When your loved one with mental illness tells you this, you panic. Your first instinct is to say they have to be on it. You might even digress to yelling the reasons why. Because you remember the last time your daughter went off her meds. She spent so much money and ended up in jail and it took her months to work out of all the issues. This scenario could work for any mental illness where medication is necessary to keep your loved one stable.
Take a deep breath and resist lecturing.
Instead, ask your daughter a question, with patience and compassion, ask her why she doesn’t want to take her medication. Allow her the grace to talk even if you’ve heard why one hundred times. Be patient. Be quiet. Nod. Make eye contact.
When she finishes, reflect back what she has said.
“Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So you feel as if you don’t need medication anymore, you are tired of taking it, you worry you won’t be as creative and don’t want to be tied to daily medication anymore. Do I have that right?”
Allow your loved one time to respond, make corrections. It’s important to be patient, and make sure your loved one feels heard.
Once she has confirmed that you have it about right, that you understand what she is saying, tell your daughter how you feel using “I feel” phrases.
“I feel concerned, and fearful for you and all of us when you are not on medication. Last time you went off your medication, you posted over three hundred messages on social media, you ran up all your credit cards and ended up in jail. All of that took you months and months of hard work to undo. I was very proud of you for fighting back. You went to court and promised the judge that if you were in our custody, that you’d take your medication.”
“You expressed to me after that how humiliated and embarrassed you felt. It broke my heart to see you suffer so much. And I suffered, too. I also felt anger even though that’s not fair since it’s your disease that causes the problems–a disease you didn’t ask for and I wish I could fix but can’t. That helplessness is devastating. Your father, sister and I found you in jail, covered in vomit, your hair matted to your head, screaming cuss words at the guards and telling them you wanted to kill yourself. That fear of you dying took me to my knees and I didn’t sleep or eat for days with worry.”
“You went into a store and started throwing soup cans, the customers scattered in fear, including a 10-year-old girl. I know that wasn’t you, it was your disease–the disease that has been kept under control with your medication. That medication not only helps you live a more normal life, although not perfect, it also allows us to live a more normal existence, too. We see more of the real you and we like that. We see less of your disease which takes you hostage when you are off your medication. I want you to fall in love, enjoy having a purpose and taking care of your dog, Muffet. I have to ask you, is that the way you want to live?”
Sometimes they might have to go to the hospital first to get stable and then you have this conversation. But you need to feel it through their eyes and visa versa. What I want you to know is that it helps if you come from a place of compassion and understanding and the patience that goes with that. It’s tough. Education helps. You deserve that and your loved one does, too.