Tag Archives: mental illness and family

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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Another Mom’s Story of Schizophrenia in Her Son – and Suicide

Book Review: Losing Aaron

I keep thinking of the line in a Phil Ochs (google him:) ) song:

There but for fortune go you or I…

This book is a painful reminder of how fortunate we are to have gotten some extra time with Ben – and of how schizophrenia can happen to any family – rich, poor, educated or not, you name the adjectives. Schizophrenia does not discriminate.

Every family member with courage to share their story about mental illness in a loved one Losing Aaron Bookopens the door of understanding just a bit more – and that can help reduce stigma and spark action to help those with mental illness and their families. The author begins with the fact of Aaron’s suicide, so we know where this is headed and yet we still root for Aaron – and his Mom, Dad, sister and stepdad – to get the support, education, and understanding needed to change the outcome we know is inevitable.

Alas, that doesn’t happen – but Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes opens her heart to us as we share in her confusion, frustration and helplessness in the face of a devastating illness that seems to steal the soul of someone you love.

The pearl in the oyster here is the love the family has for Aaron, and how they do their best to support him in the only ways they know how, even though he consistently refuses the medication that might have changed his life.

I know that love well, as it is what keeps our family going too – and we know we are fortunate that my son Ben follows the “house rules” of taking his medication each day, under our supervision. Any day he could choose not to (as he, like Aaron, doesn’t think he needs it) – and we have seen too many times where that would lead us: straight to the hospital, and down the chute to square one again. This book renewed my gratitude for the extra days we have gotten with Ben – days that this author’s family was denied. Her pain and love, and her struggle to also live her own life as writer, wife and mother – are honestly told.

It also reminds us of the importance of education, support and acceptance – the earlier the better. Could Aaron have been saved? I don’t know. But I know I am so grateful (thank you, NAMI Family-to-Family) for education I got into Ben’s illness, which equipped our family to do more to help. It doesn’t always “work”, but education increases the odds of success.

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The Precarious Jenga Tower of Life with Mental Illness

Jenga_distortedMy son’s life is a never-ending game of Jenga, carefully constructed by us all and always in danger of toppling – as pieces are removed by too many players jugging too many variables and way too little foresight and funding.

This month has been challenging. Five years after Ben Behind His Voices was released, we are living inside a constructed existence composed almost entirely of Jenga blocks. Ben has climbed his way to full-time employment as a restaurant server, and has even earned kudos on Yelp.

Recently one of his friends, a young man struggling with mental illness issues and also transgender transition, was reported missing (he has since been found, thank goodness) and his family was frantic. She drove to our home to ask for Ben’s help, any info he might share. In the course of our conversation, she revealed that her son had been prescribed medications for his anxiety and depression but had recently refused to take them – and soon after that disappeared. She told Ben that he was an “absolute inspiration” to her son because he takes his meds –  and has held a job he loves for over two years.

What she hadn’t realized is this:

Sure, Ben takes his meds – but he still doesn’t think he needs them. He is “compliant” because it’s a house rule we enforce – by staying up til the wee hours of the morning (Ben helps close the restaurant 5 days a week) to supervise. Could he refuse? Sure. But we would then refuse to allow him to live with us.

I pray we never have to force this issue. We’ve done it before – it is risky and painful to all – and so Ben knows we mean what we say. But the whole “compliance” situation is a jenga block that always sticks out, just waiting to be pulled from the stack. It’s right here on the foundation level. If that one goes, the whole thing topples over.

But even with that foundation intact, each day there are other pieces that hold his life precariously together. This week, four were pulled out — and we hold our breath, as do so many families in similar circumstances, that the structure can still stand. Continue reading The Precarious Jenga Tower of Life with Mental Illness

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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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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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One Reader Speaks: Siblings, Schizophrenia, Support, Strength

Thanks for Reading and Sharing
Thanks for Reading and Sharing

Sometimes I open an e-mail from a reader that not only touches me, but teaches me…and these words, from the sibling of a man with schizophrenia, are in my heart forever. The author has granted permission to reprint his words here, for which I am so grateful – and hope you will feel the same way. I have changed the first names, and added some links, but otherwise this is, verbatim, what has re-inspired me today to continue to seek, and see, the strength courage and beauty in my son Ben. Thank you.

Dear Randye,
I am writing to thank you for your strong and beautiful book Ben Behind His Voices.  I did not want to read it.  I borrowed it from a friend almost two years ago and have been walking past it since then.  And I can’t exactly say it was light reading once I cracked it open.  Ben’s story is so much like my brother John’s.  But, with John now 54 and myself 58, it was high time to rewalk the path and get some new perspective.  I simply cannot thank you enough for your clear and detailed depiction of your family’s journey.
ovenbirdYou do an especially fine job of explaining that tension between trying to help and trying to let be.  Also, you truly help readers understand that realization that for a person with schizophrenia, life dreams and plans will need to undergo revision.  As Robert Frost’s poem “The Ovenbird” reminds us, the question that needs continually to be asked, about all our lives, is, “What to make of a diminished thing?”  One could view the question as pessimistic, but to ask it honestly is actually an exercise in wisdom and courage.
Even though John cannot “compete” for standard definitions of success, he puts most of us to shame in a few specific areas.  One is courage.  A few Aprils ago I remarked to him on the phone what a gorgeous spring day it had been.  He said yes, that he had been out too.  He said that he had forced himself to let the bus home go on without him so he could sit out on a bench until the next bus came.  “It was hard,” he said, “but I did it.”  It was hard?  To sit on a bench for 30 minutes on a beautiful spring day?  It’s a reminder that, for John, facing the world most days takes the courage of a first responder running into a burning building.  But as you so clearly point out, his heroism is not the type to garner honor, gratitude, or even acceptance.
Yet I could speak of HIS acceptance of others, his sensitivity to those who are suffering, his spontaneous generosity.
We talk on the phone a couple times a week.   He lives about 90 minutes from me.  Yesterday we spoke for about 20 minutes.  With your words so fresh in my mind, I was somehow able to enjoy the conversation more deeply.  It was one of those moments you talk about that should be cherished for the simple pleasure that it is.  Your book did that for me.
I am saying a prayer for Ben.
I love hearing from you, dear readers. Thank you for your e-mails, your comments, and your advocacy – RK

