Tag Archives: family and mental illness

Schizophrenia and the Family: Exhausted, Broke, Helpless and Blamed

It isn’t easy, loving someone with schizophrenia.

Well, let me rephrase: Loving is easy. Loving is in our soul.

Liking? Sometimes much harder.

Caring for? Protecting? Supporting? Very very hard.

Families Hanging by a Thread

Families who have not abandoned their loved ones with schizophrenia (and many, unsupported and at the ends of their ropes, feel they have no other choice) are left holding so many loose ends it’s easy to feel hopelessly tangled up all the time. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day? We live in fear.

We fear – for our loved one’s life, sometimes for our own lives. And it often feels like there is nowhere to turn.

As for us – well, as of this writing, we’re still one of the lucky families. After eight hospitalizations, after seven years in a group home, after homelessness and arrests, our son Ben is back home with us and stable on medication. Well, for today at least. We take it a day at a time, and each day we get that passes without major crisis feels like a gift – a gift that could get ripped away at any time.

I often speak to groups about the Four Pillars of Recovery Success that have enabled Ben to rebuild his life after his periods of psychiatric care: Treatment, Purpose, Structure and Love. Yep: he has a job right now, and a free place to live (with us), and a social life.  Yay. I know what a miracle that is. But, as I’ve written before, that success is precarious. If one of those pillars should crack, we could be back at Ground Zero in the blink of an eye.

Still one of my most popular posts, here and on HealthyPlace.com , is this one:

Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go?

Though six years have passed since I wrote it, it still gets comments. And in those comments I am reminded of the deep, mournful, and sometimes terrifying challenges families – and parents specifically –  face when schizophrenia moves in. Continue reading Schizophrenia and the Family: Exhausted, Broke, Helpless and Blamed

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What Exactly is Schizophrenia, Anyway?

I often get this question, even years after our family’s openness about Ben’s mental illness.Education is Power

Recently I came across this guide from Juno Medical, and it explains it all really well!

 

 

 

Here is an excerpt:

What is schizophrenia?

The word “schizophrenia” derives from the Greek “skhizein” (to split) and “phrēn” (mind) and indicates a long-term mental disorder that involves cognitive, behavioural, and emotional dysfunctions.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30 and can be divided into positive, negative, and cognitive ones.

Positive symptoms

Positive symptoms refer to an excess or distortion of normal functions.

Hallucinations: hallucinations can involve all 5 senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch). Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. People with the disorder hear voices that talk to them about their behaviour, give them commands or threaten them or others.

Delusions: delusions involve having a distorted image of what is happening in the reality. Delusions can be persecutory, where people believe that others are trying to harm them or plotting against them, and delusions of reference, where people think that the environment is directly related to them, e.g. they believe they receive special messages through the TV or the radio.

Disorganized speech and behaviour: the person shows incoherent speech that impairs effective communication as well as difficulties in completing basic day-to-day activities. It also includes bizarre or inappropriate behaviour.

Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms refer to a decrease in socialization, motivation, emotional responsiveness, and movement.

Apathy: the person shows lower interest in activities that used to be part of his or her everyday life, such as work, studies, or sport. Personal hygiene and appearance may also suffer noticeably.

Lack of emotion: patients show diminished affective responsiveness or display inappropriate reaction – or no reaction at all – to either good or bad news. People with schizophrenia may also show anhedonia, which defines an inability to experience pleasure.

Poor social functioning: the person avoids contacts with other people and prefers to spend time alone and isolated.

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms involve difficulties with memory and concentration.

Disorganized thoughts: schizophrenia sufferers may demonstrate disorganized thinking and difficulties in expressing thoughts or integrating feelings and behaviour.

Difficulty concentrating: the person displays attention deficit and the inability to gather and process information and make decision out of it.

Poor memory: the person will have trouble keeping recently learned information and use it to carry out a task.

  • Hebephrenic schizophrenia: also known as disorganized schizophrenia, this subtype involves incoherent, illogical thoughts and behaviours, and emotional blunting.

want to know more? check it out!

Here is the link to the full guide from Juno Medical.

Many thanks! EDUCATION IS POWER!

