Living in a family where one or more of your children have a mental illness is brutally taxing on your psychological, financial and social health. This Sunday’s Observer involves the reader in a story of the painful and torturous life of a mother living with a son, who sounds as if he is suffering from Schizophrenia and maybe even a co-morbid personality disorder.
Feeling her anguish as she told her experience of anxiety attacks, her own obsessive compulsions, and back-breaking work hours, I can only imagine her life. What struck me most was the loneliness of her story. I could picture an image of her sitting by herself in a church seeking sanctuary but finding no escape from her own mind. The image was pure desolation and hopelessness.
However, parents out there experiencing similar strife need to know that there is hope, and here are a few strategies that will help to pick up the pieces:
1. Seek spiritual help– its easy to give up on your faith, but ironically this is what faith is all about, believing, especially when all seems lost, that there is a solution. First seek the help of your spiritual counselor, pastor, religious counselor, or church or bible study group. They may be able to offer moments of solace and comfort that will bolster your resolve to carry on with your head held high and may even be able to offer financial help or just some breathing room.
2. Keep a centered and positive perspective – blame and guilt are gasoline to a fire and will only increase tensions and make your daily life harder to bear. It’s not your fault and there is no magical pill or wand you can wave to take it all away. Beating yourself up makes you weary. Instead take solace in the good things in your life, the good things that happen in your day. Sometimes that good thing may be so small, like finding $500.00 dollars in your pocket or a friend calling you to say that they are there for you. Check out 1000awesomethings.com written by a very special human being who also went through dark times. He used small miracles to bring himself out of a very deep depression. Now his life is overflowing with success.
3. Take your own time out – this strategy is very effective when you need to replenish your energy. Take a few moments everyday or even an hour to be outside of your environment and just breathe. Take a walk around the block, go for a drive in the hills or by the seaside, enjoy nature or talk with a friend at their house or at a cafe. Be gentle with yourself. Get a massage or a good foot rub.
4. Keep your Boundaries – learning how to say “no” and mean it is key to keeping your own sanity. Your child is their own human being not an extension of you, and they are quite capable of taking a mile when given an inch in the best of circumstances. Having a mental illness does not make the child incapable of pushing boundaries and manipulation. If there are natural consequences to their behavior, sometimes it is necessary to allow them to take place. For example, the son of the lady in the story broke the windscreen of a neighbors Benz leaving the mother to pay for it over a 3 year span . Maybe, there was room for natural consequences in that case, like placement in a medium term mental hospital.
Although this one is very hard to hear and may inflame tempers, this one step alone may give you enough breathing room to assess your next move. In Jamaica we have good reason to fear our mental health facilities but sometimes we have to make tough decisions. Also the decision is not written in stone and institutionalization may turn out to be a short stint.
5. Live your own life – instead of waiting for the next disaster to hit, I beg you, please continue with your own life. Go out, seek enjoyment, rekindle your intimate relationships or find one that brings you joy! Find a hobby, and exercise . Remember you are not in purgatory although you may behave in that way. Furthermore, there are no medals in the great beyond for excruciating suffering in this lifetime. You too, Roman Catholics! Make this trying time look good!
6. Seek a Psychologist – Alongside all this, the help a few sessions of good individual or group psychotherapy is immeasurable. You need to begin necessary grieving and loss in order move into acceptance. Individual psychologists can be found through the Jamaica Psychological Society or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would most certainly be happy to help.
There is also the Mensana group that meet on a regular basis and are solely dedicated to providing support for families dealing with mental illness. Find them at Mensana Mental Health Support Group C/O 46 Lady Musgrave Road, Kingston 10 Tel/Fax: (876) 946 – 9489. Tell Carol Narcisse I said Hi!
If I ever meet the mother in the Observer article I would let her know that her own mental illness is already upon her, and so she can only hope to save herself or risk perishing in the same abyss that her son also inhabits.
We as mothers must understand that throwing ourselves unto the pyre in suffering sacrifice cannot be noble when no one benefits. You will be gone and your family will continue on its own path without you. So, choose life instead of existence. Grab life by the throat and refuse to give up!
When our children are born we have only the highest hopes for them. We dream in kaleidoscope for them and often have to stop ourselves from trying to live through their lives. But as Khalil Gibran once said, “our children come through us but they are not of us”. So at some point we have to let them go to live their lives while we live ours.
Mitch Albom wrote a very good book that was made into an equally moving movie called “The five people you meet in heaven” . It’s a good reminder of how we are all connected and that we are here to be our best selves.
- Op-Ed Contributor: The Parent Trapped (nytimes.com)
- Is It Possible to Recover From Schizophrenia? (everydayhealth.com)
- Glenn Close reminds us that one in four families is touched by mental illness (4-hnews.blogspot.com)
- Caring for the Schizophrenia Caregiver (everydayhealth.com)
- Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index (flowingmotion.jojordan.org)
- Planning for the Future of a Loved One With Schizophrenia (everydayhealth.com)
- Healing From Emotional Trauma (everydayhealth.com)