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diversion sign
An eleven page chapter from my upcoming book Psychiatric Tales, which will be out from Blank Slate in early 2010. Feel free to point out any errors or make any other comments.

1 schizophrenia

2 schizophrenia

3 schizophrenia 3

4 schizophenia

5 schizophrenia

6 schizophrenia

7 schizophrenia

8 schizophrenia

9 schizophrenia

schizophrenia 10

11 schizophrenia

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As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

... I have to point out that there's another side to the whole "Oh, those poor, poor people with schizophrenia, whose family and friends grow distant, while those people who have cancer get community support." thing. People with cancer don't, for instance, refuse help and berate the people who offer it for hours on end - as my sister did. People with cancer don't stop taking their medication every other week, forcing the people who care about them to check their cheeks every morning to see if they're not swallowing the pill because otherwise the person with cancer will turn up eight days later, three hundred miles away, in a psychiatric ward, having been discovered naked on the interstate. People with cancer don't treat every contrary statement as an attack, and every attempt to support an intrusion.

Yes, it sucks, and yes, behavior like this IS a symptom of the syndrome, or one of its commonly associated issues - but the whole Poor Little Us thing is, frankly, insulting and offensive to those of us who have to try to keep our family members *alive* while every attempt to do so is thrown back in our faces, while we get verbally and sometimes physically abused.

So, I'm sorry that you don't feel particularly close to the people in your life any more, but having BEEN the family member in this situation for rather a long time ... I *really* doubt that it's just "few wanted to know." In my experience, we knew. We knew because we were taught highly dramatic lessons over a very long time that nothing we did would help, and we would be screamed at, insulted, or dismissed brusquely for trying.

It takes a lot of effort to overcome that, particularly over the course of years. If you tell people to go away enough, regardless of whether or not you did it because of mental illness, eventually, many of them will.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

However bad it was for you, I guarantee it was worse for them.

You're highlighting the exact attitude that the author's talking about. Someone with altered thinking is not deliberately targeting you or refusing help just to offend you. It's like saying that someone in a wheelchair is refusing to go hiking to spite you, not because their mobility is poor.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

Not in the slightest.

The attitude I am highlighting is the "The people who burn out and wander away are BAD PEOPLE" attitude on the part of the original creator.

Victims of schizophrenia include more than the people who actually have the disorder; the people who try to help are victimized as well, and pointing at them and going "Oh, it's all THEIR fault, and THEY'RE bad people for not being as supportive as *I* want." doesn't help matters.

Yes, people burn out. I've had to go through counseling. At times, I've had so much stress as a result of this that I was evaluated for PSTD. But, according to this work of art, I "just don't want to know", because I stop offering as much sympathy as once I did, just so I can survive the experience.

The creator, here, apparently wants understanding and sympathy as a result of schizophrenia: great. Fine.

The people around should ALSO get understanding and sympathy, because, frankly, it's a shit experience either way, and claiming otherwise is an insult to every time I had to get up in the middle of the night, drive fifty miles, and collect my sister from wherever she'd gotten to THAT time. Instead: "They just didn't want to know."

No. We knew. That's WHY we start getting colder, because you can't keep offering emotional support to someone who can't give it back; every time it's de facto rejected, YOU get hurt again.

In your terms: It's like we stop offering to take someone hiking because a) they're in a wheelchair, and b) every time we offer, we get punched in the groin. We get punched in the groin a lot *regardless*; is it so hard to understand that someone might not want to increase that amount?

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I note your concerns here and I do understand your point of view. I certainly didn't mean to imply that family members who suffer burnout are uncaring. However much friends or family may love someone with a severe mental illness, there are limits for everyone, and I've seen this many times in my work. Staff also get burned out with the emotional toll of working with very ill people. The stigma sufferers have to endure and the effect of burnout on families are two different things. I'll try and clarify that in the strip. Thanks for the input.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

Thank you. You explain the situation perfectly. I work on a mental health crisis line, and I've heard too many utterly heartbreaking stories of families trapped in completely impossible situations, to dismiss those who are unable to offer support as heartless or uncaring. Sometimes you have to create distance simply to survive. Unfortunately, the experience you describe is all too common, and is why one of the largest nationwide mental health organizations was created - NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org). This is a support group specifically for the families and caregivers, because as you've discovered, being in a supportive position is SO all consuming and downright traumatic.

And for all that sufferers of schizophrenia deal with misunderstanding and isolation from the normal forms of support that people enjoy...the same can be said for families. How do you respond to a coworker who is dead-tired because she was up dealing with an unmedicated schizophrenic child all night? It's not the kind of story you tell in polite company, and when you do, it's so foreign to most people that they don't know how to respond.

I've heard too many stories from family members pushed beyond the brink by how awful things have gotten at home with an unmedicated and noncompliant schizophrenic or bipolar family member, yet whose only option is to throw that person out and make them homeless under a bridge. What do you do if you are not allowed to sleep, ever, in your home by a mentally ill person, and you feel your very safety is jeopardized by that person, but your only option to save yourself and survive the experience is to throw that person out and doom them to being homeless under a bridge, when you know that their condition is not their fault and they are simply sick? On the one hand, you care about this person, they are your family, and you want to help them, but on the other hand, you aren't going to survive if you continue to keep them in your home. It's impossible.

I think it's a useless discussion to argue who has it worse - the mentally ill person or their supportive family members. All of the above are living in hell. And all of the above deserve understanding and support from the rest of us.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

You speak so eloquently. The clarity of your analogy is exquisite. Thank you for your perspective.

