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  1. #1

    Mental Illness and the Family

    Cast:

    Dale:Person diagnosed with a mental illness; Judy: Dale's wife; Jennifer: Dale's daughter; Claire: His mother; Al: His brother; Bernie: A friend of the family.

    It seemed like they all knew it, but no one wanted to admit it. When a doctor confirmed their worst fears, Dale's family was devastated. His parents, his brother, his wife and child all now had a relative who was mentally ill.

    Dale: When it started I was scared. I was really petrified. I don't know how I can describe it to someone who hasn't experienced it. It was as if nothing in my life made sense any more. I could remember that I'd once had hopes, dreams, plans - but suddenly all of that seemed lost. I felt like I'd been swept off a cliff in a hurricane.

    Judy: I'm Dale's wife. I love him, and always will. But how frustrating it is to watch someone you love change so much while you're helpless to stop it from happening. I kept thinking - there must be something I can do. There must be some way I can save him. Otherwise I'll end up feeling like a terrible wife.

    Claire: As Dale's mother - I'm actually reluctant to admit it now - but I was so ashamed. I remember his father being embarrassed, desperate to keep anyone from finding out. We thought that it must be our fault. I kept telling myself, "Don't take it personally, you have another boy who's just fine." It didn't help. I began to think about my grandchildren. I felt awful.


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    It happens so often when mental illness strikes. Family and friends, desperate for an explanation, want to know "why?". The stigma is strong, the stress is stronger. It doesn't take much before fingers begin to point. Everybody, including Dale, began looking for someone, or something to blame.

    Dale: Sometimes I felt like this must be my fault, and that I'd become a burden. I can't tell you how terrible that feels. But then I'd realize, I never asked to be sick! I'd still get angry though, at my daughter, Judy, or Mom, or my brother. I'd tell them, "Look, it's hard enough to cope with this without you making me feel guilty on top of it all!"

    Jennifer: When my dad would get mad I'd say, "No Dad, I love you." But he'd just pull away. I felt like I was being punished for something I didn't do. It was like his sickness was my fault. I had to be always on my best behaviour. But he'd still get mad.

    Dale: Who am I kidding? It wasn't their fault. But I'd feel guilty whether anyone else said anything or not. And then I'd get mad. How could I help it? I'd feel guilty that I couldn't work. Guilty that I couldn't pull my weight in my own family. It's been torture watching my close friendships dissolve, watching my family turn into my nurses.


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    Hard as it was for Dale's family to admit and cope with his condition - they reacted well by getting him to a doctor early on. Friends helped.

    Dale: Bernie may not be related, but he's a close friend, real close. Like others he could have just turned away, but he chose to step forward and help us instead. I'll never forget that. Never.

    Judy: I'm very grateful for what Bernie did. We were all trying desperately to find ways of explaining away Dale's behaviour - it was Bernie who convinced us to get him to go to our family doctor. Once he'd done that, we were on the road.

    Bernie: I noticed that Dale was behaving in ways that, well, just didn't seem like Dale if you know what I mean. So, I guess I bugged his family a bit, you know, to get him some professional help. They didn't need a lot of convincing - I think it helped that I was outside of things a bit and that they knew they could trust me. I really believe the early detection of his illness has made a big difference.

    Al: As Dale's brother I appreciate what doctors have done for him - from our family doctor at the beginning, to the psychiatrists who have seen him and treated him over the time of his illness. At first we were kind of intimidated by them - they're doctors, after all. We thought they didn't want to hear our opinions. But we had a lot of questions to ask. And once we found the courage to ask them, we found we were listened to, and we got our answers.

    Dale: The most important thing for me is that doctors listen to me without judging. I've learned to speak up too, not to let things go on without being heard. That's where my self-help group makes a big difference. There I can talk to others who have the same experiences as me. And I think it's been good for my family to attend a support group of their own. Doctors can't be there for you all of the time. But there is other support out there for you. You just have to find it.


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    What can a family do to help each other?

    Dale: My brother's been really helpful. When I talk, he listens. And I don't get the feeling he's judging everything I say right away. I really feel supported by that.

    Al: I get really protective of Dale. And angry that people think "freak" the moment I mention mental illness. I try to make them understand that it's an illness, just like any other. If Dale had a broken leg they'd all be full of sympathy. Tell them what's really wrong and they cough and edge away. What can I say? "Sorry that my brother got the wrong disease?"

    Jennifer: I really had to stop thinking about mental illness the way I used to. Now I think it through and try not to jump to conclusions. At first my friends and I thought it was some kind of plague or something that was one day going to reach out and hurt me. I'm starting to get it through my head now that my father is sick, not lost forever or dangerous.

    Dale: People have funny ideas about how to deal with anyone who's different. A lot of the time they patronize me. That's infuriating. Just because I have an illness doesn't mean that I am no longer an adult, with my own ideas about what I need.


    Here's what I want my family - and anyone else who's listening - to understand. It's simple. Treat me with some respect. Okay? Encourage me when I try to take care of myself. Acknowledge my limitations. Don't expect too much too soon - and then lose respect when I don't come through.


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    Being mentally ill doesn't make a person dangerous. It shouldn't make them and their families outcasts. If we open our ears as well as our minds we may be surprised by what we hear. Instead of placing the blame on others, maybe we need to fix the attitudes that create the blame in the first place.

    Dale: With the support and understanding of my family I'm getting back on track, and I know I can really go a long way. More than anything now I want to be as self-sufficient as possible. Before my illness set in I had really big dreams, you know: success. Today success is being able to pay the rent on our apartment, and hold down a job that pays a decent wage. I hope that one day I'll be able to pursue bigger dreams again.

    I can't tell you how hard it's been. It's like every day is a new battle. Still, I'm winning more of them than I used to. And with each little victory, I enjoy being alive that much more.

    Claire: I've been through the tough days where it feels like all of my neighbours hate me, my family dislikes me and Dale and Judy utterly reject me. But it's getting better. The more I listen to them and try - really try - to understand Dale, the better things go.

    Dale: It's like I go through cycles where I need my family to be close and where I need time to work things out for myself. I know that can make me hard to be with sometimes. Still, that's just what I'm asking my family, friends and doctors to do: be with me, face my illness with me. If they do, and if we keep listening to each other along the way, I know we'll survive - I know we can get through anything.


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    The Canadian Psychiatric Association would like to thank those persons diagnosed with a mental illness and those family members with mental illness in the family for their contribution to this brochure.


  2. #2

    Re: Mental Illness and the Family

    this is a good article. Thanks!

    and this

    every day is a new battle
    is so true and i guess every day we get through, that we survive, no matter how badly sometimes, is also a victory. even if it seems very small.

    sigh

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