Tag Archives: Mental Illness recovery and treatment

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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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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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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How Families Slip to the End of the Rope: Mental Health System Cracks

As we approach the third Anniversary of the publication of Ben Behind His Voices, the big question remains. How would Ben be doing without family support? Have there been any improvements in the system that failed my son, and our family, so many times in the past?

Want an update? If you missed it in an earlier post, here is the progress since the last page of the book (where Ben is still living in a group home, back in college classes, and doing some volunteer work). Many of the details are outlined in earlier posts (check category “How is Ben Doing Now?”), but here is the current picture, about which I am so grateful:

  • Ben continues to take college courses, 6 credits at a time.
  • He lives at home with us, and pays rent. (this after a disastrous housing change from the group home)
  • He has a JOB! He is a waiter in a chain restaurant, and absolutely loves it.  He is often in the top three for tip-earning, and has often been asked to stay and supervise the closing process. Yes, amazing.
  • Although he had a roommate here for awhile, that ended badly (with the roommate’s addiction and connected behaviors) – but Ben has managed to salvage the start of an actual social life now. One step at a time.

 

Help Us before we Get Here!
Help Us before we Get Here!

Still. All of this progress can go away in record time – and often has, in the past – if something interferes with the meds he takes.

Families like ours walk a tightrope, struggling to balance all the elements of progress when someone we love has a “neural difference.” And we cannot do it alone.  So it really pisses me off when our competence creates laissez-faire among the people supposed to be our support.

1. Last Friday, I noticed we were almost out of Medication A (Ben takes 3 things). So I called the pharmacy to order more.

2.They could not place the order because they had not received paperwork from the case management team. So I called his case manager, and also sent an e-mail. No answer.

3. Had to wait until Monday for further action. (No one works on weekends). Didn’t think it would be an issue. Continue reading How Families Slip to the End of the Rope: Mental Health System Cracks

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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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Update: Two More Years into Schizophrenia Journey

snow...like the symptoms that can coat Ben's thoughts
snow…like the symptoms that can coat Ben’s thoughts

Yesterday I was alone with Ben all day.  Huge snowstorm, hubby away in California, daughter and her husband in their own apartment, driveway covered with a foot of snow.  Ten years ago this would have been a recipe for all sorts of disaster: frustration, loneliness, trepidation. Instead, thanks to treatment which includes medication as well as the other cornerstones of recovery (community, purpose, structure), I was actually glad to have Ben’s company.  Here is what happened:

  • Ben helped me shovel the driveway – I mean really helped, as in he did 75% of the work.
  • Ben cooked us a delicious homemade pizza for dinner.
  • We watched an animated movie – well, parts of it – during the required “watchful time” after he takes his meds.
Any parent of someone with schizophrenia will tell you that this is a day to be grateful for – and I am, believe me. No, life isn’t perfect, and I still wish for the magic wand (or, more to the point, better research and treatment options), but still I know a good day when we see one.
I’m also thrilled that the book still reaches people, two+ years after publication. Although there have been a few changes in our situation since then (two more relapses, a disastrous foray into “independent living” for Ben resulting in our current living situation where he is at home with us, -with a roommate to boot-, and both a part-time job and more college credits earned), the story of our “journey from chaos to hope” remains relevant- at least according to the readers who have written to me. I am so grateful for the feedback, and the chance to share that continues with each reader (or listener to the audiobook).
Truly honored and grateful…all of a sudden, three new 5-star reviews for Ben Behind his Voices: 
1 -“I will probably be listening to the CD over and over again for many years. Gives me comfort and courage to deal with my family member. Thank you so much Randye”
2 -“As a person with schizophrenia, I have never seen the journey through mental illness from the viewpoint of a parent. This book made me think, laugh, cry, and many other emotions. I related in many ways to Ben and saw my own mother in Randye. More people, in varying situations, need to read this eye-opening book.”
3- “I am so grateful to the author who shares her story to educate and to enlighten those of us who are taking our first steps out of the chaos”also came across this one, though it was in the form of a comment on another blog, and I can’t find the author’s page…(ah, Google Alerts)…

“Ben Behind His Voices is surely an inspirational tale a few family’s encounter with schizophrenia. The main target of Randye Kaye’s book is on her son Ben, who struggled for lots of years with psychological well being and compound abuse matters until finally he was as a final point the right way identified with paranoid schizophrenia. Kaye leads her visitors with the family’s very difficult activities using this ailment and their journey toward restoration and acceptance. This book may be a good source for people with schizophrenia and their families. In addition, it serves as the formidable reminder to psychological well being experts to treat men and women influenced with all the ailment with dignity and compassion.”

You have truly made my day, readers. THANKS!

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“Socialization Over Isolation”: Jani, Ben and Community

I am a firm believer in the possibility of Recovery in Mental Illness.

Does “recovery” mean “cure”? How I wish it did – but, at the present time, it means management of symptoms, and it means rebuilding  – of one’s life, and also of neural pathways.

I have watched and guided my son Ben through a decade of recovery – the ups and downs, the crises and the careful restoration afterwards.  What this has taught us is that there are four cornerstones to the foundation of the recovery process:

  • Medical Treatment (whatever that means for each individual)Cornerstone Concept
  • Structure
  • Purpose, and
  • Community. Love.