 

 

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Treatment Pays Off in Schizophrenia, Even if “Unwanted”

One young man with schizophrenia makes the news this week because he attacked his parents with a rock. The Mom says “I am afraid of my own son now.” According to the article, their son was refusing the treatment and medication available to him from the Kentucky assertive community treatment program. The treatment was voluntary. The young man said “no thanks.” And nearly killed his parents.

My son, Ben, also diagnosed with schizophrenia (and a very severe case, I am told), gently lifts his baby niece out of her swing, sings a silly baby song to her and gets a huge smile from her in return. Then he showers, shaves, irons his shirt, and heads off to work.  He has been a server at the same restaurant – full-time – for over two years.

In Ireland, a man is finally committed to a mental health facility – after killing his parents with an axe. This treatment comes, obviously, way too late.

My son’s phone constantly rings with texts from friends, who are trying to arrange a “game night” at home for
tomorrow evening. Now he has friends again – but it took years to rebuild relationships, after years lost to hospitalizations and periods of relapse. We hope he never again needs that level of help. If Ben continues with treatment, we may get our wish. But there is no guarantee when it comes to mental health. This we know, all too well.

Five years ago, right after my book Ben Behind his Voices was published, Ben went off his medication and went back into the hospital for the eighth time. It took seven weeks to engage his willingness to “go back on meds”, after which he moved back in with us – with strict rules to “follow psychiatrist instructions.” Why? There was no other way we’d allow him to live with us.

some of the latest info on schizophrenia treatment
some of the latest info on schizophrenia treatment

The truth is: treatment makes all the difference. That’s why we, Ben’s family, “require” it in order for him to live with us. And, yes, we supervise it – staying up until 1 or 2 AM five nights a week to do so. Because, without this, we might have to be frightened of our own son too. Instead, our biggest problems resemble those of parents raising a growing teen – messy bedroom, sloppy compliance with curfews, uneducated financial decisions – even though Ben is 34 years old.  Not always fun, but we’ll take this level of challenge. It’s annoying at worst. With one in four families dealing with mental illness in a loved one, I know many who would give anything to have “problems” like ours instead of the stigma, guilt, helplessness, grief and fear they experience every day. Continue reading Treatment Pays Off in Schizophrenia, Even if “Unwanted”

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Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

Wow. John Oliver just summed up the problems with our mental health system in 11 minutes and 54 seconds – with plenty of room for punchlines as well. I know – seems like something that isn’t humorous. But this segment provides more respect for mental health issues than so many others I’ve seen. Well-placed humor can do that.

Watch it here:

His opening statement, like all the facts in this comedy-in-truth piece, is correct:

“It seems there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”

Guilty as charged. My last post was, yes, sparked by yet another act of violence that I suspected would eventually point back to an unaddressed mental health problem in the shooter (and lack of support for his family). After receiving 2 comments which were too extreme to approve, I almost deleted the post today. It seems to have sparked stigma and judgment instead of the empathy and constructive outrage I had hoped to inspire.  But I will let it remain in this thread, because while I myself may have jumped the gun on “judging” this shooter with expectations that attention should have been paid to his mental health way before a crisis, I also know that such judgment harms people like my son, who lives in fear that people will find out he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. (for the record, his name and identifiable facts have been changed in the book and in my posts, with his permission to tell the story that way) Continue reading Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

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Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

Another merciless, senseless shooting, this time in Oregon. Another troubled shooter with three names. As details of the life of Chris Harper Mercer emerge on news outlets, I expect, sooner or later, to find out what often is uncovered: undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness symptoms. Duh. And a family left trying to “handle it” alone. Duh, again. Been there – am there. Except we got some education and support so we could try to help our son. We are among the very lucky families. At the moment. Continue reading Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

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Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

Love matters...but it's not enough
Love matters…but it’s not enough

Three mothers with so much in common, we could form a club. Each raised one son and one daughter, through adolescence into young adulthood. Each loves her children with all her heart. And, sadly, each of our brilliant, happy, sweet sons began to change in their mid-teens, and were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. We have each written about our experiences, shared our stories so they might help others.

But our stories have taken three very different turns. Today, one of these mothers mourns the death of her son, who passed away in “individual housing” earlier this year. Another of us sits stoically in a courtroom as her son is being tried for shooting moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. And I, the lucky one, get to hug my son as he heads off to work, in his car, filled with gas that he paid for himself. For today, yes, I am the lucky one.

