If you listen to me talk about mental illness or if you have read much of my work (by the way, I am Nate Crawford, the Executive Director of Here/Hear), you know that I talk a lot about support. I believe strongly in the support I receive in my life for my mental illness. I wrote recently about my mother’s support. Recently, I did a two-part podcast with my wife Trisha Crawford on how she supports me in my mental illness (Part 1 and Part 2). And I wrote about my parents’ support in a piece for Stigma Fighters. All of these contain the ongoing theme that my loved ones support me in my mental illness.
But, I got a question yesterday that threw me for a loop: what do you do when people do not support you in your mental illness? What happens when your family loves you, but will not accept your mental illness? What happens when you do not have that support system?
I’m never sure what to say in these situations.
I have recounted the story before, but when I was diagnosed with bipolar 2, I had a boss who was not supportive of my mental illness. I worked in a church and my senior pastor did not support me. He said that he did to the congregation, but then lied to me about what people said about me. The pastor lied to people about what I said and blamed my mental illness on tasks not getting done (these were actually things he was supposed to do). He also dissuaded me from telling friends, to the point that I would be fired if I told anyone. He did not allow me to keep my job and tell anyone that I had a mental illness for multiple years. I look back and realize, now, that he hurt me and his actions continue to cause me pain and hurt. He took my trust and exploited it. And he took the opportunity to say mean and hurtful things about other people in my life who I care about. I could go on, but this was definitely a case where I was not supported and I actually had someone actively trying to take support away from me. It still pains me.
Other cases of non-support have come in smaller doses and have not been as hurtful. There was a lady who babysat my kids (also at church) ask me why I could not just get over it. At Walt Disney World, a worker questioned my need for a disability pass (when I told her that I could wait in line but would start convulsing and throwing up and might pass out from my anxiety, she understood). And I go through the daily experience of stigma and discrimination that all people who have a mental illness go through: sadly, it comes with the illness(es).
The difficulty, though, is what to tell someone to do to get through such an ordeal. I have a strong support system and that is a blessing. I relate to people who feel unsupported at times, because I have felt that way. On the other hand, I have a great support system in place. My support is strong and would do anything for me to be well. And when other people do not have that, I am unsure of what to say and feel lost. I usually say something supportive and then reiterate the need to let people around you know what you need to be supportive. This is not always helpful, though, and I know that.
So, I am asking the loyal Here/Hear blog reader, what do you do when your support system is lacking? What do you do when you do not have a support system? Where do you find help?
We hope that Here/Hear can be a help, but we are under no illusion that we can be the “be all end all” of someone’s support system. You need more than us. We can help and want to help, but we can’t be everything. You need people in your day-to-day life that will be there. So, how do you go about finding these people? Who is there to help you?