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Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Nightmare Of Mental Illness

I think everyone knows someone affected by mental illness in one way or another. It is such a common thing these days, depression, Postpartum Depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and more. It has got to be extremely difficult for those who suffer, I can't even begin to imagine, I really can't. But I don't have to imagine what it is like to be a loved one of someone who suffers. Those who have to stand by helpless and watch as their loved one suffers is it's own kind of personal hell. The emotional roller coaster that you constantly ride on is never ending.

I have mentioned before that my oldest child suffers from Bipolar Disorder. I haven't shared too many details about what we have all gone through until this recent incident that resulted in my grandchild ending up in CPS custody. While this may be one of the most tragic incidents we've had, it is by far from the worst.

I don't think it would be too fair to my daughter to post details of everything here publicly without speaking to her first about it, but I will say it has involved SWAT Teams being at my home, suicide attempts that have left her on life support more than once, us having to wrestle a gun and knives out of her hands, homelessness and more.

While I am sure those all have been hard on her, what it has done to us is horrendous. Decisions we've had to make in order to keep our smaller, younger children safe, steps we've had to take to keep our grandchildren safe and more.

But none of that is even a fifth as bad as what it does to us all emotionally. My daughter has been ill since she was a very small child. This was in the days before they even labeled children with such disorders. This was before Childhood onset Bipolar was even in the books. As a parent we carried a huge amount of guilt. Did we do this? Was it our fault? And the professionals didn't help much in reassuring us it wasn't our fault. We were scrutinized for years before we finally got the right kind of help.

The guilt we carried when we failed to keep our other children safe. The guilt we still carry that our other children haven't had a "normal" life either. While they don't suffer from a mental illness, they still suffer. Friends whose families wouldn't let their children play with them, the gossip, the mixed emotions of loving their sister, yet hating her.

We always thought it would be easier once she turned 18 and we didn't have to deal with the system ourselves anymore. No, it doesn't get easier, it's different, but no more easy, maybe harder in some ways. Thanks to wonderful right to privacy laws, we don't always get to get information from doctors on our daughters care. And as any parent knows just because your child grows up and leaves home you never stop loving them or worrying about them.

My daughter very recently got on some new medication which seems to be almost like a miracle cure. She is the most reasonable and rational I have seen her in years. Sure it's only been a day or two so I am not getting my hopes up to much, but they are up.

I have gone from being mad and angry at what she did with our granddaughter to feeling bad for her and wanting to support her and help her as she herself is now in a bad situation with housing and such right now.

People seemed shocked, stunned, surprised, even upset that I still have any sympathy for my daughter. As any parent knows, no matter what your children do, you never stop loving them. Why should it be any different for me?

Then there are the facts. She has done some horrible things. But how much could she control? How much was a result of her illness? These are questions we've been asking for 20 some odd years. Even as a child. How much was the illness, how much is just behavior and being naughty?

I quote Mother Teresa often, and I really take to heart all she says. She always said it wasn't for us to ask what got a person to where they are(homeless, alone, whatever)only to love them. If we can't extend that to our own family members, how are we suppose to do that for anybody else. I admit sometimes it is much easier to extend grace and love to a stranger on the street than your own family, but that doesn't make it right!

It's harder when it's personal, a stranger on the street hasn't hurt you on a personal level so it is easier to love and help them. But I don't really think that excuses us from trying to love those who are closest to us and have hurt us the most. We are told to love all, not just those who are easy to love. We all have done wrong in our lives and hopefully we all still had someone rooting for us, caring. I made plenty of mistakes, and God still loved me, how can I do any less for my own flesh and blood? So, the answer to how I can still love and care for my daughter after she has done so much wrong is simple. She's my daughter and I love her.


William Cooney said...

You make some excellent points. The effect mental illness has on those whose loved ones are afflicted is mind-boggling. Allow me to qualify this sentiment by suggesting it is largely untreated mental illness that is the cause of so much pain and anguish among the families of those who have serious mental illness.

As ignorance and fear diminish, the stigma associated with mental illness will slowly evaporate, at which time mental health hygiene will be perceived to be as important and normal as maintaining one's physical health.

The most ignorant among us fear that illness is being used as an "excuse" for antisocial behavior, while the more enlightened among us understand that mental illness does not excuse but rather explains. And dismissing serious mental health anomalies as untreatable personality disorders merely exacerbates this problem.

Indeed the goal of any competent professional treating a person with mental illness is clearly that of getting them to accept responsibility for their actions. This is usually only achieved, however, through the combination of medication and psychotherapy.

The immense suffering of both people with mental illness and those who love them can be greatly mitigated by competent, caring medical intervention.

You mention that your daughter has just started on a new medication that looks very promising. Ironically, one of the problems with some of the newer medications is that they are so effective at combating the most ominous symptoms, patients often report feeling "cured" and thus no longer in need of their medication. Urging continued medication compliance is essential to getting the foothold needed to start on the road to recovery.

I'd also like to offer you hope. I have not missed a dose of medication in 10 years. (I also have bipolar disorder.) Funny but it's been about that long since I have assaulted anyone, been thrown in jail, argued with a neighbor, etc. I still see my therapist on a regular basis as well. I am alive again - able to both give and receive love.

There is much reason for you to hope.

mud_rake said...

Has anyone else in your family suffered mental illness? It often runs in families. If so, were you 'on-guard' for your children early on, looking for signs of the illness?