Oprah, Harry, and Schizophrenia: The “Me” My Son Still Can’t See

The Me You Can't See Photo
The Me You Can’t See

Have you seen the new docuseries on AppleTV+, “The Me You Can’t See”

First of all, thank you, Oprah and Prince Harry, for joining the ranks of advocates who are becoming more open, honest, transparent about mental health issues, barriers, and some solutions. In this 5-part series, people from celebs (like Lady Gaga to the Prince himself)  to “regular folk” talk about trauma, challenges, heartbreak, and where they are now.

This is brave. This is eye-opening. This will help some folks, diagnosed with mental health issues (or those who know, treat, or love them) to understand and know they aren’t alone.

Thank you.

And yet. 

Does it go far enough? 

I am hoping for a second series, where more illnesses are explored, uncovered. Especially schizophrenia in those who have yet to be aware that they have the illness.

As we’ve covered often in our podcast, Schizophrenia: Three Moms in the Trenches, and in the books and blogs we share, one of the hardest things about schizophrenia is that the first step often can’t be taken: the step of awareness. Anosognosia is the condition that keeps Ben, and countless others like him, shielded from that awareness – and from accepting treatment unless somehow coerced into it (even by love).

Oprah and Harry – next time – and I do hope there will be a next time – please talk to the families of those affected by severe mental illness.

This is the episode I’m waiting to see: the person diagnosed with schizophrenia who has yet to be aware of it. Along with the family members who still love them and feel powerless to help.

We cry, we fiercely guard, we coerce, we lose sleep, we go broke.

We live through grief, live sometimes in fear, we lose our own futures, and  we bounce back a zillion times – all in the name of love, and in the hope that more people – researchers, practitioners, lawmakers, first responders – will learn from our heartbreak and advocacy, and continue to prioritize (and fund) services and science  that will help our loved ones, and our families.

Ben (my son), as you may know from following this blog, recently was released from a nearly-six-month psychiatric hospital stay (almost unheard of in this country) and has slipped from a relatively normal life of work and semi-independence to one of a group home bed and starting from scratch. 

Still, he does not believe that going off his meds had anything to do with the breakdown he experienced in August. He refuses to go back on the meds that he was treated with when he managed to have a clearer semblance of a life. The light is no longer there in his eyes, but he doesn’t feel the difference. 

While he has said he “struggles with symptoms”, he won’t say what those symptoms are. He becomes paranoid and cagey if I ever bring it up. I’ve learned not to.

I’ve learned to appreciate whatever crumbs of my child I can get, and am grateful every day that he is in a place (for now) with a staff trained to help him – even if he refuses much of that help.

According to NAMI,  

When we talk about anosognosia in mental illness, we mean that someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or that they can’t perceive their condition accurately. Anosognosia is a common symptom of certain mental illnesses, perhaps the most difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

This is what makes schizophrenia so difficult to treat – the “rights” of patients to refuse the treatment that would help them the most. 

If we applied these “rights” to our parents or other loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s, they’d be living in an unsafe world. So we don’t allow that to happen.

Well, untreated, so is Ben. And so are the families of people diagnosed with SMI (serious mental illness). 

When you cover schizophrenia by interviewing someone who is in treatment, and aware of their own illness, you don’t tell the whole story.

This is the episode I’m waiting to see: the person diagnosed with schizophrenia who has yet to be aware of it. Along with the family members who still love them and feel powerless to help.

Thanks, though (really, I mean this sincerely), for the brave steps you have taken so far. Let’s keep going.

 

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