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4 Things I’ve Learned From Having a Chronically Ill Mother

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My mum has lived with mental illness for my entire life, and physical illness and disability since I was 5. Growing up with an ill person hasn’t always been easy — often, quite the opposite — but it’s absolutely made me the person I am today. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Acceptance.

There are so many misconceptions about chronic illness and disability; for example, what “disability” looks like. For my mum, a wheelchair is usually necessary to get around, but that doesn’t mean she can’t walk at all. When people see her get out of her wheelchair, they often look surprised or suspicious, as if she may be faking her disability. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Her disability is just as real regardless of how she gets around.

My experiences with my mum taught me to believe and accept people when they tell me of their illness. My mum is in constant pain, and someone knocking her chair can leave her in agony for days, yet a lot of people don’t acknowledge the severity of this. Additionally, not all disabilities are visible; I would never invalidate someone’s experience just because I can’t see proof of their illness. If you met my mum, you might not know she has acute mental health problems, but that doesn’t make them fake.

2. Resilience.

Too many people say words to the effect of “your life is so difficult, I don’t know how you do it!” The answer is: I do it because I love my family. It’s my life, and I get on with it. Yes, it can be really difficult, but ultimately I know I can deal with whatever life throws at me. I’ve learned how to deal with stressful or emergency situations calmly and appropriately. Sometimes my mum is a challenging person to live with, and I have had to learn to see her side of the story to understand why she might be upset or in pain. I’ve had to cope with the hurt of having a mum who can’t always be there for me when I need it. These skills will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life and I’m incredibly grateful for them.

3. Pity and support are different things.

Pity doesn’t help me, period. If I tell someone about my mum’s illness, I don’t need them telling me how terrible my situation is. No one’s life is perfect and that includes me. I don’t want to be treated differently or tiptoed around; I’m just like anyone else and my mum’s health is only part of my story. I don’t define myself by it, and I don’t want anyone else to either.

However, support is a different story. Rather than pitying me, lend an ear or a hand. There are so many ways you can support people with an ill parent, from kind gestures to offering to help me with everyday tasks. If I’m stressed out, be someone I can vent to. When I can’t go out because I have to cook, come over and cook with me, and maybe we can watch a film after. Just because sometimes I’m busy or stressed doesn’t mean I don’t care about my friends and hobbies, and you don’t need to give me the world to make my life so much better.

4. Don’t waste precious time with your loved ones.

Although my mum isn’t terminally ill, her illness and the medications she’s on are likely to be life-limiting. Additionally, her mental illnesses have caused her to attempt suicide several times throughout my life. This really brings home the fact you could lose someone you love at any minute. While I could have many years left with my mum, I can’t count on it. If I don’t spend time with her now, I could lose the chance forever. And this applies to all my loved ones as well. I will always try to make time for them now, because I never know when I might lose them. It’s a bit macabre, but it’s true. Cherish your loved ones while they’re around!

These are but a few of the lessons I’ve learned. However, I hope they can help you realize that loving an ill person can be challenging, but I believe it will absolutely change your outlook on life for the better. You’ll be a more empathetic person for it, and far stronger in the long run.

Getty image by Light Field Studios.

Originally published: April 30, 2018
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