When My Mentally Ill Child Forgets His Coping Skills
Friday, April 25 2014 Chrisa Hickey
Our mentally ill child, Tim, 19, sometimes forgets his coping skills for schizoaffective disorder symptoms. Generally, he reaches out and talks to one of us parents when he's having a tough time before things get out of hand, but sometimes he forgets. He forgets what to do when he feels paranoid or unloved.
D, 18, is our daughter with epilepsy and a serious case of senioritis. My husband, Tom, has been a stay-at-home dad to these two their entire lives, bless his heart. But during spring, he indulges his afternoons in a job that pays miserably but makes him happy; he coaches high school pole vault. This takes him out of the house after school five days a week, leaving Tim and D home alone between 3 and 6 pm.
When Our Mentally Ill Child Forgets Proper Coping Skills
Now, under normal circumstances, Tim and D get along fabulously. They have been each others' companion and playmate since they were toddlers. But Tim copes with the constant voices in his head by keeping himself physically or mentally occupied every waking hour of every day. This includes spending an inordinate amount of time engaged in rapid fire chit-chat with whoever happens to be within earshot. Needless to say, that can be grating on the recipient. And yesterday was no exception.
Apparently – and I say that because I’m on a business trip on another continent and only heard the story in an anger fueled phone call from Tim – he called his sister in his cab on the way home from school for some chit-chat. He asked what she was doing and she yelled, “I’m watching TV!”
This was a major offense in Tim’s world of black and white rules of conduct and persistent paranoia. What gave her the right to yell at him? Why is she ALWAYS out to get him? When he got home he started yelling that she was rude. D locked herself in her bedroom and Tim broke the doorknob before fleeing the house for a walk to calm down and call me, seven time zones away, to relate the injustice (not as a coping skill).
Reinforcing Coping Skills When My Mentally Ill Child Forgets
After I talked him off his proverbial ledge, I tried to make him remember what we and countless mentors and therapists have been trying to drill into him for a decade. He cannot control anyone else’s actions, only his own. We discussed the wisdom of the choice he made to break her bedroom door, and alternative actions he could have taken to calm himself that were more appropriate. Then I called D and reminded her, if she doesn’t have the energy to be on the receiving end of her brother’s need to talk, simply don’t answer the phone. And if she does, don’t be rude just to push his buttons.
I see both of their sides. You’d think, by now, they’d have been through this enough times to remember that Tim’s paranoia and need to talk are always present, and D’s ability to tolerate Tim's 24-7 show wears thin at times. But it’s not about remembering. It’s about having to stay vigilant every hour, every day, when you live with mental illness in the family.