As with many ‘new’ experiences in life, I was a little doubtful about attending the course. What would it be like? Who else would be there? Would I know anyone and have my ‘cover’ blown? Is this going to help? Will anything help? Truth is I was scared.
I had been looking for help and support for about three years since a relative became deeply depressed. Among my circle of good friends, family and colleagues I had found much support and many willing ears but I was now at the stage where, after this time, I was fed up hearing my ‘moans’ so goodness knows what my listeners felt.
I was taking anti-depressants where before I tried not to take even a headache tablet. I was tearful, exhausted and felt isolated. I was becoming less effective at work and didn’t want to socialise or do ‘normal’ things. My relative refused to follow medical advice and did and said things which I thought were illogical. He told me he felt no-one could be trusted. All this and many more things convinced me that unless I found help for him the situation would not improve. I was wearing myself out and becoming increasingly resentful, confused and frustrated. I also felt very guilty that I could do nothing to help him.
One day, determined to ask for advice for him, I called into FDAMH. This was a last ditch attempt as far as I was concerned. I needed someone to help him and these folk were specialists in mental health so what had I to lose? After I explained what had happened, they were telling me about carers’ support. Despite many people over a long period of time telling me I needed to get support for me and look after myself, my focus had been on helping my relative. Now here was a man telling me that there was an education course that might help me. Starting next week!
Suddenly I realised that the change I had been struggling to bring about might be a change in my thinking and behaviour rather than a change in that of my relative. I had spent the best part of three years lurching from one day to the next so what difference was 7 weeks going to make? At worse it would be a chance to have 2 hours out of the house one evening a week; at best it might just help. I laid aside my scepticism and went along!
The facilitators immediately put people at ease. We were all in similar positions, living with other peoples’ mental health issues. It was apparent that nobody would be giving unsolicited advice and as the weeks went on, it became easier to talk and ask for information. There was a wonderful feeling of being supported and being able to identify with others.
I found the discussions and resources an excellent source of information but, best of all, it made me think about my feelings and actions and reflect on how these were impacting on the way I regarded my relative. Midway through the course, things started to fall into place for me. During a session about feelings and behaviours we received a handout. On it I read a list of behaviours which may be displayed by people under stress. Every one of these jumped off the page at me. This was exactly how my relative behaved. Suddenly I saw him as a person who was experiencing frustration and confusion, anger and isolation. People are telling him things from their point of view and giving him advice about what they feel is best for him. No wonder he feels that he has lost control of his life.
I realise that by looking at things from his perspective, I am more calm and patient. All the things that infuriated me so much have become less important. How do I feel when people tell me what I should be doing; resentful, stubborn, huff for Scotland? My possible reactions can give me a small insight into his feelings. But also now I listen to him without judging. I accept when he tells me how he is feeling or what his opinion is. I don’t have to agree but nor do I have to dismiss these feelings and opinions. They are his and he is entitled to hold them.
OK, I have not become carer of the year! I am still frustrated, confused and resentful at times — I am human. But what the sessions in the carers’ course have helped me with is to take a deep breath, put my brain in gear before opening my mouth and most of all, not to feel guilty. I am doing my best but when that is not enough, there are people at FDAMH who will listen to me.