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Love. How do you show it?

Who hasn’t said, “I love (fill in the blank)?” You could have filled in ice cream, movies, vacations, Christmas—any number of things. Love is a word we toss around often and casually. What we really mean is that we enjoy eating ice cream and watching movies; we enjoy going on vacation to experience new places and find time to relax; and we get pleasure and meaning from Christmas whether in a religious sense or simply giving gifts to those we care about. Basically, we “love” these things because we have a great interest in them and receive pleasure from them.

Love also means having an intense feeling of deep affection. Think about the people in your life who you love: your parents, spouse, partner, children, best friend, siblings, other relatives. You show caring, tenderness, ardor, devotion differently to different people in your life. And if one of them has a mental health condition, how do you show love so that they feel it?

Often the challenges of caring for a loved one with mental illness leaves us angry and frustrated at them, the health care system, even friends and family. In the best of circumstances, those we love can irritate us and vice versa. You learn to live with these minor idiosyncrasies and inconveniences because of love.

Patience and communication—two major aspects of love—make a huge difference in how we interact with those we care about, especially our loved ones. You communicate with your time, smile, touch, a kiss, a hug, and with words. You can also communicate with a frown, by not listening, ignoring, and also with words. We may let our frustration creep into our communication with our loved one and that influences the way we talk and respond.

Because in a given moment, something we’ve done and said or our loved one has done and said can move us away from a loving response. After all, we’re human. Do we “put up with them?” Do we give up on them? Do we argue, ignore, pretend with them? Some days, maybe the answer is yes. Caregiving can be stressful and tiring. It is often heartbreaking. So why do we do it? Because we love that person. We care. We keep trying to find a way to help them and in the process we help ourselves by becoming more educated about mental illness,

we seek support for ourselves and our loved one, and we become their advocate. Maybe we can temper our reactions with a bit of patience and grace—kindness and goodwill.

Are we at 100 percent every day? Not always. But we continue to do our best and that best is different for each of us. Love keeps us at the helm of this caregiving ship.

If you know about NAMI Franklin County and what we do, then you’ve probably taken advantage of our free education classes and support groups. If you have not, please consider doing so. You are not alone in your caregiving journey and we are here to help you along the way.

Karen Cousins