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Everyone suffering from any type of mental health illness needs a good mental health support group. You may think you can do it alone, but without the love and support to help guide you through the times when you can’t lift yourself up, there’s little chance of ever beating your mental illness.
Mental health support groups come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s a community program where there are dozens or hundreds of members, a small group of friends or family members, or just one person that’s there for you when you need them. There are even online support groups. Those who support you can bring much-needed comfort by letting you know you are not alone. Support groups and their members may not be able to totally understand what you’re going through (no one knows exactly what’s going on in anyone else’s mind, short of telepathy), but they can provide a listening ear and a different perspective, maybe one you haven’t heard before.
My mental health support group is my family. They’ve been there through thick and thin, and I know that they fully accept me for who I am and support me in my journey to overcoming my mental illness. Let me introduce you to them!
My dad is a small-town pastor of a church of about 60 to 70 people, but he still has his hands full. It’s not easy being a pastor. Everyone is looking to you for all the answers, and though you should be able to provide guidance for every answer, sometimes it’s hard to please people. You have to live and act a certain way. You don’t get many second chances (funny how that is when Christianity preaches forgiveness), so it’s pretty much all on you when things go wrong.
My dad deals with the same emotional turmoils as any human being, and since we’re very much alike, I can say with great certainty that it takes a cool, level head and a heck of a lot of patience to deal with things the way he does. He’s always saying I have a “good heart,” and that he wishes he was like that, but I’ve always admired the way he treats his parishioners. No matter what may come up, he ministers to their needs and treats everyone with dignity, even the ones that fail to do the same for him or others. Both he and I have the same emotional issues in one respect: depression. It runs on my father’s side of the family, but nobody talks about it much. I’m far too outspoken to keep my problems hidden, so I’ve slowly become more open to discussing mental health with my family.
My dad and I are very much alike; that’s why along with understanding me on an emotional level, he often reacts on the same emotional level as me. Just to give you perspective on that… I don’t react well to most things. I freak out, I cry, I snap at others… but thankfully, we’ve both gotten help for our issues and the screaming matches have stopped. Our relationship is much better now, and we understand each other a bit better. We love and support each other in our struggles. My parents have both been so supportive of my decision to quit my job and work at home that I can’t thank them enough. Being able to be home with them and grow our relationship has been such a blessing.
My mom has been the strongest supporting pillar in my support group. She is always the voice of reason that I need and a strong arm to hold me up. Oftentimes, I’ll wake up in the morning and launch myself full-force into a day-long anxiety attack. I’m fidgety, irritable, and I snap at the oddest things, often things that are totally unoffensive but are somehow incredibly annoying to me. Sometimes I’ll wake up and sink into depression; I don’t want to do anything, and any suggestion anyone has just makes me sink deeper.
It is in these times that my mother’s patience is infinite. When I say I need to be left alone, or when I snap at her for no reason, she lets me be until I’ve calmed down. She checks on me to make sure I’m doing okay. She pampers me and offers comforting verses from the Bible, backing off if she sees me getting agitated once again. She has learned through many years of experience how to deal with me when I’m like this. She’s a careful study, always has been, and I’ve been open with her about what I expect from other people when I’m struggling with anxiety or depression that day. She has patiently and calmly met my demands, even when they were ridiculous or when I became cruel in my words. She deserves more than I could ever repay her for this.
When I had my eating disorder, she knew full well what was going on, and she had to watch as I wasted away in front of her. I realize just watching may seem like she didn’t want to deal with it or she just decided not to take action, but that’s not it at all. Those who struggle with eating disorders often panic and deny everything when confronted about their disorder. They become more isolated and the destructive behavior of their disorder increases. It is a dangerous balance between wanting to help someone, but being afraid they will freak out, and attempting to help them by delicately gaining their trust. Luckily, my friends were able to convince me to have a discussion with my parents about my problems, and my mother was finally able to tell me how hard it had been, watching me kill myself slowly over time.
There was a time when my depression hit so hard (along with severe dehydration) that she found me gasping on the couch, clutching my Bible and begging her to stay with me. She held me for hours, stroking my hair and face to calm me down. I later told her that I had tried to move to the kitchen to get the knife, but I was too weak. I was completely out of my mind before she got there, and if I had been able to move, I would have probably slit my artery open. God was there that day, and He made sure my mom got home in time. As I said in my Mother’s Day post, A Mother Who Understands, she is the person I want to be like someday. She is a warrior for Christ and for her family.
