Family Members Forum: Helping a Loved One

  • I'm going to dedicate this SharePost to family members whose loved ones have schizophrenia or another mental health condition.  For ease of writing, I refer to this person as "he" though I realize the person could be a "she."


    Not only was I diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 22, I'm also the family member of a loved one with a mental health condition.  I can see things from each side of the story.


    The person I love more than life itself is in pain.  You wouldn't be so quick to kiss Bob Whitaker's feet if your loved one didn't take his medication and was depressed, near suicide.


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    You might ask, "Where did (my sister, my son-fill in the blank) go and will I ever get her/him back?"  We struggle with the hurt of seeing our loved ones walking around like a shell of their former selves.


    Remember: there's a person inside that shell that is hurting.  He isn't doing this on purpose.


    How can we support them yet get our needs met and live everyday with what is undoubtedly a burden for a lot of us?


    First, we need to mourn the loss of the ideal version of what our lives could've been for our loved ones and for ourselves.


    Xavier Amador, PhD, in his Lessons Learned column in SZ magazine [years ago] talked in detail about how mourning this loss allows us to open our hearts and minds to the idea that things changed and are different yet can still be good.


    One of the NAMI peer support guidelines applies equally well here: "We expect a better tomorrow in a realistic way."


    Indeed: my dear friend Joy suggested I attend a support group for family members.  You can too.  Dial NAMI at (800) 950-NAMI (6264) to find the name and number of the local chapter in your city or town that hosts family support meetings.  You can also take the NAMI Family-to-Family education course.


    See my Interview With Paulette One and Interview With Paulette Two for her take on this.


    I have some ideas for other things you can do:


    1.  Meet your loved one on his terms, not yours. 


    Expecting someone who is depressed and has hit rock bottom to get out of bed is not right.  Seeing your loved one in such despair can hurt yet I take a unique approach.  I realize my loved one is not going to have it easy in this lifetime.  He and I must bear our crosses with dignity.


    I take an impossibly long view: that all of us come here on earth numerous times, and when we walk this way again, we could have it easier than we do now.  All human beings as I see it are on a journey.  We got what we got in this lifetime for a purpose: it was no accident.


    As that's how it is, I recommend we have extra compassion for anyone we know who is suffering this time around.  An Internet message suggests how we should treat all people we come in contact with: "Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is facing some kind of battle."


    2.  Communicate with your loved one in the way he prefers. 


    I found out about my loved one's trial two years ago.  I immediately, psychically figured out what his diagnosis was.  Two months later, the diagnosis was confirmed.  We've been sending each other private messages online ever since.


    I can't know if my messages caused him to seek the help he claimed he received a year later yet that's not the point.  Whether via e-mail, text, private Facebook messages, phone calls or ideally in person if we're lucky, we must continue to offer firm support and give our unconditional love.


    3.  Be good to yourself.  See your own therapist if you feel the need to. 


    I realized two weeks ago that I must possess the three keys to unlocking my own mental health, in the face of my loved one's struggle.  I submit each of us needs to possess these three keys: inner strength, mental harmony and physical stamina.

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    Last March, I had a psychic premonition on a Friday night that my loved one wasn't doing well.  That Saturday, I bought a slice of pizza for lunch and could only finish half of it because I was so anxious.  That night I found out my loved one wasn't taking his medication.


    Since then, I haven't returned to this state of distress.  I try to train at the gym three times a week and most of the time I do this. 


    Where you live, if your son or daughter lives at home, you might be able to get Respite Care like on Staten Island.  It's when a peer meets with your loved one for a day or night while you take off to do something else: like attend a yoga class or go shopping for yourself.


    4.  Understand your loved one might not be able to articulate what's going on in his head or his life. 


    His disappointment is surely greater than yours.  Refrain from giving the impression, either subtly or directly, that you're upset with him.


    Your loved one didn't want what he got either. My loved one so desperately didn't want to think he was crazy, so when he used the word crazy in his first contact with me I hit on this and wrote back that he was not crazy, he had a bona fide medical condition.


    My friend Joy is a wise woman.  She told me something I'll tell you: even if your loved one claims he is taking the medication he might not be. If the symptoms persist, skipping doses or partial compliance might be the culprit.


    The person is not lying in this regard.  He might be so devastatingly depressed that he is unable to take the medication.  He might not be able to admit to himself he needs the meds.  He could be so physically wrecked he can't think straight.  He might tell you what you want to hear because it's easier than fighting or he doesn't want you to worry.


    In the case where your loved one has schizophrenia and isn't taking his meds, he might have anosognosia, a symptom that is the lack of awareness that you have an illness.  So if he's not sick, why should he take meds.  For details on how to approach this, read my Xavier Amador Interview Part One and Xavier Amador Interview Part Two.


    I recommend you read the classic guide, I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help.  Get the Vida Press 2010 edition.  Xavier Amador, PhD is the leading expert and even if your loved one doesn't have anosognosia I recommend you read this book because it provides a great deal of insight that could be useful anyhow.


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    Lastly, I'm going to tell it to you straight: none of us are victims.  "Playing the victim" does no one any good.  Always be hopeful that the tide can turn for the better.  If not now, five years from now or however long it takes.  Recovery is not a race nor is it a competition.


    Love your loved one for who he is not what he's capable of doing.  I've come to know it is an honor and a privilege to be related to my loved one in this lifetime.  God sent me here to be in this person's life for a reason.  So I know that as long as I'm alive, my loved one will do okay.


    I recommend that if necessary you set up a special needs trust for your son or daughter if he or she won't be able to work at a job and needs to collect a government disability check the rest of his or her life.  It will allow your son or daughter to withdraw money from the account to pay for necessities without reducing the amount of government benefits he or she is eligible to receive.


    I'm going to end now with a link to my interview with my mother, Mary Ann Bruni, that I conducted years ago here.  I realize it isn't easy to bear our pain.  Denial is not a healthy coping mechanism.  We must first accept what happened in order to be able to embrace that change is possible.


    We must mourn, then move on.

Published On: December 23, 2012