As ANOTHER family member of someone with schizophrenia...

Frankly, paraxeni, you missed rsfurr's point entirely. I'm sure it's true that however bad it is for us it's worse for them, but it remains true that they work really hard to make it godawful for us, and that blaming us for not being supportive is really offensive when you consider what being supportive entails putting up with.

I too am a family member of someone with schizophrenia, and I've met several more, and while I'm all for educating the public about what it is and isn't, and I recognize that it's true that most mentally ill people aren't violent, I also recognize that when a schizophrenic person develops violent tendencies they can get severely out of control really really fast because they can't be reasoned with. Even if they have not actually become violent, I observe that they easily fly into rages which can be very scary to observe, particularly for those who don't actually know if the person is going to be physically violent or if they're just going to scream and yell and smash things without actually hurting anyone. It's deeply offensive to cast us as the bad guys for not being able to be supportive of a schizophrenic family member.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the schizophrenic person is refusing our help and being belligerent to us because their neurons are wired wrong or because they hate us or whatever. After a while either they can become so difficult to deal with that we give up, or just the sheer ongoing burden of coping with them wears us down to the point that we give up. When my mother's schizophrenia was getting particularly bad, after she had refused treatment for about 7 years, my father consulted a psychiatrist to ask for advice about what to do under the circumstances. The psychiatrist, after asking a lot of questions, told him to get a divorce, because we couldn't help her any longer, and he said if we didn't get away from her she was going to slowly and systematically destroy both of our lives as well as her own. Best advice I ever heard. Probably saved our lives. I can't tell you what an amazing revelation it was to have clean clothes in my dresser, to have edible food on my table, to be able to have friends over to visit without them being scared away permanently, to go to the mall and get a new pair of shoes without her turning it into a four day nightmare of being dragged from store to store without actually getting anything, and to be able to not have to be constantly afraid that at any moment she would run into the room in a burning rage to throw a two hour screaming fit at me about something incomprehensible. And yeah, after 25 years, I still have frequent nightmares about her, and I still wake up screaming from time to time.

I remember very clearly when my mother was showing increasingly frequent severe rage, and everyone wanted to lecture me about how schizophrenics aren't actually violent and tell me I was just imagining things and tell me what an awful person I was for "abandoning her" by going to live with my father during the divorce. After she made several unsuccessful attempts to murder me, several unsuccessful attempts to murder my father, and committed one spectacularly gruesome murder of my uncle (who was there for her and supportive to her), I found the courage to tell people who lecture me about how awful I am to have not been supportive to her to shut the hell up.

Re: As ANOTHER family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I've been there too, my mother is schizophrenic. She is destructive, but not physically. I daresay, you've had it much worse than I had. My mother did not commit murder nor make an attempt on my life. But I will never recover from the emotional scars.

I just wanted to say I'm glad you have more peace in your life now - but I do know at least somewhat, what will haunt you for the rest of your life. I too felt immediate anger at the overtones of blame in these messages - some people can never have a clue what the hell they are spouting off about, unless they have lived it...obvously they haven't. I had a judgemental friend once tell me I should always love and honour my mother...I could have throttled her. In time, she had a releative who became mentally ill...she apologized to me years later. Until they wear our shoes, you are right, they should shut the hell up!

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I disagree. It's like saying you bought your friend a wheelchair, showed them how to use it, they used it for a week, then went back to demanding to be carried. It's one thing when the illness is undiagnosed. It's another thing when a person is receiving treatment, then stops.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

While I understand what you are saying here, as someone that also has a mother that suffers from schizophrenia I disagree. The issue is that someone with schizophrenia, form what I understand, almost never realizes that they need the "wheel chair". Imagine if someone kept demanding you take a medication that you didn't believe you needed, you probably would resist taking it. Unfortunately that is the nature of the illness and to get upset at someone that is resisting help is like getting mad at someone with cancer because they wont stop their cancerous cells from multiplying.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I disagree too. It's more like saying you bought your friend a wheelchair, they used it for a week, then took the wheels off and wore it on their head for a week, then decided it was bugged and threw it in a skip, then insisted it was a spaceship transporting aliens to earth to pollute the water supplies, then refused to drink any water for a week, then blamed you for destroying the world and its ecosystems.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

However bad it was for you, I guarantee it was worse for them.
Well i'm not so sure about that, a lot of skyzophrenic people don't even know they are ill

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I haven't spent nearly enough time featuring how tough it is for the families of those with severe mental illnesses. At some point I would like to address this aspect. Families get burned out and exhausted and this is understandable. In the above strip, I was concentrating on the stigma that often isolates a sufferer. The whole issue of family burn out is very different and shouldn't be confused with the former. Thanks for your input.

Re: As a family member of someone with schizophrenia...

I'm sorry you have had such a terrible time with your sister. But I have to say that you are mistaken in some of your assertions. A person with a serious illness of any type can alienate friends and family members.

In the last few years, I've cared for a couple of family members with terminal cancer, and I know from experience that they can indeed "refuse help and berate the people who offer it for hours on end;" "stop taking their medication every other week, forcing the people who care about them to check their cheeks every morning to see if they're not swallowing the pill;" and even "treat every contrary statement as an attack, and every attempt to support an intrusion."

Yeah... they make it sound like chemo is a walk in the park and a joy to go through.

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