May 4, 2021 | Mental Health, Research and Innovation, Community and Partnerships
Hello and welcome to another month and a busy one at that. This month we celebrate our Doctor’s on May 1, our nurses the week of the 10th and our ongoing Mental Health this week during National Mental Health Week.
The theme of this year’s mental health week is #GetReal with how we feel; recognizing the importance that naming our emotions has on our mental health. It’s a hard thing for most of us to do. In my many discussions with our teams, my friends and my family and loved ones, I often notice that we adults don’t always have the vocabulary or the right words to attach to our emotions. Think about it? When asked “how are you” how quick are we to respond “good” or “ok”?
Good isn’t an emotion, folks.
Part of our work as a hospital specializing in mental health and addictions is in promoting good mental health and talking about it honestly. Further more thriving in an uncertain world means that we have to start putting the appropriate words to our feelings and understanding what they mean. That’s what this week is all about; encouraging us to do this and that is what I am hoping you all will do.
So, you may ask how do I feel? Well, I read a really good article a few week’s back that sums up pretty accurately how I’ve been feeling off and on over the past few months and perhaps will introduce a name to an emotion that is a bit unfamiliar to you as it was to me.
The word is languishing. Languishing is feeling somewhat joyless and aimless – feeling blah. I encourage you to give the article a read, you may even discover something in it that resonates for you. Key in the article is the suggestions on how to beat those languishing blahs – some of which I have already introduced into my life. An important quote from the article is this, “Even if you’re not languishing, you probably know people who are. Understanding it better can help you help them.” Isn’t helping each other what we’re about here at HDGH? So being real with how we’re feeling is the first step to us all helping each other to be healthier, happier and more productive team members. A goal we can all get behind.
With that, I am happy to introduce a very special guest blogger this month who gives us a real inside view into the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with being a caregiver to a loved one with mental illness. Clementa is a member of our Mental Health and Addiction Patient and Family Advisory Council, a stand-up member of this community and also a very talented writer (as you will see :)
Thank you Clementa for your honesty is this month’s blog and for all you do for our hospital and for our clients/patients.
When was the last time you experienced a strong emotion? I bet that intense feeling was tied to a person. You might agree that those closest to us – parents, partners, siblings, children – have the deepest impact on our emotions. That person for me is my sister. We will call her Simi in this blog. Simi was unlucky (could have easily been me) to inherit a mental illness from our late mother. She was diagnosed in her teens and I have been her sole caregiver since I was a 2nd year undergrad student. I’ll be 35 this August (at least on paper – I’m still 20 in my mind). So it’s been a long journey!
The best way I can describe what it means to be a caregiver is by using a roller-coaster analogy. Imagine you’re on a roller-coaster ride even though you’re terrified of heights. The ride is fast and turbulent. You’re in constant panic, your stomach is in knots, you feel nauseous, anxious, and worried all the time. Sometimes, the ride slows down, and you feel better but also uneasy as you know it won’t last and you’re in constant anticipation for another unpleasant trip. Your loved one is also on the same ride. Unlike yours, their seat is falling apart, their seatbelt is not working properly, and their fear of heights is even greater than yours. So, in addition to your own discomfort, you are concerned with the far worse situation your loved one is in. You want to help and to alleviate their fears, but most times you feel powerless. And the ride goes on and on…
As most caregivers, I have been, and will continue to be, on this roller-coaster of emotions. I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs. I’ve felt sad, overwhelmed, alone, anxious, worried, frustrated, and tired. Oh, and this is while managing a career, sessional teaching, and volunteering on top of being married and along with additional personal responsibilities. How have I managed all this? Through continuous learning, patience (lots of it) and resilience. When I reach those moments of intense negative emotions, I strive to remember an Ojibwa saying: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky” reminding me that this moment in time shall pass. I have also realized the importance of advocating, using lived experiences to support and encourage change. This is the reason (along with wanting to advocate for the outstanding outpatient programs the hospital manages) I joined Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Mental Health & Addictions Patient & Family Advisory Council.
Caregivers to loved ones experiencing mental illness are often an invisible group. The Council gives us a voice, a medium to advise on mental health and addictions care at the hospital. The Council is also leading, in collaborating with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Windsor, a Caring for the Caregiver project. We have just concluded a community needs assessment where we learned about the needs and experiences of caregivers to adult loved ones living with mental illness or addictions in Windsor-Essex. I’m proud to say that Bell Let’s Talk featured our project on their social media and we also received a research grant! Now, we will use the data to inform the content of a Caring for the Caregiver Conference scheduled for this fall – stay tuned! We will also publish the research and share the findings with the hospital and its partners. The countless hours spent on this initiative and institutional support at the leadership level is evidence that the organization is committed to supporting caregivers and sees the value we bring to the healthcare space through our commitment to our ill loved ones. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words” and HDGH has certainly shown their support through their actions. As a caregiver this is heartwarming. Navigating complex healthcare and other government services is exhausting so it’s fantastic to see the amount of support this project has received. A huge shout out to Dr. Jennifer Voth, Patrick Kolowicz, and Erica Colovic! As well as to Dr. Edward Cruz at the University of Windsor.
Long term caregiving leads to increased stress and burnout which impacts the health of the caregiver as well as the amount and quality of support we can provide to our loved ones. The burden of care is on us (at least those of us able or willing) for numerous needs that our loved ones have and most of us are struggling with this immense but important responsibility. Coupled with challenges in accessing quality and continuous care for our loved ones, this can become overwhelming. For me, seeing an organization such as HDGH recognize this and do something about it is commendable. Which brings me to the last important emotion in this post: gratitude. As I continue providing support to Simi, I am grateful for the support that HDGH is providing me and fellow caregivers. It certainly makes the roller-coaster ride less bumpy.
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