I was the keynote speaker this week for the newly-renamed Child and Family Guidance Center, in Connecticut, celebrating 85 years of support and guidance in the area.
Speaking about the importance of early detection, and also of the lasting effect of the “right words at the right time” from providers who are aware of the effect of mental illness on the entire family, I saw a number of heads nodding in agreement. There are so many, still suffering in silence, embarrassed to talk about an medical illness that happens to affect the brain of someone they love.
One provider, a 25-year veteran social worker called “Helen” in my book Ben Behind his Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope (Rowman and Littlefield, coming Summer 2011) answered one of my questions with a sentence that has comforted and inspired me for years. I wonder if she knows how much I lived on that one sentence?
My son Ben had been living for almost five months on the state’s “transitional living floor” after his fifth hospitalization that year. I’d had to make him homeless in order for him to qualify for a bed in a supervised living home. The wait for this bed was long and frustrating, and Helen had called me in to her office to brainstorm ways to help Ben get out of the limbo that is transitional living.
After an emotional meeting (Helen had been kind enough to ask me “so how are you and your daughter doing with all this?” – which few providers ask – and I had sobbed through my answer), I asked Helen, “How do you do this job? How do you deal with case after case of ill clients, sobbing relatives, and the paperwork of this system?”
I’ll never forget Helen’s answer. She handed me another tissue, looked at me with warmth and respect, and said “I’ll tell you how I do it. And Why. It’s because I love to see people get better.”
People get better? I thought. That’s possible? There’s a chance for a better future here?
Helen was right,too. No, it’s not perfect. Ben’s life as I’d imagined it when he was a child is not in the cards right now. But – he’s flying with us to Madison, Wisconsin for a family trip tomorrow. His self-talk is actually controlled enough to no longer frighten flight attendants. He has been – knock wood – stable for almost four years. He is in college, and handling a part-time load realistically and well.
Can it go away if he goes off meds for two days? Sure. But today – wow. His life is better than it was, so much better than I’d feared. Thank you, Helen, for giving me hope when it hardly seemed possible. I hope my book can do the same for others.