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)
- 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.
The 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.