To change the subject, this article is talking about me as well. I did write the book, I did tell the family's best kept secret, and I, even after all those years, changed the names of the family. When I started writing the story about our mother, my brothers thought it was "kinda" cute. Then when I got the book published, they both called to say "You did change our names didn't you?" So I will tell you that we are guilty of giving in to the stigma, and are still doing it. If you asked my brothers now about their mother, they would be hesitant to admit that she was as ill as she was. Some of us can admit that our loved ones are severely ill, some can't. I really have a hard time believing that I am actually working with students who are bipolar as I said when my mother died that I never wanted to work with that "disorder"again ever in my life. Now I am getting paid to do just that; go figure.
Mothers’ stories of mental illnessby Wendy Elliott/The Advertiser
View all articles from Wendy Elliott/The Advertiser
Article online since September 18th 2008, 10:14
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Mothers’ stories of mental illness
Kings County Register
Marty is a grandmother several times over, but she feels as if the umbilical cord is still attached to her own son, Adam.
“Sometimes, he’s like a four-year-old who wants to go out and play on the highway.
“He’s a threat to himself.”
Marty’s tears flow as she describes life with a paranoid schizophrenic. She wipes them away with her hand, though, and keeps talking.
Although he always acted out, at the age of 17, Adam began behaving erratically.
“He’d burn himself with cigarettes. He wouldn’t go to school. He did really weird things.”
Adam became a skilled tradesman, but “every time there was a crisis, he’d lose it.”
This strong and handsome man, now in his early 30s, has lost a wife, two children, a home and every job he’s ever had.
“He doesn’t see what you and I see. He hears voices in his head.”
Mental health professionals have told Adam his illness was all in his head, Marty says, suggesting he take Tylenol.
“He’d sit babbling in front of the doctor. He wouldn’t help him. In fact, he left him and walked out the door. Those that are ill need help.”
She terms adult protection services useless: “‘Go and stay with your mother,’ they’d say.” And, Marty adds, community services treat the mentally ill as capable of work. They’re not.
She blames a healthcare system that doesn’t help the mentally ill.
“They do not want to deal with it – financially.”
Marty says her son was only diagnosed four years ago. He spent a month in the hospital, “was totally drugged and then told to go work in the woods. He could hardly lift a chain saw.”
He tried suicide. He’s slept in clothing bins and eaten out of dumpsters. Since sick people are ill, they act strange, often getting evicted. Adam has slept in a tent and frozen while trying to pick apples. Local police know him well: they chase him out of public places if he is behaving erratically but, sometimes, his mother says, officers have given him money.
“Sometimes, he’ll lose it and break things. I’ve lost 50 TVs while he looked for microchips.”
While some families get burned out trying to help - “they had to let them go or lose their minds,” Marty has made her son’s improvement a mission.
“There isn’t anything I won’t do for that child. He’s living on the edge of society like he’s transparent. When I look at my son, I see the loving, sharing, compassionate person he is. He’d give away his shirt to help someone else.
“He can be very angry and frustrated,” she notes. When he’s on his meds, he’s 100 per cent better. “He still can’t concentrate, but he wants to work. I’ve got a piece of him back.”
Marty has been to court twice to try to access treatment for Adam. With the involuntary treatment law, she encountered a warm-hearted judge.
“I sat there, read my letter and cried. I told him, he’s not an adult, he’s my child and he’s going to do something to hurt someone.”
Adam has been criminalized because of his illness on an assault charge.
This judge ordered him treated and he spent two weeks at Valley Regional Hospital. The result, Marty terms, was a miracle.
“It’s a blessing. I see his blue eyes and there’s life there. He’s a grown man, but it’s like the first day of school.”
Looking back, Marty says, “this has been hell.”
No pill for disease, stigma and lack of support
Pat, whose son, Jack, also has schizophrenia; says he was diagnosed when he was about 23 - he is now 37.
“It has been a long road for our family, and that illness has coloured all of our lives. It is just the saddest thing to see what happens to a young person with this disease.”
Pat says support he receives from any mental health professionals is minimal and credits monthly visits with his psychiatrist for keeping him out of hospital.
“The medication that these patients need to take is no magic pill: it enables them to function somewhat normally. Believe me, I pray for a magic pill.”
Stigma is a big problem. As a culture, Pat believes, we punish the ill and vulnerable.
“As it is now, he has not made any new friends since he became ill. Understandably, people are sometimes frightened or put off by his demeanour.”
Jack, who holds down a job in a restaurant kitchen, has social contact with his siblings and parents.
“It must be a very lonely existence for him.He is one of the fortunate ones: he can hold a job and maintain an adult living arrangement.”
(Editor’s note: all the names in this article have been changed to protect families from the stigma of mental illness.)