Caring for Mum with Mental Health Issues

Caring for Mum with Mental Health Issues

I very much want to share with my peers about my caregiving experience with my mother since the age of 12. It was and is tough going but, together with my father, who is now in his early 50s, we share and share alike in the caregiving journey.

I have been caring for my mum, 52 years old, for 10 years now. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004. Prior to that, she already had all the severe symptoms of the illness during her bipolar depression – mania/hypomania and mixed episodes.

At a really young age I did not understand why my mum, occasionally, was not at home for some days. Now, older and wiser at the age of 22, I realise that my mother was then admitted to the Institute of Mental Health for her episodic relapses.

It was a daunting experience for a young school girl. I was struggling with school, exams and caregiving. There were many sleepless nights keeping an eye on mum, and anxious moments worrying about her when I was away in school even though I knew dad was with her during the day. I vividly remember the dark adolescent days I had to hold mum in my bosom and calm her down in the middle of the night when she cried hysterically without rhyme or reason. There were many heart-breaking days when I returned home from school to see dad trying very hard to calm my severely depressed mother. She was even suicidal at times.

I really want to reach out to children and youths who, like me, are caregivers to their parents or grandparents with mental illness. The unexpected filial duty that falls on your young shoulders is a challenging one as you have to take up a lot of responsibilities at a young age. I can empathise with the hardships you are going through and feel the same way as you do.  It is as if the whole world’s problems are on your shoulders! But please stay strong and be positive. The recovery for our loved ones is a long road ahead.

The emotional pain of heartaches and tears is tremendous as I witnessed mum suffering for many years, especially during the many relapses and recovery periods. My innermost fear became a reality one day. The incident happened when I was taking a nap in the afternoon. I woke up suddenly to see that my mother was not resting in the bedroom.  I immediately ran out to the hall to find mum about to collapse on the floor with her head almost knocking on the ground. I rushed forward, stretched out my hands and safely protected my mother’s head. Her whole body fell to the floor. She regained consciousness a few minutes later. During her recovery phase, she was then taking very strong medications that made her groggy most of the time.

I have, inevitably, accepted the fact and the fate that, as the only daughter, I will be the primary caregiver when dad is not around. Surprisingly, I feel at ease with my fate. In the early years of my caregiving journey, I had been coping innocently without attending any courses or seeking professional guidance. I was then not prepared to share my difficulties of caregiving with others. So for the past 10 years I went on with life and held onto my roller-coaster emotions within my heart. But deep inside me, I knew I had to do something about it. However, I kept it to myself and never learnt to share my burden for fear of stigma or ridicule.

As one chapter of my life came to an end, another one started. The new chapter in my life began after I recently graduated from polytechnic. As I was searching for jobs in the social sector, I came across Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited (SCCL) in Facebook. Thus I took my first step and attended one of their monthly tea sessions. That was when I discovered that I was not alone. It was the turning point of my life. I had the opportunity to learn and become an effective caregiver.

During the tea session, caregivers shared their experiences. As I listened, I felt that their real life stories were similar to my own emotional pain and experiences. As I began to feel the sense of oneness, I opened up about my life and started to share my difficult experiences too. During the tea session, I listened to the professional and experienced caregivers sharing their insights and giving suggestions on caregiving. At this sharing session, I discovered Caregiver Alliance Limited (CAL) from Patrick, a member of SCCL. He suggested to me to attend the public talk on “How Caregivers Can Support Their Loved Ones with Anxiety Disorder”. Thankfully, he persisted and convinced me to attend. The talk gave me an insight into what Mindfulness is and how it can be applied to daily life. The talk also made me realise that I needed help as soon as possible. That was when he referred me to one of his colleagues, a counsellor, at CAL; and I’m glad I have signed up for the Caregiver-to-Caregiver (C2C) training programme this October.

What I hope to achieve from the C2C programme is to be equipped with coping and caregiving skills for myself.  I now feel more confident in managing my life and my responsibilities as a daughter and a family caregiver.  I would like to say to my peers that, if you are struggling with a lot of responsibilities, it is about time you start to seek help from your community or professional organisations like SCCL. I can understand that you may not be ready to share your pain and difficulties as a caregiver, but please do not delay in seeking professional help.

What made me seek help? The startling fact that I saw myself crying excessively and people coming over to me, and saying that I looked very sickly, haggard and tired.  I knew that if I shut myself down, I would only be making things worse for myself and my family.

Through the SCCL tea session I see many doors opening before my eyes…I will be attending the C2C programme, and Patrick – being a certified caregiver support specialist for family caregivers of persons with mental illness, and a volunteer at both SCCL and CAL – is keeping in touch with me on a regular basis.

I am beginning to see a new positive perspective towards caregiving for the mentally ill.  There is light at the end of my dark tunnel after all!

Mangalambal, in her 20s, working in a VWO.

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