Dude. Bro. Dude. This is my brother, Matt. He’s a cool cucumber who’s got a gentle heart but a smart mouth (which he gets from my mom; she’s a fiery redhead). Somehow, this wonderful boy has grown up to be not only my brother, but an angel of generosity. Just between us, this kid has helped me in times of not only emotional need, but financial need. I’ve been in a tough spot before where, had he not helped me, I would have been in big trouble (I’m still working on paying him back). But that’s not why he’s a member of my support group. Money is never a reason I love someone or consider them a friend.
My brother works as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) at a local nursing home. He kind of fell into this job on accident. About a year ago, there was an ad in the paper for a free program to become a CNA. This position is greatly desired in the medical field, and often times nursing homes are understaffed or are poorly staffed because the right people aren’t applying for the job. As it turns out, my brother is one of the right people. He went through the program while working as a temp, and they decided to keep him on. Though he eventually ended up switching to a different nursing home for his career, he’s now on his way to becoming an RN. He is greatly appreciated by both the staff and the residents of the nursing home, and he’s already earned his first raise.
I’d like to state here and now that I could NEVER do the job that he does. I don’t have the patience or the mental stability to deal with what he deals with. He is incredibly sound in mind, and that’s part of the reason he can be so supportive of me. He not only has the patience of my mother, but he understands me from a medical point of view. I feel safe around him, and I don’t feel truly safe around many people. I’m always on edge. Because of past experiences, I’m afraid the people I have come to know and cherish have never truly accepted me, and when the moment comes where I make them angry, they’ll abandon me. I know this is not true of my family, but I’m never certain of anyone else. My brother gives me the certainty that he will never reject me, no matter how difficult or weird I am. We’re in sync with each other. His generous heart gives me faith that I can become a better person.
When my sister finally reached middle and high school, she grew increasingly frustrated when the teachers would call her “Amber” (her name is Amanda; close, but no cigar). They would constantly get her mixed up with me. Apparently, I made quite the impression while I was in school. Nothing bad, of course. I was a straight A student who got along with the teachers more than the kids at school. I matured much faster than my peers, and I found kindred spirits among my teachers, literature and math teachers in particular. And so, my sister followed in my footsteps through the halls, eventually accepting the name mix-up. I could say she grew up to be just like me, but that would be a lie and one I don’t want to tell.
My sister is confident in who she is. And she’s not me. She is her own person, and she doesn’t take any crap from anyone. Everything just rolls right off her back. She goes about her day doing what she wants, when she wants, while still holding down a full-time job and reading what seems to be a library of books every day. History is her specialty. Her two very large bookshelves are filled with books on ancient mythology, medieval history, etc. etc.. The mind boggles as to how she reads all of it and still finds time to sleep.
She looked up to me for a long time, and though she still continues to do so, I now look to her. I’m very confident in who I am, but my insecurities still drag me down some days. There are parts of me that I still don’t understand or feel bad about. If she has any insecurities, I don’t know about them. The only thing I can think of is that she doesn’t like being around people much except for her best friend Courtney. That’s not really an insecurity, though. It’s just one way she’s different from me. I make new friends all the time by talking with complete strangers, but she prefers to have a few close friends and stick to that group. Therefore, her relationships are more solid with people than mine are.
I’m very jealous of her. That confidence is something I want. She kindly encourages me and is there when I need to talk. We have inside jokes that only we get. She’s learned the Amber language and can interpret what I’m talking about most times when others just hear gibberish. Both of my siblings are younger than me, but sometimes it feels like they’re more mature, like I’ve regressed. I suppose that it’s my subconscious way of having siblings to look up to, as I am the eldest. That responsibility sometimes weighs on me more than anyone knows, and I need help from time to time. My sister, though she doesn’t know it, has filled this role quite well. Someday I will find a way to thank her for it.
God has given me a wonderful family, a good home, and all I could possibly need. Sometimes I forget this fact. Sometimes I feel so sorry for myself that I wipe my memory clean of the many blessings that I have. My family is there to help me remember. They support me in my struggle with mental illness. I hope that you too either have or are able to find a mental health support group for your struggles too. May God bless you and keep you close to Him. If you need someone to talk to, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to support you in your journey.