Since the publication of Ben Behind His Voices two years ago, there have been three additional steps in Ben’s recovery process. One is that he now is employed, and has been for over two years. I’ve written about this in past posts if you want to know more about that (but it has strengthened the Purpose and Structure cornerstones). The second is that he now rents a room from us, his family. After eight years in a group home and then system failure (also a subject of past posts), home is the best place for him right now, as we continue to hold onto support systems for case management and the path to greater independence for Ben in the future. This experience has also added strength to the Medical Treatment (we supervise meds) and Community/Love corners.

The third change is the one that has also been a surprising boost to that cornerstone of Community. Ben’s life now includes friends – including one that currently also rents a room from us, someone Ben met at school. This friendship had brought out a lot in Ben that seemed limited before: talking about relationships, taking bike rides through the woods, hiking, playing card games and video games that are not solitary.  For the first time in over a decade, I hear the sounds of  laughter, cheers, and cars in the driveway as other friends come over to hang out. And, yes, at last, with some of these friends, Ben can say “I’ll be right back. Just gotta take my meds with my Mom.” A miracle.

Wow. Socialization over Isolation. Yes, please.

socializationThe Jani Foundation is championing this cause by planning events for children with SED (serious emotional disturbances) to relate to each other – to provide community where they don’t have to feel isolated. (Jani is the subject of the book January First (written by her father, Michael Schofield), and the follow-up airing of “Born Schizophrenic”. They have created this t-shirt which echoed my feelings about Ben’s recovery. Socialization, especially in places where you don’t have to always feel “different”, is vital to the process. I learned this in 2001, when I was allowed to attend a meeting of Schizophrenics Anonymous.  This excerpt from Ben Behind His Voices tells the story:

 

“I once attended, in 2001, a meeting of Schizophrenics Anonymous.
This group is based on principles similar to the twelve steps of Alcoholics
Anonymous. After a lengthy conversation with Charlie, the founder of the
local chapter, I was granted permission by the group to sit in. The week I
went, there were about seven or eight people attending, in various stages of
recovery. They asked me to share my perspective as the mother of someone
with schizophrenia, and they spoke of their own paths toward recovery.
Afterward, we all went out for pizza—because, as Charlie told me
with a smile, “We need to practice socializing, you know.” They got
the joke. “Besides, the pizza’s only two dollars a slice,” said Bill, another
group member. I loved these people. They even joked about their past.
They shared a genuine laugh over things they had once believed about
themselves: that they had “known everything,” that they were meant to
be elected president. This was the first time I had ever heard these stories
told with any humor inside the tragedy. It felt like the ultimate acceptance,
being able to laugh with each other about it. They had found community,
and they had found laughter.”

The feeling of community can also happen in Clubhouses,  programs where members are given purpose, and not just a “place to go”. People with mental illness, like all of us, have times where they need to be alone and regroup. But too many are isolated too often – as are their families. I have spoken with Jani’s parents, and even though we have never met, we share a bond. So do Jani and Ben. They just may not know it yet.

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NAMI: How Strong Can an Affiliate Be?

The answer: Very Strong.

NAMI can make a tremendous difference, on levels from personal to political, and ranging from local to national.  I have felt it as a Family-to-Family participant, teacher and trainer; I have, I hope, nurtured it as a NAMI National Convention Presenter, and as a writer.

And, as a speaker and broadcaster, I’ve had the honor and privilege to see NAMI in action, in so many ways.  As a family member, I know that NAMI helped me to:

  • learn about and accept my son’s illness
  • know that I was not alone, and
  • find ways to turn our grief into advocacy and action.

Nowadays, NAMI serves and can represent those who are living with mental illness as well. Some call those affected by mental illness “consumers”, others say “clients”, or “patients”, or “individuals”…and the debate on the right term may go on.  However, the need for respect, individual treatment, understanding and hope remains the much more important issue than finding the right word.

Keynote on Mental Illness: From Chaos to Hope

namiSummitbusLast week, I got to know NAMI Summit County, Ohio, when I served as the keynote speaker for their 27th Annual Anniversary Celebration Dinner/Auction, themed “From Chaos to Hope.” So close to the subtitle of Ben Behind his Voices…it had to be fate.

When I get the chance to speak to groups of those who care about mental illness issues as much as I do, I always feel that I learn more than I teach; once again, in Summit County, this proved to be the case.

The audience was filled not only with those affected by mental illness in themselves or a loved one, but also with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trainer officers, judges, lawyers, healthcare and social citlogowork professionals , politicians, and other friends. I learned about the courage, resilience, and actions of so many, by listening to the recipients of the evening’s Awards: Journey of Hope, Community Recognition, Lifetime Achievement, Heroes Make a Difference.

I met people who had lost a loved one to mental illness and turned their grief into advocacy; I met those living with mental illness who now mentor others in the same situation; I met the leaders of this affiliate, including of course Mel and Helen Reedy, who have spearheaded so many wonderful programs that show what NAMI can do when there is a vision, and it’s properly supported. Continue reading NAMI: How Strong Can an Affiliate Be?

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NAMI in the Community: Lifeline for So Many

This video, created by Barmont Productions for NAMI in Connecticut, shows in seven short minutes a smattering of some of the ways NAMI has made a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness, and their families and friends. In it, you will hear a small taste of why Ben Behind His Voices is dedicated in part to NAMI’s wonderful work: education, advocacy, empathy and more.

As the host of this piece, I got to interview so many amazing people, and can only wish that the hours of footage we got might someday get re-edited into a documentary of 30 or 60 minutes, to pay homage to the many stories courage and love that I heard that day. Meanwhile – watch and enjoy!

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