Friday, 17 May 2013

Family Support

Every counsellor, psychologist and psychiatrist I've ever been to asks about family support.

"Who do you live with?"
"Do you have any family close by?"
 "Is there someone in your family you can talk to or get support from?"
 "Are your family members supportive?"

One even wrote in my notes: "lack of family / social support is likely to hinder recovery."

Kinda gives you the impression that a supportive family is important to those of us with mental health issues.

It is.

But I don't have one.

I'm single, divorced actually. My parents are deceased, and I only have one sibling, six years my senior. He has never been supportive of me for any reason, so I have never hoped for his support with my mental health problems. We have been estranged for several years, so whether he would be supportive or not is a moot point really. I fumble through on my own, and every now and then I remember to give myself credit for managing my illness with only my treating professionals to rely on.

Last year when I was diagnosed as bipolar, after twenty years of suffering and misdiagnosis, it was no surprise to me to discover that genetics plays a strong role in the illness. There is a strong history of mental illness in my family, including one suicide and a couple of close relatives having spent time in psychiatric hospitals. Accurate information about these family members and their conditions may have helped me get diagnosed earlier, so my thoughts turned to my brothers children, and I considered how knowing about my diagnosis could be of assistance to them should they ever find themselves faced with mental health issues.  I was torn between keeping my diagnosis to myself, and telling my brother so that they would be armed with knowledge. My psychiatrist felt it was important to tell them considering the strong family history.

It took me a couple of months to decide, but I decided to tell. I wrote a brief letter outlining my diagnosis, the family history, and my reasons for sharing this information. I included a outline of what bipolar is. I didn't want my brothers children to face years of misdiagnosis should they fall prey to our shared genes, so I put it out there knowing I would receive no support, no sympathy or understanding but in the hope I could spare someone even part of what I have been through. I didn't expect much, a curt "Thank you for the information" would have been nice, but the response I got:


Absolutely nothing. No response at all.

So, I gave my brother deeply personal and stigmatising information so that it may one day benefit his children and he couldn't even be bothered saying thank you. I'm sure our parents would be proud.

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