Feeling overwhelmed from supporting someone with mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes we can struggle to admit our true feelings. Here’s a little bit about how I felt when my brother was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression.
Mental illness in the media can cause widespread public discussion. If you have real-life experience of mental illness, others may try to engage you in a conversation about media coverage, not realizing your story. I often find myself becoming upset by comments made by others on mental illness in the media because of my brother's chronic anxiety and depression.
When we were little, I spoke on behalf of my brother a lot because he had a speech delay. He would regularly mix up or mispronounce his words, and I would find myself acting as some sort of amateur translator when he spoke to anyone outside our immediate family. My most commonly used phrase was, "What he's trying to say is . . ."
My family members each have a different supportive style when it comes to my brother's mental illness. In the early days of his depression and anxiety diagnosis, we used to judge each other for these differences -- each of us believed that our approach was the best one. I am looking at supportive styles differently, now.
Learning to recognize caregiver stress at its early stages is important. Supporting my brother through his anxiety and depression has made me keenly aware of the importance of managing my own stress. For me, the first step of this process was learning to recognize the early signs of caregiver stress in my body.
My son Ben, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 20 after five years of confusing onset symptoms, has often seemed "frozen in time" in this phase of recovery; emotionally and cognitively stuck at the age he had been when the symptoms began during high school. Despite three relapses during this near decade of stabilization (all due to instances of refusing meds),  Ben has been in recovery most of those years and has progressed in many ways, as I wrote in an earlier post, Mental Illness Frozen in Time Can Thaw. But, until recently, Ben had few friends and I wondered if he would ever get that particular joy back in his life, or when he might reach the stage of self-acceptance that is crucial to healthy friendships. Would he ever again regain what he had before schizophrenia set in; the simple joy of having people with whom he could share a meal, see a movie, laugh and talk, or just hang out?
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."
Bette Midler's hit song of 1973, "(You Got to Have) Friends" includes the following lyrics: Standing at the end of the road, boys Waiting for my new friends to come I don't care if I'm hungry or bored I'm gonna get me some of them For so long, these words described the life of my son Ben, as he restarted his emotional life after multiple hospitalizations with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia.
Today's Thanksgiving post features a guest blogger named Erik, with his kind permission.  I am so grateful that Ben Behind his Voices is being read not just by families dealing with mental illness, but also by healthcare providers such as psychiatrists, nurses and social workers, and by those who have a mental illness diagnosis themselves. Erik's story both touched my heart and taught me a lot on this Thanksgiving day, as I continue to learn about points of view that are different from mine - as a mother/caregiver of someone with schizophrenia.
Silver Linings aren't always visible right away, and sometimes we never find them.  In our family, the silver lining of new friendship emerged this week from an awful event a few weeks ago. On his way to an "anonymous" meeting he has attended for almost eight years without incident, my son Ben became the victim of a crime.  He was thrown to the ground, threatened with what the mugger said was a knife (we'll never know, nor do I want to), and robbed. The kids (two of them, he says) took his keys, his backpack with all his belongings, his cash, and his feeling of safety.  Ben will never go to that meeting again, because the neighborhood now holds these terrifying memories . The silver lining? Well, in finding a new meeting to attend, Ben has finally met some young people his own age who also have had issues with mental health.