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Mental Illness in the Family

Randye Kaye
It feels like we stepped into a time machine and it's 2005 once again .  That was the last time Ben was admitted to the psych ward in this hospital. And now, we're back.  I've gone from stone-faced shock (Friday) to tears of helplessness and grief (Saturday), to a determination to enjoy Fathers' Day despite the fact that Ben can't be with us (today). And now, with all distractions gone, it's early in the morning and I can't sleep.  My head is spinning with all I must do tomorrow to try and bring Ben back to life again. If I can. Logic tells me that my control is limited at best: this is Ben's journey, these are Ben's decisions. He has somehow managed to stop taking his meds again, and now it's as if the past six years of success - college classes, increased responsibility, full participation in family, and finally employment - are all in jeopardy. But the mother in me is absolutely livid.
Randye Kaye
So far all my posts here have been from the parental point of view.  As you may know, I am the mother of a wonderful kid, now 29, who was unlucky enough to develop paranoid schizophrenia in his mid-teens (diagnosed at last by age 20).  My book Ben Behind His Voices, is told mostly the parental perspective - though writings from Ben himself as well as  from his sister, Ali, round out the story as best we can. The title of this blog, however, is Mental Illness in the Family - and so I don't want to leave out the experiences of siblings, spouses, and children.  This post is about - and for - you. I have taught NAMI's Family-to-Family course over a dozen times, as both teacher and trainer (guiding others to becomes teachers in Connecticut), and each time I am reminded that my experience as parent shares much with the other "relative groups" - but not all.
Randye Kaye
The New York Times Book Review article is entitled: The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? (June 23, 2011, Marcia Angell) This is the first of two parts, reviewing several books which plan to explode the belief that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. Instead, these books claim, the imbalance of neurotransmitter levels in the brain only appear after psychiatric medications have been administered. They point to the standards allowed by the FDA which permit drug companies to get approval for new medications, as long as they have proof of two studies showing a positive effect - no matter how many studies also were made, showing no improvement at all vs. placebo. Okay. I'll bite. But as further evidence that new drugs are "creating" more mental illness symptoms than curing them, the article states that Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, contends that, in the past: "conditions such as schizophrenia and depression were once mainly self-limited or episodic, with each episode usually lasting no more than six months and interspersed with long periods of normalcy" Really? I mean, come on. Listen, all I can go by is my own son, and the illness I witnessed as it slowly developed, progressed, and took hold.
Randye Kaye
I have a big speech to give in two days. Fellowship Place in New Haven, CT, whose mission is to “help adults with mental illness lead more meaningful, fulfilling and healthy lives by offering resources, education, and opportunities,” has asked me to be their keynote speaker for their Eighth Annual Dr. Albert Solnit Memorial Lecture. This is not so much a fundraiser as it is an awareness-raiser, and I want to do justice to that purpose as I prepare my part of the evening, an hour-long “Conversation with the Author of Ben Behind His Voices.” My problem: how to tell our family’s story, and Ben’s story through our eyes, in a way that will raise awareness? And while I blog often about our current issues as Ben struggles through recovery, for this presentation I need to go back to the early years of his illness to set the stage for the conversation.
Randye Kaye
When mental illness meets recovery, does community matter? You bet it does. I just returned from a meeting with my son's new support team. This meeting was demanded by the the Wicked Witch (me, in this case), who was upset with the way the transition was handled from group home to supervised independent housing.  In the space of two weeks, I've seen signs that Ben is lost, lonely, unmotivated, forgetful, swinging from depressed to hyper, and probably not taking his meds when he can get away with it. Schizophrenia still looms underneath all the progress he's made. Back and forth went the conversation, over and over again. me: Where was the support for Ben's transition from 24/7 supervision to independent living?
Randye Kaye
A message comes to me via social media, along with an invitation to connect. It simply says, "My 27 year old child has schizophrenia, but will not get treatment." Oh boy, can I relate to that. Unfortunately, this is a major dilemma facing all of us who deal with mental illness in our families. Parenting is always about the precarious balance between stepping in to help, and letting go to allow learning from experience. From a child's first steps to his or her first relationship, car,  job, apartment...when to give advice? When to help? When to step back and watch them sink or swim?
Randye Kaye
Ten years ago, if you'd asked me where I thought I might be in 2011, the last thing I'd have said is "I plan to be a writer." Yet, here I am: blogging for HealthyPlace.com, and about to be a published author. When I go to Amazon.com and search for my book (which, I must admit, I do at least 5 times a week, just to make sure it's not a dream), I'm still amazed to find myself with an "author's page" and a biography on Wikipedia. Oh, I'd hoped to be a "wiki girl", but I'd thought it might be because of my work as an actress, radio personality, voice talent or singer. Life is funny that way. You make your plans, and sometimes you follow them. Sometimes, too, the universe sends you elsewhere, like a stream cutting through the forest. It goes where it needs to go.