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Family affair

August 01 2023

When a family member is suffering, people can go above and beyond to provide support and succour, even when dealing with their own problems. Story and poem by Sophie Dianne

When your life is so heavily dictated by a mental health disorder, it’s hard to push past it. You’re surviving with constant tunnel vision. Surrounded by people trying to break through, their words like whispers, you can hear them, but you can’t engage. Fighting for at least one minute’s peace. We don’t mean to be selfish. It’s just hard. And having to comprehend the mental health of a loved one? That’s just another level of complexity.

As someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I don’t always cope well listening to others with similar experiences. Often relying on self-preservation and distance. However, over the past few months my reaction has been different. And why was that? To put it bluntly, because a close relative almost died. For the purpose of privacy, I won’t disclose any personal details.

John Smith (not their real name) had been battling depression for many years but this summer things took a turn. Substance abuse had become a crutch and he was surviving on a diet of cocaine and £800 worth of gin.

I’ll never forget the phone call I received. Thinking back on it now, it still doesn’t feel real. I didn’t allow myself to run away. My gut instinct demanded I help my family. I realised the reason I normally ‘run’ was out of grief. To feel this particular sadness is one thing, but to recognise it in a loved one is an entirely different feeling. It was a twisted empathy.

There are many reasons for substance abuse, and in this time of austerity it has only made things increasingly difficult. As a family we have experienced two deaths that have left a giant hole. When I think about that, in consideration with John Smith’s individual challenges, I can see why he fell into such a deep depression. I absolutely hate the journey that we’re going on as a family. But I’m thankful that John Smith knows how much he is loved and wants to get help. He has since started attending AA, initially sceptical but understanding of how much it can achieve. When he was first admitted to hospital it felt like the end. He still isn’t well, but I’m glad to see how far he has already come.

In closing, I’ve attached a poem I wrote. I comforted myself by writing poetry. It didn’t erase the problem. It simply helped me deal with it so I could provide support. I was determined not to let John Smith down:

Memories and Missiles

Gripped by fear, she laid there.
She craved some peace and tranquillity, but that was slowly becoming a memory.
Something she had tried to grasp had slipped away. Serpent-like.
Life was a battleground inside her head.
With memories, thoughts and feelings flying around like missiles.
She knew in order for it to stop, she must retreat to base camp,
Running with her helmet on.
But all she could hear in the background was noise.
Every single nonsensical thought, seemingly insignificant to others but not to her.
To her they were as deep as the trenches.
She struggled through the mud, remembering how it felt to run with him.
This boy who had always protected her.
But she knew their roles had now reversed.
She had to shield him from the poison,
It seeped into his bloodstream and lied to him.
Pretending to bring comfort, but instead causing destruction.
She wrapped her arms around him.
The war wasn’t over.
But they had won this battle. Together.

Dealing with mental health never ends. But having the right coping mechanisms in place is essential. These can give you or loved ones healthy motivation. Every time I have a panic attack, I remind myself that my anxiety isn’t who I am. I am strong, John Smith is strong and so are YOU.