Love Loss and Schizophrenia

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

The theme of March across the HealthCentral mental health communities is of grief and death topics. I realized that this was close to my heart because grief has been a consistent theme related to schizophrenia. The loss of loved ones could be particularly hard on those of us with a diagnosis, as it was for me.

The event that triggered my illness was the loss of my beloved Grandpa when I was 22. I had graduated college and was looking for work at the same time he was in a coma hooked up to a respirator in the intensive care unit of Victory Memorial. This was my breaking point. I was not in tears because I was in denial that he would die-I hoped against hope that he would live.

Every day my mother drove us to the hospital. I remember the last time when the truth was unavoidable. We ate in Nathan's afterwards. I sobbed over my hot dog and French fries.

What I know now: there is no right or wrong way to mourn and no deadline by which you're supposed to get over it. Even today I've felt Grandpa's spirit in my new apartment. Years after he died he would appear in my dreams: once I was boarding a bus and he was the driver and made a left turn.

Bereavement counselors are available for therapy surrounding the loss of a loved one. It is an option I will consider after my mother is gone. She is the one who drove me to the hospital within 24 hours of my breakdown.

Indeed, the stages of grief played out in my life after I was diagnosed. I pined for the gregarious me who had dared become a chatty disc jockey on the FM radio. I mourned the end of that happiest time in my life and only reluctantly, four years later, let go of the nostalgia and hope that it could continue.

Transitioning from one stage of grief to another, you could experience strong emotions. The stages are: Shock: you're not fully conscious of what has happened. Denial: you cannot believe that the loss is real. Anger: you wonder: "Why this illness? Why me?" Bargaining: you attempt to maintain the status quo even though it is no longer possible and you can't go on the way things were before. Depression: you can no longer deny the truth of the loss. Acceptance: you have had time to work through these stages and it is here you come to terms with the loss. You take action to move beyond it.

Grieving is a natural and healthy response to your diagnosis and the circumstances of your changed life. It is by mourning the past that we clear the way to a bright future. Living in anger for the rest of your life is no way to live. Anger takes a lot of energy to maintain. It keeps you stuck. Anger is the catalyst yet it is not the solution itself. Working through your anger can motivate you to make positive changes.

We could tend to resent that we got sick and if we carry this resentment throughout our lives we will burn through with regret instead of hope. By risking the changes that our diagnosis requires us to make we can actually have happy lives. Always maintain a positive spirit. It is possible for some of us to have a better life after we get sick than we had before. I know this is hard to believe. However: we should seek out recovery and work to create opportunities for optimizing our mental health.

It can be harder to achieve and maintain wellness in the face of loss. I cannot imagine how my life will change when my mother is no longer here. I expect to rely on my psychiatrist for weekly visits if necessary and will possibly return to a support group. A friend once told me that I would have to mourn this loss in advance of the loss. So I do this now. I realize she would want me to continue and to be strong after she is gone. That is how I could best keep alive her memory. She would want me to continue to be an activist and champion the rights of everyone living with mental illnesses to be treated with dignity and offered hope for a better life.

My mother's shoes are tall ones to follow in.

This I know to be true: I cannot tell any mother or father reading this article that I understand what it's like to lose your son or daughter to schizophrenia. We are all in this together, diagnosed with schizophrenia or living with someone who has schizophrenia.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.