Tag Archives: schizophrenia

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

Post to Twitter

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!

 

 

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

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

Post to Twitter

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”

Post to Twitter

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?

Post to Twitter

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

Post to Twitter

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

Post to Twitter

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:

Post to Twitter

The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

It took ten years for us to find a medication regime that not only works to help manage the symptoms of my son Ben’s schizophrenia, but that he is willing to take consistently. Ten years.  Three of those have taken place after where our book, Ben Behind His Voices, leaves off – in what one reader calls “open-ended hope.”  At that time, Spring of 2011, Ben was in a group home, stable for long enough to begin to piece his life back together, but still finding any possible opportunity to “cheek” his meds. He hated taking them, didn’t think he needed them, was discouraged by the side effects.

Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate
Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate

Finally, though, a few months after the book was published, Ben had a relapse (see Revolving Door post) and it took a lot of teamwork to get him back on the meds that work – teamwork that included Ben himself, and that’s why it was effective.

What helped Ben to agree? There is a different form of one of his meds that was much easier for Ben to swallow, literally, and that he swears has no side effects. This is a liquid suspension that has to be created by the pharmacist. Does it have fewer side effects? Who knows? But Ben believes that it does, and that’s what matters. He felt like – and was/is – a part of the decision that affects his life every day. The empowerment is definitely a contributing factor in Ben’s adherence to his medication regime.

And now, the main medication that Ben takes is no longer covered by Medicare. At least not in the formulation that Ben is willing to take, in the formulation that he can tolerate. In order to save money, they will not cover the extra ingredients needed to create the liquid version. Pills do not work. He cannot take them, physically or emotionally. Without this specific form of his meds, Ben could lose every single thing he has fought for so long to achieve. His job. His social life. His car. Continue reading The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

Post to Twitter