Holly: Live Your Life

How did Holly make it through the challenging years when three of her children experienced symptoms of mental illness?

You take it minute by minute. You appreciate the things that are good--the great things that your kids are doing. You don’t look ahead too far. You don’t worry about not accomplishing. You have to appreciate what they can do and stop looking at what they can’t. It’s really hard for parents, because you want the best for your child. You want the very, very best for your child. But every person that I’ve ever met that has a mental illness has so many gifts and just to find what they are and get them going.

Holly’s most important suggestion for others who have a family member living with mental illness is to reach out to a support group because although doctors are knowledgeable, they do not have time to listen. She also recommends learning as much as you can about mental illness, through NAMI, support groups, and classes.

Note: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a mental health advocacy organization at national and state levels that offers a multitude of informational material, classes, and support groups.

In reflecting about her life with Ron, Holly shared her recommendations for coping with challenges.

Keep your boundaries. The hardest part was expecting some sort of normalcy. You can still expect them to take them to take their meds. You can still expect them to let you talk to the doctor when they’re not feeling well. You can expect them to respect you and not hurt you.

Holly suggested one strategy for getting a partner or spouse out of the house when they are depressed is to contact a friend to ask the partner or spouse for help with a chore or activity. She recognized others may be reluctant when the partner is “crabby” but saw this strategy as being a gentle reminder about what might be helpful.

She pointed out the importance of having positive expectations for family members that live with mental illness.

Keeping those expectations that they do well, even though you know sometimes that they can’t. . .Get them all the help that you can—anything that they will accept. Talk about it openly with them. Say, maybe this is part of your bipolar. If you come off with it as a know-it-all, they’re not going to accept a darn thing. Make some suggestions along the way. And keep yourself safe. There are times when people are not safe because they’re having a bad time. And you walk out and that’s okay. It is okay to absence yourself until they get themselves under control.

Holly observed that especially with children, parents will “tend to overdo and not let other people help.” She emphasized the importance of having a life of your own.

You’ve got to live your life. You have to take care of yourself. It’s the thing they always say on the airplane. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t care of somebody else if you can’t take care of yourself first. Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. Just exercise and getting out and being with people even if you don’t want to.

Holly has a lifetime experience of learning how to support family members who live with mental illness while maintaining her own stability and positive outlook on life. She is humble about how well she manages the many challenges of living with a family member who experiences mental illness, as she reflected, “It has nothing to do with me. It was all God. He pushed me every time.”


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