, what was the word that you felt when you found out how your loved one was diagnosed. My word was relief. Everybody else’s word was horror or shock or fear. I was just relieved, thank God, now we know. Maybe then the fear came later. But at the beginning, I was, okay, we can deal with this.

Sharon also finds support through friendships and work relationships. Her current new best friends are two mothers who have adult children living with mental illness. When she came back to work following her training and Gabrielle’s hospitalization, Sharon told others that her daughter had been in the hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which led to co-workers sharing about people close to them who lived with bipolar disorder.

She establishes boundaries in her life to manage her many responsibilities. She needs a lot of sleep and makes sure she regularly gets the nine hours of sleep she needs each night. In addition, she chooses friends who have good boundaries and is careful to maintain boundaries in her work relationships. When Sharon provides mental health training and NAMI classes for work, she briefly shares that Gabrielle lives with bipolar disorder, inherited a genetic predisposition, has insight, and recognizes symptoms. Sharing her experience can be effective in her classes, “because it really makes them feel safe knowing if I can talk about it, everybody can talk about it.”