Mental Illness

Caregiving: Crisis And Kindness

There are two kinds of crisis in the Juniper household. There are the ordinary ones and the mental health ones. An ordinary crisis is when the washing machine breaks, someone comes down with flu, or there are zombies attacking the house. The mental health crisis is hospital visits, emergency psychiatrist appointments and caring for someone who is fragile and in pain.

We had what some might call an ordinary crisis at the beginning of this year and, in the space of two weeks, after I had just got over the worst of a chest infection, Mr. Juniper left on a long-before scheduled trip, Juniper Junior started nursery, the cat had an operation and we had the atrocity that was our old fireplace ripped out. Frankly, I’d do it over in a flash, than go through one of Mr. Juniper’s crises. Even in perfect health, with no surprises, one of Mr. Juniper’s crises is hard to stomach.

The thing about a mental health crisis is that the rest of the world struggles to sympathise or offer an ounce of comfort. Although this isn’t necessarily the rest of the world’s fault. At least if the washing machine breaks, the neighbours can suggest a good plumber or the local department store can have a new one delivered in a couple of days. If someone comes down with flu, friends and family can be roped in to bring in supplies of tissues and basic shopping. And when zombies attack, it’d be nice to think a friend would drop a copy of The Zombie Survival Guide through the letterbox.

When there’s a mental health crisis, a solution can’t be delivered between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Family and friends can’t do the confidential phone calls. And a book is rarely the answer. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a crisis has to be ridden out and that most of the time there is little else you can do. If that sounds defeatist, it isn’t meant to. It’s that by the time a crisis has come, it’s too late for prevention and it’s time for damage control.

We are fortunate that the impact of a crisis on Juniper Junior is small; his Daddy is tired and fragile, but his Daddy is still there. He can still give cuddles aplenty. Juniper Junior doesn’t know what’s going through his Daddy’s mind. On the other hand, I have a very good idea of what’s going through Mr. Juniper’s mind. A crisis means that, for a time, I lose my husband; there’s just too much going on inside his mind for him to give our relationship the time and thought he would ordinarily. A crisis means doing more than I would ordinarily as well as communicating with the psychiatric team and dealing with the crisis itself in whatever way it manifests. Even with Mr. Juniper’s psychiatric team supporting him, a crisis just hurts.

It goes for so much in life, but a little kindness goes so far. Who knows if the tired soul picking up milk and bread is in the middle of a crisis, or simply in need of an earlier night? And yet, opening the shop door for them might be the best thing that’s happened to them all day. It’s the little kindnesses that make it all easier. Recently, Mr. Juniper was going through a rough patch (which is approximately a hop, skip, and a jump from a crisis) and I had to pick up his medications from the pharmacy a couple of days early, and with additions, as a result. Our pharmacist was lovely as usual and had no qualms about preparing the prescriptions while I waited. He was putting the labels on the boxes when I said, apologetically and in as few words as possible (forgive my paraphrasing), that Mr. Juniper was going through a rough patch, hence the additional medication needs. The pharmacist said, with a gentle smile, “Everyone has good days and bad days. Good weeks and bad weeks.” I almost burst into tears, right there in the middle of the chemist’s.

A little kindness goes a long away and, in the midst of a crisis, sometimes it’s all we have. It’s the psychiatrist’s secretary saying that she’ll make sure he gets the message as soon as he gets back from ward rounds. It’s the doctor reassuring Mr. Juniper that he’s not a burden. It’s the person who holds the shop door open at the end of the day when I’ve got my hands full with shopping because I realised we were out of bread and milk, just when I thought I might get a little peace to read.

Or to put it simply:

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.


By Juniper

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

9 replies on “Caregiving: Crisis And Kindness”

Thank you for writing these columns. I have struggled with depression/anxiety for most of my life and the lack of support outside of a very small number of people (mostly immediate family and closest friends) was always the hardest things for me. I never realized quite how isolating it was until I was recently diagnosed with cancer. It was surreal to me after all the years of struggling alone the way everyone and their mother/cousin/coworker has rallied around me for every tiny bit of support. It makes me sad/frustrated that these two diseases are treated so differently by society and to really see so clearly the stigma associate with depression and mental health issues. I wish you the best with this crisis and all the others.

Oh goodness, I hope your support grows to encompass all that’s going on for you, and most certainly, best wishes with all your struggles. And thank you, too, we hope for ourselves that the crises come less often and over the years, we’re finding ourselves getting there.

Thank you so much for writing these posts. My parents have a very hard time understanding my serious depression/anxiety issues and I’ve been printing these off for them to read.  I think it will go a long way in helping them deal with things that upset and anger them, but that I don’t always have full control over.

The Juniper family is an impressive bunch. Your strength and wisdom and taking time to share with others is an amazing gift.

just dropped in to say that i’m really enjoying your series.  i work for a nonprofit that deals with court-involved youth – the clinicians encounter psychiatric emergencies often.  it’s good to see you putting a dialogue out there about how moments of crisis affect everyone involved.

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