As we near the end of National Family Caregivers Month, I’ve been thinking about the less obvious form of caregiving: the fact that so many of our kids return to their old twin (or larger) beds in the family home, long after we’d imagined we’d have a nest empty enough to turn their old bedrooms into, say, a workout room. Ha.
Sure, my son Ben relies on us more than your neurotypical 30-year-old, because of the different life path affected by schizophrenia. But my other children, too, rely on us a lot more than I did my own parents when I was in my twenties. Financial help, washer-dryer privileges, family vacations. But this seems to be the norm.
There is so much potential, creativity, intelligence, and a wealth of new perspectives to be gained by being open to those affected by mental illness. One wonderful example is the aptly named Open Hearts Gallery in South Carolina.
THE OPEN HEARTS GALLERY IS A DYNAMIC GALLERY FEATURING THE TALENTED ARTWORK OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE WITH OR HAVE RECOVERED FROM MENTAL ILLNESS. ART IS A POWERFUL REPRESENTATION OF THE PERSON WITHIN – HIS OR HER PAIN, RECOVERY, AND TRIUMPH. THE GALLERY SERVES AS A BRIDGE TO COMBAT STIGMA AND AS A REMINDER OF HOW RESILIENT AND SIMILAR WE ALL ARE.
Check it out. You can also order prints by going to their “contact” page.
Can we open our hearts to those with mental illness? Of course, as the mother of a wonderful young man who also has schizophrenia, I am going to say yes – still, as you know if you have read Ben Behind His Voices, there were times when I felt I had to harden that heart in order to survive emotionally. The journey to return to an open heart toward Ben was not without challenges; my book pays homage to the obstacles as well as to the results of the lessons of love, respect, and possibility that we eventually learned.
But, still – there is always another view. I recently has a conversation with someone whose heart was shaped by her own experience as parenting Ben has shaped mine. In his case, he had been stalked by someone whose mental illness was allowed to go untreated. Untreated! That can be the difference between love and fear, between open hearts and a mind forever closed. And I can’t say I “blame” him. How could I? (for more information about “Eliminating Barriers to the Treatment of Mental Illness”, see the excellent website Treatment Advocacy Center.)
So, while most react to my story with gratitude, this person was cold to the idea of someone with schizophrenia being vulnerable, lovable, capable, and worthy of respect. I hope, perhaps, that hearing our story might loosen his heart just a bit. Stories, and art, can help do that.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed on WBAI in New York by Armand DiMele, for his popular broadcast “The Positive Mind” . The show aired on August 23, 2011, but you can listen to the archived show here:
If you’d like to read more about Ben Behind His Voices, I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed by several writers recently. Here are a few links: