Category Archives: mental illness treatment and recovery

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.

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

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

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?

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

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.

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.

“Making Money Off My Son’s Illness”? A response

This post started out quite differently.

I write another blog called Mental Illness in the Family, which appears on HealthyPlace.com, and though I usually keep these blogs separate from each other, I often wonder why.

Today’s post on Healthy Place has to do with a topic I often – sadly – must revisit: relapse, or the return of symptoms. in it, I write:

I hate schizophrenia because it prevents Ben from moving ahead with his life. It gets in the way of every job he applies for, every friend he tries to make, every dream he has had so far of having a girlfriend, getting married, being a Dad. It forces him to be dependent on medication that he does not believe he needs. It puts him in a position that he knows is a drain on the family. Schizophrenia steals – even when treated to the best of current medicine’s abilities. Continue reading “Making Money Off My Son’s Illness”? A response

“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.

Amanda Bynes: Will She Become the Celebrity Face of Schizophrenia?

BynesAmanda Bynes is in the news – again. But this time, much of the focus is on the possibility of a schizophrenia diagnosis.  I mention this to Ben, and he says, “Hmmm. Interesting.” This story will not, I suspect, make a dent in Ben’s insight into his own illness – not now, at least. Patience is key when you love someone with schizophrenia – along with many other qualities.

But we follow the story, to see what the media does with it.  I see Hollywood Gossip report she is on a “drug cocktail” and comment:

“I’m so glad to hear that Amanda is responding to medication (not “drugs”…these are medications to restore balance, not drugs to alter it). Yes, the big question is there: will she take the meds on her own? In my experience, probably not. Many medical reasons for that (see “anosognosia“) but her parents should definitely go ahead with conservatorship. It has been a huge help for us! I blogged about this at healthyplace.com, website with great info and support. “
My blogs on conservatorship have gotten the attention of Marketplace, a smart and fair show on marketplaceNPR that is business-oriented, and they have invited me to be part of a show  (coming up this week) on the topic of conservatorship, with Amanda in the news and all.
This same issue came to light in when Britney Spears‘ parents sought to help their child after bizarre behaviors in public brought attention to her possible mental illness as well.  At that time, I was booked to appear on Dr. Drew’s HLN show, but got bumped by a Hurricane Irene story. This time, I hope I can be of some help on Marketplace, sharing the family view of how conservatorship can help.
safety-net
I am Ben’s conservator, but it doesn’t mean I run his life, or control him. I am simply allowed to help him when he needs the help – and, yes, sometimes when he doesn’t know he needs that help. (when schizophrenia symptoms take hold.) It’s a safety net. And we need it.
Watch this blog for updates!