Editor’s Note: This is a a story on caregiving. Caregivers are an often neglected group when we talk about mental health care. It’s never easy looking after someone we love who has a serious illness. It can take its toll on our own mental and physical health. Therefore, we are so grateful to have “Joy” share her insights with us even in the midst of her caring responsibilities. Read on for some practical tips that can only be gleaned from precious lived experience.

Being a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, employee—juggling these roles all at once is not uncommon in our society. However, it is when depression hits your immediate close ones, which in my case, my husband, fulfilling these roles becomes even more apparent and daunting.

How do you convey the illness to his family and your family when he can’t? How do you settle your children who are old enough for school but are yet too young to fully understand? In addition, you have a job to hold down–how do you talk about it, and whom should you tell? And while all these questions are running through your mind, what about the actual caring for the one who is unwell?

I can fully appreciate the difficulties in grappling with this illness as I am also struggling to understand, even as I write this personal narrative, while sitting beside my sleeping husband (not sure if he is really sleeping since a depressed person can’t really sleep restfully at all) in the hospital.

Before you begin feeling overwhelmed, take a step back.

1. Take care of “you”

This is the focal point. Yourself! Take care of yourself. Never lose sight of that. The rest will follow.

2. Family

Get family support. Slowly and gently break the news. Step by step, at the appropriate time and place. You will find the support very comforting and forthcoming.

3. Work arrangements

You have to let your manager/supervisor know about the situation. If you are able to, provide plans and suggestions on how you intended to move forward in carrying our your work responsibilities. Perhaps take extended leave of absence, or have flexible hours etc.

For me, I tell myself — if the workplace doesn’t allow it, I might have to quit or find another job that allows such arrangements.

Family comes first, money is second, if not last. Simple as that.

But before you assume I am rich, let me say that I am just a middle-class heartlander. I work to pay my bills, my children’s fees, provide allowances. My upbringing teaches me that saving for a rainy season is important.

4. Keep your children in the loop

Prepare your children especially if they are already of the school-going age and have some level of reasoning. Just be honest and factual. You don’t have to provide them with the nitty gritty details. Believe it or not, the kids do understand. Somehow.

5. Observe

Be observant of:
(1) my husband’s condition &
(2) the medication

Why his condition? Because he may not be in the best condition to express himself, therefore the doctor might ask for your feedback/observations as you are the person closest to him,

Be aware though, and note that you don’t really have to ask the cared-for on his/her feelings—with depression, they are emotionally numb.

Look out for physical signs—cuts on the hands or bruises anywhere. These may be self-inflicted wounds and can indicate dangerous suicidal tendencies.

I had overlooked on the light and multiple cuts on my husband’s wrist 7 years ago and thankfully (yes , thankfully), it was a non-lethal overdose which woke me up.

Medication wise. For obvious reasons, a depressed person may just overdose himself or not take any at all. See that the remaining dosages are indeed the correct amount.

6. Support from friends

Let a handful of close friends know. You know the additional support is there and be more at ease because of that. Think about the first point—looking out for our own well-being.

7. Believe and have faith

Last but not least, keep your faith going. I am not a religious person but I believe in being spiritual. Be in touch with the surroundings and trust that there is a higher order in the universe which is beyond our understanding and capability.

Remember, you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself.

For more caregiving resources, workshops and support groups, do check out theses links.

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