Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oneofthose days

This was one of those days. My bipolar student has not been sleeping for about 1.5 weeks. I know this is a red flag with the mentally ill. His mother is a nurse and has been working nights, single mom, I am sure she makes more money on nights. But in the meantime, my student, I will call him Dane, is staying up all night worried about her not being there. So today was the day, today was the day that he could not handle it anymore, restless, would not sit in his seat, then started the running. When he is on edge he starts running around the school; mother was called, etc. What is sad for me is that I know what he faces and his mother faces in the future. The principal has already started documenting his behavior and is starting the process for him to go to a "behavior" school. Of course his intelligence level is extremely high, but the regular ed. teachers just want him out of their class. He is a great student, as long as he gets his sleep and takes his medicine, (heard that before?) I was saddened by seeing another instance of the mentally ill not being able to live in the "real" world. If the mentally ill can't "act" like the rest of the world, then they are asked to go somewhere else. I have been asking the teachers to have patience, they just don't understand just how much patience is required for the mentally ill. I want Dane to stay at the school in his neighborhood with his friends, but unfortunately his actions will ensure that he will be forced to go some where else. very sad. I just hope that we don't read about Dane committing suicide in the future, I won't have any regrets that I did all I could to help this child and I hope the other teachers don't read about Dane in the papers one day and wonder if they did all they could for this child.

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 illness

by 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
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.)

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