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Mental Illness: What Do Mothers Know, Anyway?

Mental Illness: What Do Mothers Know, Anyway?

Answer: a lot.

At least, given the opportunity, respect and resources, we can learn. So can anyone who loves someone with a mental illness.

Last week I had what I thought was a terrific idea: why not get a parent’s perspective on the recent tragedy in Aurora, the public perception of schizophrenia, and the value of treatment for mental illness?  After all, family members live the experience of seeing a loved one’s decline into mental illness, and (if we are informed, supported, and -let’s face it – a little bit lucky) the benefits of proper treatment.

Schizophrenia expert? Not just an M.D.

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New TV Series, Perception: and Schizophrenia Reality

New TV Series, Perception: and Schizophrenia Reality

Last night we finally sat down to watch the first episode of Perception,a new television series on TNT starring Eric McCormack as Dr. Daniel Pierce, a professor of neuroscience with a brilliant mind – and schizophrenia. Because of this mental illness, he sees things in a different light, evidently extremely useful for solving crimes.

How I could wish that my son Ben’s hallucinations were so helpful.

But this is reality.

Perception vs. Reality

I tried to watch the pilot episode with as open a mind as possible. After all it is just a TV show, and it is nice to see someone with schizophrenia be the hero for a change.  Still, I wonder about misconceptions being perceived as reality by those who know woefully little about schizophrenia as it is – including Ben himself.

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Violence in Aurora: Untreated Mental Illness, Again?

Violence in Aurora: Untreated Mental Illness, Again?

We know what happened, but not why.  We mourn the victims, hug our loved ones to us, and will think twice before walking into a movie theatre for awhile.

aurora griefThe Batman massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Unspeakable violence. Haunting pictures of a grieving father, a critically injured mother who cannot yet be told that her 6-year-old child is one of the victims – and a young, academically-gifted young man now sporting fire-engine-red hair and a (let’s just say it) really creepy smile.

And again, the questions:

  • How could this have happened?
  • What could have led up to this horrible, terrifying, unspeakable act?
  • And – as we ask each time this happens – Could it have been prevented? Why did no one see the signs?

And, for me, the gratitude that my own son’s mental illness is diagnosed, treated, and no longer defines all of his actions. 

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The 3 R’s: How to Engage the Family in Mental Illness Recovery

The 3 R’s: How to Engage the Family in Mental Illness Recovery

“Ben is so lucky to have you.”

I hear that a lot, from healthcare providers who often don’t even know the families of those they treat and from PAMIs (People Affected by Mental Illness) who usually add one of three things:

  1. their family has given up on them  – and they grieve the loss
  2. their family has somehow made their recovery more difficult and they are glad to have broken free from them, or
  3. their family has been a major part of their desire to stabilize, and they are so grateful for the love and support.

One of the most validating things I heard at the NAMI National Convention was this, from the producer of a photo collection called 99Faces Project: that a UCLA psychiatrist was quoted as saying that the most important common link among those in successful recovery was this: someone who loved them anyway, and walked alongside them on the journey.

I plan to be that for my son, carefully balancing, as much as possible, the letting go with the support when needed. That is a tough balance to achieve, but the success is in the desire to do so. This is Ben’s journey, not mine, but I do always want him to feel our love.

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NAMI National Convention: Love is a Recurring Theme

NAMI National Convention: Love is a Recurring Theme

It’s all over now except for the party – three days of brain overload at the NAMI National Convention in Seattle. Still absorbing the stories we’ve heard, the new research shared, the legal issues and obstacles we are trying to overcome, the many ways this community is trying to make a difference.

One recurring theme, for me, has been hearing mental health stories of recovery and resilience. In so many of these, there seems to be a running thread that I believe is also a huge part of our story: LOVE.

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Families and Mental Illness: Education Empowers

Families and Mental Illness: Education Empowers

We still hear it sometimes: it’s the family’s fault.

  • “They were too demanding during childhood.”
  • “That mother is so overprotective.”
  • “No wonder you have issues; your parents are cold and withdrawn”
  • “If we can just get you away from your family dynamic, you will recover so much more quickly.”

You know, maybe sometimes that is true.

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Revisiting Grief: What Mental Illness Steals

Revisiting Grief: What Mental Illness Steals

I can’t complain. Really, our family usually lives in a place of gratitude these days.  Ben is doing well. He actually has a job, after eight hospitalizations and ten years unemployed, and has celebrated his one-year anniversary there.  He cares about school now, and made Dean’s List once again at college. (Got a grade of 98 on his Final Essay on how his stasis was changed by reading Macbeth. Wow.)

Yes, we can’t complain.  This is miraculous, compared to where Ben could have been. Compared to where he would be, without treatment.

When asked how Ben is doing, I usually respond, “Today is a good day.” I look to the sky to see if the other shoe is falling, but these days we are okay most of the time, certain that Ben is taking his meds and therefore inching forward with his life. We are grateful and relieved.

But – every so often – grief sets in, for what we have lost. For what Ben has lost. For what could have been, if schizophrenia had not become our reality.

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Convincing Family Member of Mental Illness Diagnosis

Convincing Family Member of Mental Illness Diagnosis

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people who happen to be diagnosed with mental illness and look forward to many more.

There are many stages we go through with any life change, and mental illness is no exception. Families have stages of acceptance, certainly the Person Affected by Mental Illness (PAMI) does too. *

When I talk with a PAMI who is at a stage of acceptance of his mental illness diagnosis, takes her own meds without supervision and is living a functional, productive life, I often ask if there were any particular turning points in their recovery process. In particular, I want to know: Was there a moment when it clicked? When you accepted your diagnosis as true?

Not once – not once! – has anyone said, “My mother finally convinced me I have schizophrenia.”

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Mental Illness at Work: How Support Makes a Difference

Mental Illness at Work: How Support Makes a Difference

Employer of the Year! There is no plaque, no luncheon, just my undying gratitude for not letting my son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia get in the way of keeping him on as a valued employee.

For that, Ben’s employer – and any employer with the foresight to see and treat mental illness the same way you’d look at any other illness – gets my personal award for “Employer of the Year.”

Thank you.

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Diagnosis: Mental Illness. The Moment of Truth

Diagnosis: Mental Illness. The Moment of Truth

Getting a diagnosis of schizophrenia, or any mental illness, after years of confusion, judgment and blame is both devastating – and a relief.

For Mental Health Awareness Day, here’s how it felt for our family. Watch.

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