Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mental Illness

I remember when my mom first came home and told my dad and I that people were talking about her in the grocery store. I was about 12 and it, of course, didn't make much sense. Even though these kinds of strange things continued to happen here and there, my family never sat down and talked about it - ever. Fast forward almost 30 years or so to 2010 when my dad was towards the end of his life. Now, people in the hospital cafeteria were talking about her, there were people on her roof late at night singing songs, people at the bank knew all of her financial details. As we dug into her medical records - deciding to address the facts for the first time ever, the official diagnosis was delusional disorder and she had suffered with it for decades. Now it all started to make sense - the sometimes talking to people who weren't there, the stories about strangers, and the suspicions about the ordinary. After my dad passed away, the stress made it even worse. I don't remember all the details now - I'm sure it's better that way.

3 years ago this week, I went to a local National Alliance of Mental Illness discussion group for family members of people suffering from mental illness. Deanna and I had talked about it for a while and eventually decided I should go to at least check it out. While there, I heard from other family members trying to help their parents or kids or siblings - many of the stories were heartbreaking. The facilitators stressed two things: we were not alone and I was not intended to be my mother's savior. That was enough.

I could tell you that I think a life of faith might help some of this. When we live a life larger than ourselves, maybe our anxieties are channeled into something healthier. I'm pretty sure that serving others gives you a proper perspective about how good or bad your life is. But instead I'll tell you that if you are having trouble with your thoughts or if things just seem really bad or if you feel overwhelmingly desperate, or if you have a family member who is talking about this kind of stuff, there is help and you are not alone.