Holly: Learning about Self-Care

Holly learned that “you have to take care of yourself.” When three out of her four children were having problems, she called every agency she could find and asked them to send her information. She talked to someone who invited her to a support group. She said she needed to talk. He said, “I bet everybody is saying that it’s your fault.” Holly started to cry and said, “Yes, they are.” Holly attended the support group along with her youngest son, Tim, who had been “throwing fits.” They both began to understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The father of Holly’s children was not supportive. She explained that when three of her children were extremely sick for a long time, their relationship died. She was devoted to taking care of her sick children. She left her husband when their youngest son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Over time, Holly has taught her family about mental illness. She realizes the courage Ron had as he lived with mental illness. Holly views herself as someone who guides and teaches others. This is her role at work as well as with family members who live with mental illness. She is hopeful that eventually, those she guides will be able to handle life on their own.

You can’t talk to people like you’re a know it all. It doesn’t work, especially when someone’s manic or depressed. It doesn’t work in regular relationships either. That’s how I do it—make suggestions and listen. You have to listen, especially in my last job. For 19 years, I worked with kids [ages 16-21] who were severely mentally ill. . . My job was to teach them how to take care of themselves, learn about their illness, how to talk to a doctor. I would go to doctor appointments with them. How to rent a house and all the things that you need to know to live. I got very good at making suggestions. The biggest part of anything is listening. And then continuously meeting with them until its better, not perfect, but better.

She has learned not to be a “caretaker” because “people need to be in control of their own lives.” At times, her children who live with bipolar become upset and will not talk to her. She has learned to set limits on her children’s behavior. For example, when one daughter yelled at her, Holly declared, “You can say anything you want. When you can talk to me in a calm voice and you’re not screaming at me and not abusing me then I will talk to you.”

More of the Story: Talking about Mental Illness