Caregiver guilt has been something that has featured heavily for me since my brother, Josh,* was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. For me, this caregiver guilt is a very uncomfortable emotion that I struggle to talk about -- and I want to pick it apart a little bit in this post.
People with Mental Illness
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of media coverage about the suicide of television and radio presenter Caroline Flack. I didn’t know Caroline beyond seeing her on TV, but hearing about her death affected me deeply for some reason. I had a panicked sleepless night, and couldn’t shake the feeling of tearfulness that started as soon as I’d been told about the suicide. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Speaking openly about mental illness helps, but one thing I know for certain is that ''talking about your feelings'' cannot cure a diagnosable mental illness. To purport this idea is reductive and shows a deep-rooted misunderstanding of the complex physiological roots of psychiatric conditions. However, through supporting my brother in his experiences with anxiety and depression, I have come to appreciate that talking openly about emotions does play an extremely important role in a family where mental illness is present.
In the healthcare setting where I work, we employ a model of transactional stress. I have found this theory to be extremely helpful in how I support my brother, Josh,* through his depression and anxiety. Here’s a reflection on my experience.
A diagnosis of mental illness can be shocking for both the patient and their loved ones and, unfortunately, lead to a lack of support. Prior to my husband’s schizophrenia diagnosis, I held a skewed view of mental illness believed the stigma surrounding it. After his diagnosis, I repeatedly asked myself why it couldn’t be something more seemingly straightforward, such as anxiety or depression. I learned to accept his illness over time, but it is difficult when others are not able to do the same. The lack of support we've been shown in our struggle hurts.
This post was particularly difficult for me to write because mental health hospitalization is not easy to talk about thanks to mental health hospitalization stigma. This stigma is profound, and both the stigma and the hospitalization itself places great strain on both the individual requiring treatment and their loved ones. I struggled with what to write, who to write it for, and if I should even post at all. If you know me or have read my page, you will know that I write for HealthyPlace because my husband has a mental illness. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He also writes for HealthyPlace as a coauthor of "Creative Schizophrenia." Since his last hospitalization, we moved halfway across the country, had our third child, bought a house to renovate, found good jobs, and learned to work through his minor relapses. A couple of days ago, his condition deteriorated. He suffered a significant relapse and displayed signs of dealing with a significant psychotic episode. Even though I blog about coping with a family member's mental illness, I dreaded what came next and the response from those around us. As I drove him to the hospital, I felt the sting of stigma over his mental health hospitalization.
Mental illness can impact a family in many ways, and the children of parents with mental illness need loving support. Children are very sensitive and sometimes clue into differences in behavior that adults miss. As adults, we are often caught up with other concerns: our careers, finances or the latest Netflix series, to name a few. We sometimes forget to pay attention to those around us and may overlook subtle changes. Children, on the other hand, notice everything. I say this from experience: children of parents with mental illness see and feel all of it.
Giving thanks is hard when your family is a mess. When I started thinking about writing this Thanksgiving post, I almost wrote my manager to let her know I’m not qualified to write about mental illness in the family. Do you know why? Because I feel like a fraud. My family relationships are not all cleaned up and pretty like I'd like them to be. Rather, the messiness in my family amplifies as we make plans for the holidays. I want to wave a magic wand and make all of my relationships work, if only on these special days. I know what it's like when your family is a mess and it's hard to give thanks.
Sometimes, the only way I get a sense of what my son, Ben, goes through as he hears voices and tries to process them is through his poetry and prose: I feel like everybody is piecing together this huge puzzle and I was born with it already solved. I guess that’s a post-life thing. But with me it’s always been about diving deeper. Delving and diving in gray water depths instead of trying to pull that water up to your level where its shade is altered. Its as a different sun shine in your in your world a mirror of a sort that you struggle to see for in refusing to see yourself in disacceptance you are condemned to see it everywhere you go on everyone else’s face….wow I am really showing myself now the strange level these “normal” people live on….hard it be to shatter these dreams of them so solidified by causality taken as righteousness. And the illusion of consciousness. - Ben, 2002 But today I got a different perspective, thanks to my guest blogger, Katherine Walters, who, like Ben, has schizophrenia - but with more insight into it.
Latest from Perez Hilton, the National Enquirer and other gossip (oh, excuse me, entertainment news) sites: "Is Amanda Bynes Schizophrenic?" Ignoring for the moment how much we hate that term "schizophrenic", let's get to the heart of the reported issue. Amanda is not doing well, and her parents are worried. How well I know the feeling.