Category Archives: mental illness and family

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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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 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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Mental Health Awareness Month, for Caregivers too

Will write more about this later , as I am in Buffalo, NY, getting ready to provide keynote to help NAMI Buffalo/Erie county celebrate its 30th year…but wanted to share one of the interviews about the results of a new survey showing that caregivers of those with schizophrenia do better with more support, more resources, and less stigma. Thanks!

WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

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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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“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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Loving through mental illness: “It’s like he disappears…”

Sometimes we say things, and they stick.  Ever have someone repeat back to you something you said which touched them, even changed them, and you had no idea you’d said it? That’s how interviews are sometimes.

Two years after Ben Behind His Voices was published, I still get the chance to spread the message of our story, and for that I am grateful. I feel like the book’s journey has just begun, and though I plan an updated version sometime in the next year to include the latest developments, many tell me that the story is timeless to them, as it reflects where their family is right now in the mental illness journey – or where they hope to be. Others simply like its message of resilience, strength, and hope – regardless of the cause of the challenge.

Tomorrow night I look forward to a book-reading and Q/A at Plainville Public Library in CT.

Here is Lisa Capobianco’s story about it in the Plainville Observer, including the quotes I’d forgotten I’d said – to which I added my own italics…

Author to share story of coping with son’s mental illness

November 8, 2013

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
When national voice talent and actress Randye Kaye noticed her 15-year-old son Ben experiencing mood swings, frustration, and isolation, she thought he was going through a phase as a teenager. But as Ben transitioned into early adulthood, his symptoms worsened, and little did Kaye know that he was exhibiting symptoms of gradual on-set schizophrenia.
“This was beyond what I expected,” said Kaye, a former host of a morning radio talk show in Connecticut. “I did not know anything about it—I really had to learn and explore.”
Schizophrenia affects 2.4 million American adults age 18 and older, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI reports that schizophrenia, marked by changes in brain chemistry and structure, may inhibit an individual’s ability to think clearly, to make decisions, and to manage emotions. Individuals with schizophrenia may also exhibit hallucinations as well as delusions, and may have a difficult time performing complex memory tasks.
For Ben, he began experiencing delusions at age 17 when he decided to drop out of high school without a realistic plan, and started smoking marijuana. Struggling to find help for Ben as doctors misdiagnosed her son’s illness, several years passed before finding the right medication. Ben was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 20.
“I learned to have empathy for my son and how I could help him”, said Kaye, who also serves as a teacher and advocate of NAMI. “When you lose a child to mental illness, it is like he disappears.”

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Family Trip to Maine, as Schizophrenia Develops: Flashback, 2001

Dear Reader:

BBHV audiobookcover
earlier drafts…

The first draft of Ben Behind His Voices was a full 100 pages longer than the draft that eventually got published.  Once in a while, I plan to post some of the “lost” passages that wound up on the writer’s version of the cutting room floor.

This chapter describes a trip that I took with Ben and Ali, right after Ben returned from his period out West which began with great promise (and success at becoming pot-free), morphed into homelessness, and eventually got him back home  for treatment.  At this point in the story, we still didn’t know for sure what kind of mental illness Ben had. Even now, we are the observers of symptoms, always watchful for their return, always hopeful they will not, or that they can be explained away by something other than the illness.

 

 

Here is what happened:

“We took a weekend trip to Maine, just the three of us, right after Ben had finished his summer at the day camp. But Ben was acting very strangely again.

He had his backpack with him, always.  Forty pounds of spiral notebooks he just couldn’t leave behind – even if we were going to the beach, or walking near the sea cliffs.

He talked often, but not of ordinary things. His favorite topic that weekend was bragging to us about his “psychic powers.”  Often, he looked at me or Ali and said “I know exactly what you’re thinking. I can read your mind.”

The first few times, we played along.  He was never right, but would say that we were simply lying, that he must know more about what is in our minds than we did.

The three of us went to see a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Ogunquit playhouse.  Ben, however, often seemed distracted.  We caught him “watching” the show with his eyes completely closed.  He looked as if he were trying to go into a trance. Continue reading Family Trip to Maine, as Schizophrenia Develops: Flashback, 2001

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