Caregiving: Monsters, Furniture, and Awareness

October seems to be the month of awareness. I feel very aware of mental illness. I watch it drag him down, bring him to his knees, smack him around for good measure. It’s interesting to see the manifestations of mental illness when personified or anthropomorphised. What kind of monster will it be? If I’m honest, I see mental illness less as a monster and more like a piece of furniture.

A monster lurks and jumps out. The furniture simply exists and continues to take out limbs and cause bruises. Furniture can be brought in, sometimes it is dumped. There are the times it is inherited. A monster generally responds well to obedience training and dog biscuits. In this house, at the very least, monsters know that they can damn well behave themselves because I haven’t the patience for them. The furniture can be moved, it can be put away. No matter what there will always be one piece to trip over, that brings bruises blooming across just healed arms.

Monsters aren’t a part of life. They come from fairy tales and imagination. Monsters come and go with the tides. They bring notions of morality with them. Monsters bring lessons and don disguises. Furniture is like a duck: if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck. Furniture can dress itself up however it likes but it is still furniture. Some go for the minimalist approach, others have a veritable antique shop existence.

Or maybe mental illness is just mental illness. It isn’t a metaphor desperate to be put out of its misery. Mental illness is a very nice short phrase. A few letters, a couple of words, a neat little package. Scream it from the roof tops. I don’t know how to make awareness of mental illness encompass what it means to be aware of what mental illness is.

Awareness would be realising that medication is so much more than popping pills. Medication is weighing options, getting prescriptions, sorting out blister packs, bandaging the paper cuts, putting pills into boxes ready for the week, checking they’re being taken, checking they’re not being stock-piled, dealing with the side-effects.

Awareness would be realising that suicidal ideation is so much more than a person thinking they want to end their life. Suicidal ideation can be all consuming. It is crisis plans and care plans. It is knowing how much a taxi costs to the hospital. It is knowing what you need to tell the police if he were to disappear.

Awareness would be realising that self harm is so much more than a joke. That it’s a valid expression of pain no matter how serious. That being non-fatal doesn’t stop it being devastating. That there is no way to make home a truly safe space. That someone has to clean up afterwards.

Awareness would be realising that improving services comes from so much more than sharing a picture on social networks. That pictures and memes don’t make the mental health team call back any quicker. That appointments are less leather couches and more an exercise in balancing the needs of a whole family.

Awareness would be realising that positive action is so much more than the click of a mouse. It’s reaching out to others. It’s signing petitions. It’s a note to say you’re thinking of someone loved or simply liked. It’s making a donation to help charities do essential work.

Awareness would be realising that mental illness is so much more than the letters constituting a diagnosis. It isn’t a footnote. It is a part of life that costs some people their jobs, their families, their homes, their relationships. It is a part of life that costs some people theirs.

And that’s all before a morning cup of tea. So here’s to awareness. Here’s to spreading the word. Here’s to those living it. I’ll go put the kettle on. Just watch out for the chair leg that sticks out and for now I’ll let sleeping monsters lie.

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Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

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