Tag Archives: schizophrenia education

Practical Advice: Treatment Advocacy Center

This post is for you if you need some clear, practical advice on how to be prepared for a mental illness emergency. The possibility always lurks in the corner, while we try to keep on eye on gratitude for the good days.  The Treatment Advocacy Center has an excellent page on this topic, with step-by-step instructions for keeping the monsters at bay by knowing we are ready for them.

I will send you there through this blog post by their Communications Director, Doris Fuller, who says:

We who love someone with a severe mental illness probably all have our own personal coping mechanisms for getting through the worry and fear and frustration of living with the impact of treatable but chronic brain disease. The demons retreat, but they never retire. For me, being ready for them is the first defense.

I suggest you read her short, poignant-yet-realistic post first, but if you’re impatient here’s the link to the Be Prepared for an Emergency page.

Like all preparation, this takes time – but will save you a lot more in the future. Trust me.

Thanks, by the way, to all of you who wrote to express concern about Ben and his “adventure” in a questionable neighborhood. Like Doris in the above blog post, I had my eye out for a stress-triggered return of symptoms, but luckily his reactions to the stress all seem quite conventional. The only “demons” were the ones I could see as well: fear of returning to that neighborhood, reminding us to set our home alarm and change the locks, some reluctance to be alone. I would feel the same way.

“Person-Centered Treatment”: Yes, please!

Ben is getting closer to release from City Hospital – this time. Some of you have asked about the audio excerpt I posted a few days ago – when did that take place? That excerpt is from my book, the incident dated one week prior to Ben’s first admittance in 2003.

This year, 2011, marks Ben’s first hospitalization in over six years, and this post is about the current setback. What’s different now? Mostly this: we’ve had six years of evidence that Ben can thrive in a group home setting, and a devastating one month of evidence that moving him way too quickly into independent living, without

Treatment Advocacy Center, for info and advocacy

appropriate transition “person-centered” services, was not well thought out.  Simply put, the new staff did not take the time to get to know Ben, his needs, and especially how to properly supervise his medication intake. The result? Over one month now, in the hospital. And now, grateful he is starting to respond once again to his meds, we face the next big question: Where will he go once he is discharged, and how to avoid another relapse?


They have planned a meeting at the hospital re discharge, and I plan to be there. But, just in case, I drafted a letter to all concerned. Here is part of what I said:

“I want to be perfectly clear about what Ben needs, not just as a patient but as a person – for a successful post-release program.
I am aware, of course, that restrictions exist due to legal and financial restraints over which you may have no control – but as you can see, an ounce of forethought can prevent a very expensive (both financially and emotionally) hospitalization.
First of all, let me state for the record that Ben clearly is not – and was not, at the time of his transfer – ready for independent living of the sort arranged by your agency in May. This should have been clear from his obvious resistance to medication at the time of his intake meeting. A vital part of his recovery process – and the reason he was doing so well in a group home setting – is careful, unwavering supervision of his meds. Even though his success and recovery grew in the past SIX years before his sloppy transfer to the low-income-housing that was arranged, it could only be built upon the foundation of careful supervision of his meds. Continue reading “Person-Centered Treatment”: Yes, please!

Neuroscience Symposium at Yale

For a living, I make people laugh (radio broadcaster, VO talent, emcee, stage actress).  My hobby? Neuroscience.  It actually comes in quite handy, and not just in understanding my son’s schizophrenia.

From the “Neuroscience 2010” symposium at Yale yesterday: Kay Jamison Redfield (An Unquiet Mind), award recipient, reminding us that love makes a huge difference in recovery. Re her late husband: “My rage was no match for his wit.” How often it helps to keep a sense of humor, even in the middle of a loved one’s crisis. Sometimes it’s all you can do to locate your own sanity.

Big topic: early detection, possible prevention. According to John Krystal, MD, Chairman of Psychiatry at Yale School of Med, “brain changes associated with psychiatric illness can be prevented and reversed.”  Another presenter warns us that “mental illness is like paraplegia of the brain – we can’t change that it happened, but how we deal with it can make all the difference in quality of life.” Hope, realism, acceptance – all echoed in one morning.

But, clearly, if full psychosis can be prevented by alert professionals and family members, the outlook is better.  More understanding, less judgment, more hope.  Keep funding research, please!

Why the title “Ben Behind His Voices””? Excerpt from Introduction

why? because Ben is still in there, struggling to connect through the chaos of senses gone haywire, or sometimes dulled by the meds that keep him out of the hospital, in his brain.

