Mental Illness and Growing Up: "Frozen in Time" Can Thaw
The news is exciting: a research study has found that cognitive improvements are possible for those with schizophrenia - and that the results can stick. And even better: these results can be achieved with the help of a program to teach social and cognitive skills with the use of computer games. A reporter called me yesterday for a comment before she finished her article, and it certainly got me to reflect on my my son Ben, and how he is - slowly - beginning to show more signs of "growing up."
One of the very first "aha moments" for me, when I finally began to learn about schizophrenia and its symptoms, came with the information that it is a "double-edged sword" of positive (added to personality) and negative (taken away from personality).
I also learned, in NAMI's Family-to-Family course, about the concept of being "frozen in time" for many affected by mental illness. Since it often strikes young adults just at the time when their brains would begin to make those final cortical connections that we parents call "growing up", they are often denied all the advantages of having been able to absorb and learn from the experiences of other young adults: first love, completing high school, fending for oneself at college, etc.
My Ben never had the chance to do all that. From age 15 to about 21, he was too busy fighting what was going on in his brain to "grow up", too busy treading water to be able to swim.
I thought about Ben, and about all that had changed as he progresses through his teens and into the gradual onset symptoms that would later become full-blown psychosis and a definite diagnosis.
It wasn't just that he was acting in strange new ways, eventually far beyond what any of my friends' teens seemed to be doing - it was that he seemed to have lost so much, too: caring about school. treasuring his friends, warmth, genuine emotion, excitement for life, the ability to - well, care. That broke my heart even more than the hallucinations I came to suspect he was experiencing.
And later, after diagnosis, into treatment and along the path of recovery, he often did seem, indeed, "frozen" at the age he'd been before the illness took hold. He seemed like a mid-teen in a 20-something body.
Years later, as depicted in my memoir Ben Behind His Voices, Ben entered a phase of recovery. Medications had brought him partly back to us, and with the right regimen for him even the negative symptoms started to ease. His sense of humor, his ability to organize, his desire to care about his family and friends, all began to slowly return - to my great relief and delight - but the journey was, and is, slow. Patience is required, for us all.
Still - I am seeing growth. He cares very much about school, about his grades, about doing a good job with his assignments (yes, he even proof-reads). And, yes, he miraculously is now also employed part-time, and has a terrific work ethic that has lasted past the honeymoon period. Woo hoo! He actually seems to "get" the concepts of cause and effect, how his actions today affect both others on his team and also his own future.
This took a long time. It's as though his previous activities in the earlier months in recovery had somehow helped to rewire his brain, slowly but surely, and rebuild some new connections where the old ones had been damaged by his illness.
We had no computer games to play for this progress - but these things, I believe, did help to reinforce new information to the circuitry in his brain, a kind of experience-based neuroplasticity:
- outpatient program structure after hospitalizations
- scheduled chores in his group home
- clubhouse activities and responsibilities
- Volunteer work
- chores for the family with precise lists of tasks
- exposure to theatre and other family activities, as ready
...and so on. If someone you love is recovering in mental illness, and seems "frozen in time", hang in there. You may need to give them time, and a little bit of help, to thaw.
Kaye, R. (2012, February 23). Mental Illness and Growing Up: "Frozen in Time" Can Thaw, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2012/02/mental-illness-frozen-in-time-can-thaw
Author: Randye Kaye
Please remove my last name from my comment. Thanks
Hi Virginia -
I'm so glad you found some inspiration in the book! Your story (Andrews' story) just breaks my heart - I know that grief all too well. Patience helps, but doesn't cure. I pray for a medical breakthrough too :)
In the meantime, it has helped Ben to make new friends in places where they "get" him as he is now - such as AA, NA, and at college - but it was a long wait. Hang in there and - yes- keep that hope. You're in my heart tonight.
Your book and is very inspiring!! My son, Andrew was diagnosed at age 9 1/2 yrs. It has been a very difficult and heartbreaking journey. My son lives in the past, as he mourns past friendships and ideas. I pray for a medical breakthrough from the madness. My son has a genetic link-2 copies of the CYPD 2-6 gene. At times, he shows so much promise, but the voices/hallucintaions always get in his way. He has been on every anti-psychotic medication and the only one that has worked long-yerm is Clozapine. There has to be brain stimulation or something else, I won't give up hope.
Thanks for sharing your inspiring story,
Thank you so much for your article. It helped me understand why my late-30s son sometimes behaves like a young teenager. I do hope these computer programmes are soon available for general use! In the meantime I, and the many others in his life, will continue to support him in gaining more maturity and in every other way to encourage independence as best we can.
I'm so glad you found the info useful! When I first heard the term "frozen in time", so many things made more sense to me too. Now, knowing that, it gives me patience. Knowing that there is possibility also feeds my hope - which much remain realistic, yet alive. Thanks for commenting!
Randye, thank you so much for this article. It speaks right to the heart of where boys like are are coming from and as a mother of a son recovering in schizophrenia, I truly appreciate the straight forward direct information it provides. My son is making progress as well, it may not be on my timeline, but anything in the direction of wellness is better than the years we have come from. Thanks again
my pleasure! thanks for taking the time to comment - and I completely agree with your words about appreciation of "Anything in the direction of wellness." Amen to that!