My heart goes out to the other mothers, even though I have never met them. I only know them through their writings, but I feel their struggles, their pain, their guilt, their love. Anyone who lives with mental illness in their family knows that we live life with crossed fingers, and we fight with all our might to make the right decisions.

And it is far from easy. Continue reading Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

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NAMI Palm Beach Keynote – Support, Education, Acceptance

Keynote Speech for Annual Luncheon NAMI Palm Beach County, FL – a wonderful affiliate doing so much. This event raised thousands of dollars. Congrats!

The full version of this keynote is available on YouTube. Here, however, are just a few highlights:

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Encouraging Treatment: Loving Parent? or Cruel Dictator?

(repurposed from my final blogpost on “Mental Illness in the Family” on HealthyPlace.com)

Two things happened last month that stirred me to revisit an often-examined question:

Am I too involved in my son’s life? Have I “stolen his manhood and his rights” by insisting on treatment?

One reminder came in the form of a reader’s book review on Amazon.com forBen Behind His Voices, calling it a “Testament to Abuse of Power and Parental Authority,” the only one-star review in a sea of 5-star praise and gratitude. Clearly, a man with an agenda, so I didn’t take it too personally, but this is not the first time I’ve been called an over-involved parent. On the other hand, I’ve also been criticized by others  for not “stopping” Ben from dropping out of high school, for “allowing” my son a period of homelessness in Idaho and “letting him fail” when he gained and then lost five different jobs after he returned.

And then there is — the question of “forcing” Ben to take medications to help restore balance to his brain. The second reminder came from a voice student of mine, who shared how well his son with schizophrenia was doing without meds, having “learned to recognize the voices and deal with them” instead. Of course, that’s wonderful. Some people, I understand, can do that — but often it takes all of their energy just to keep those voices at bay. And then there are those, like Be, who cannot, in a million years, manage the full-time job of keeping his inner thoughts (or voices, or whatever they are) quiet enough so that he can attend to the outside world. Elyn Saks clearly outlines her unsuccessful attempts to get off meds in her memoir The Center Cannot Hold; in our family, we have seen, all too frighteningly, what Ben’s life becomes when he doesn’t take his medication — wildly wandering, constantly mumbling, lost in his own world, relentlessly pacing, capable of lashing out. He is lost to us then and, I believe, to himself. Continue reading Encouraging Treatment: Loving Parent? or Cruel Dictator?

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Schizophrenia and the Family: In a Nutshell?

It occurs to me that some new readers of this blog may not really know the backstory that brought us here.

The stage on rehearsal day
The stage on rehearsal day

I’ve just returned from Warsaw, where I was honored to have the chance to speak to a global audience

With Pete Earley
With Pete Earley

about our family experience with schizophrenia and recovery in my son Ben – and to have shared the stage (well, one at a time…) with the wonderful Pete Earley, author of Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.

Pete told his story, and I told mine. The challenge was that, while I usually speak for at least a half hour, I had 17 minutes to sum up the last 15 years of chaos, discovery, and hope.  Not easy! But it did encourage participants to pick up the book for the whole story.

So, for newbies to this site, here is a “nutshell” version of our path so far. I wrote this to send to NAMI, for possible media interest.

So – the “movie trailer” version of where we’ve been:

Fortunately, my son Ben (diagnosed with schizophrenia)  is currently doing well – but it has been a long road, and we almost lost him several times – so far. Every time that services are cut, or his needs misinterpreted, we run that risk again. Like many families, we have taken on much of his care ourselves – to make sure things continue to go as smoothly as possible.

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“Making Money Off My Son’s Illness”? A response

This post started out quite differently.

I write another blog called Mental Illness in the Family, which appears on HealthyPlace.com, and though I usually keep these blogs separate from each other, I often wonder why.

Today’s post on Healthy Place has to do with a topic I often – sadly – must revisit: relapse, or the return of symptoms. in it, I write:

I hate schizophrenia because it prevents Ben from moving ahead with his life. It gets in the way of every job he applies for, every friend he tries to make, every dream he has had so far of having a girlfriend, getting married, being a Dad. It forces him to be dependent on medication that he does not believe he needs. It puts him in a position that he knows is a drain on the family. Schizophrenia steals – even when treated to the best of current medicine’s abilities. Continue reading “Making Money Off My Son’s Illness”? A response

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