Introduction – 2010

My son Ben knows the lyrics to every song I’ve never really noticed on the radio. He’s the one who teaches to me to appreciate the poetry in songs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Eminem. He’s my favorite companion for performances of Shakespeare in the Park, because just at the point when I’m starting to think why don’t they just speak English already?, he invariably whispers something like, “Wasn’t Shakespeare a genius, Mom? Listen to the music in the way he wrote those lines.” Shame on me.

Ben loves nature, children, fantasy video games, helping others, the Indianapolis Colts, Thanksgiving with the family, and vegetarian Thai food. He made the Dean’s List at college last semester. He kills at Scrabble. He has offered to counsel my best friend’s nephew, who is still lost in the world of drug addiction.

Ben is 27 years old. And – oh, yes – he has paranoid schizophrenia.

Ben is not “supposed to” care about others – that’s one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. But he does. He is full of love, and we’re grateful for his presence. Our family has learned to live in the moment; there are, thankfully, many moments to treasure these days. But it wasn’t always like this, and we know, all too well, that tomorrow could bring more change. Still, we have found hope and love that we once thought might be lost forever.

When Ben was hospitalized five times in 2003 – the height of his crisis period – for symptoms of this illness, no one in my life really knew how to react. No one showed up with casseroles at our door– especially not by the third or fourth hospitalization. People don’t really know what to do, how to support the patient and the family. Unlike a physical illness like a broken leg, there’s no timetable for recovery from something like schizophrenia. There’s no sure moment of getting better. There is no cure; there is only management. As is also true with cancer, there’s always a chance for recurrence after remission. But unlike most cancers, the patient’s very soul seems to be affected by mental illness. The organ it affects is the brain, and that’s the window to our personality, perhaps to our soul. People are frightened of mental illness; they’re uncomfortable visiting someone on the psych floor. The family feels isolated, stigmatized, and often very alone. But there is hope. Ben is in recovery. He is not “cured”, but he can be kept in careful balance. He is part of our family. He is worth knowing. He deserves to be understood and accepted, just like anyone with a more visible disabilty.

Every morning and evening, Ben takes medication to keep his brain in balance. He doesn’t agree that these meds do anything to help him, even though if he stops taking them he winds up back in the hospital within days. All he knows is that they make him feel mentally cloudy and physically exhausted. Ben tells me that he feels like a blanket has been thrown over his mind when he’s on his medication; he loves the initial feeling of clarity and energy that comes if he stops taking it. I know that this euphoria lasts only a day or so, but by the time Ben’s brain has raced past that first phase, he’s too symptomatic to realize that anything’s wrong. He generally just thinks that “people are treating him differently” for some reason. Sure we are. When Ben shifts focus to his inner world, and we try like hell to bring him back to us.

Without the medication that restores the chemical balance in Ben’s brain, he has to fight to remain connected to what’s happening around him instead of within him – and the strain of that effort is heartbreakingly apparent. Ben wants, with all his heart, to prove that he doesn’t need the medication that we know has brought him back to us – at least halfway back.

Daring to Hope

As Ben grows, and grows up (he will be 27 next week), it seems increasingly clear that his maturation process is in slow motion – but that it is happening, however slowly. This gives me hope, and great joy – as long as I remember to stay in, and enjoy, the present.

The Medicare issue seems to be resolved for now – a few calls and one visit to the Social Security office, where even the caseworker struggled to understand the government language of the letters I’ve received as Ben’s conservator. I felt much better, and less stupid, after witnessing that.

Ben has called me three times this week with good news. Twice to tell me about good grades for his school assignments (!!!), and once to tell me he has a job interview on Saturday, which his job coach will help him prepare for. Yes, there was another call with another agenda – he and a night staff person in his group home are butting heads, and it’s frustrating for him; but all in all, the good news calls outweighed the calls for help, and that’s a miracle I’m savoring. I do think Ben is showing amazing progress, especially now that he’s been on his medication more consistently, and out of the hospital for a few years. Could his brain cells be in repair mode, as research suggests?

If the other shoe falls – and family members of people with mental illness live with that, always- I know we’ll handle it somehow. Meanwhile, I’m choosing to be happy! And to notice that Ben is showing signs of maturity that I prayed for while he was in high school, in what I now know was the early stage of his illness. He’s doing his homework! He’s even earning extra credit. He does not WANT to miss class.

So he’s ten years behind in exhibiting these signs. Ten years behind kids who are luckier than he was – lucky enough to have unimpaired brain chemistry. This is still progress -and I’m so proud of him. Let this be a sign of hope to parents who are still lost in despair. There is hope. Patience. Do your best, and savor the good moments. With luck, there will be more of them ahead.

Ask about Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey through Schizophrenia to a New Normal
contact Claire Gerus, cgerus@comcast.net, literary representation.