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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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Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go? (reposted from HealthyPlace)

I no longer blog regularly for HealthyPlace.com, but still respond to comments from the years I wrote for them. In checking in, I noticed that the post with the most hits, and still bringing in comments, is this one. I wrote it almost exactly three years ago, but it still hold true. The situation may change (currently, our choices have upgraded to things like “should be support Ben’s getting his own car?”, but the dilemma – step in, or let go? – is the same. Every parent – whether or not dealing with mental illness – knows.

Here is the post, originally written May 31, 2011. (by the way, since this post, the apartment did NOT work out. See updates for details…Ben now lives with us.)

See if it resonates for you.

——————————–

A message comes to me via social media, along with an invitation to connect. It simply says, “My 27 year old child has schizophrenia, but will not get treatment.”  Oh boy, can I relate to that. Unfortunately, this is a major dilemma facing all of us who deal with mental illness in our families.

Parenting is always about the precarious balance between stepping in to help, and letting go to allow learning from experience. From a child’s first steps to his or her first relationship, car,  job, apartment…when to give advice? When to help? When to step back and watch them sink or swim?

For the parents of a child without a physical or mental illness, this process is difficult enough; for those who are dealing with illness in our children, it’s that much harder. The consequences of stepping aside, of letting go, could be disastrous: poverty, hospitalization, an arrest, flight, or even – tragically – suicide.

Schizophrenia and Freedom Can Be A Scary Combination

 

Back when a hug was all it took...
Back when a hug was all it took…

 

My own son, Ben, 29, has just moved from seven years in a group home (24 hour staffing) to his own apartment. There is some support – a caseworker, medication supervision – but also a new lack of structure. No required group meetings. No chores scheduled. No one – except the roaches – to know if he washed the dishes or not.

Am I excited for him? Of course. Am I concerned? You bet I am. Is there much I can do? Only some things. He could crash, he could cheek his meds, he could oversleep and miss an appointment, he could become lonely and isolated. But if I call to see how he is, he sees right through me. “Mom, I’m fine. I’ll get to work on time. Of course I’ m taking my meds. I’m fine in the apartment all alone on my day off. Yes, I”ll unpack  soon.”

So I let him live. Alone. And I watch from the wings, ready to alert his caseworkers if I see any warning signs. Three days ago I saw the unmistakable (to me) signs that Ben had missed a day of meds – so I sounded the alarm to all new staff members who donot know his tricks yet. And now he’s okay again – so far.

Now I only see him on family occasions, or  on rainy days when he can’t take his bike to work. Could he wind up in the hospital again if I am not there to witness symptoms? Yes, of course. And I hate that. But we have only so much control.

My Adult Son with Schizophrenia: We Hope for the Best

As always, we do what we can and then hope for the best. Keep an eye out for trouble, and our hearts in a place of faith in Ben and his ability to make the adjustments to this new life.  Scary? Oh yes. We do the best we can for our loved ones -secretly or openly – and then sometimes all that’s left is to take care of ourselves and the rest of our family.

My mantra at these times? “Whatever happens, we will handle it somehow.”

I don’t always know how, but I know that we’ve managed before, and will again. And I ask for help when I need it.

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What’s the Difference When Your Child’s Illness is in the Brain? “Sympathy”

60 minutes recently did a segment on the plight of families dealing with mental illness.  They interviewed many families and healthcare professionals in Connecticut, on how our system fails our Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis.

Deeds: "The system failed my son"
Deeds: “The system failed my son”

Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds speaks out about how he was attacked by his son Gus, who suffered with schizophrenia. Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds suffered multiple stab wounds, and his 24-year-old son Gus died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot in what police are considering an attempted murder-suicide.

Read more: Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds’ Son Evaluated and Released Before Stabbing | TIME.com http://nation.time.com/2013/11/19/before-senators-stabbing-a-shortage-of-psychiatric-beds/#ixzz2rzmupJD6

Connecticut families, in the continued aftermath of the Newtown shootings, still face the same issues of lack of beds, a revolving-door mental health system, and lack of support and help.

How I wish they had interviewed me, too – but the stories of Deeds and the other families are heartbreakingly similar. Sadly, the story in my book is not unique. Many suffer the same issues we do, every day, without support or even understanding.

In the “overtime” segment about stigma, a group of families shares the effect of stigma on their experience, and how a broken leg can bring casseroles, while a mental illness can bring warning letters from the lawyers of your neighbors.

What’s the difference, according to one of the parents interviewed? “Sympathy.”

Watch the clip here:

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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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