mental illness comes to family

Mental illness leaves the best of homes bewildered by its presence. We were caught off guard when it visited us. Our usually placid, calm family member was agitated, fell easily into tears and experienced things out of our realm of understanding.

At the hospital’s locked ward, we sat in a family circle and listened to the psychologist outline what had happened, was happening and could happen. Week piled upon week as the suffering one sat dazed in the lounge chair. We slowly absorbed the impact of mental illness on all our lives.
Part of my absorption included getting all the information I could about mental illness. I borrowed books from the South Arkansas Community College, video tapes from the state office for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI-AR) and called the community mental health center.

It was a tumultuous time as we tried to find the right doctor, the right medication and the right therapist to fit our situation. I even began the long process of filing for permanent disability.
Eventually we found a doctor who prescribed a medication mix that restored rationality to a troubled brain. With a therapist’s help we all carefully returned to our normal life.

In the early months I had called anyone and everyone I could, trying to find other people in the community with a mentally ill family member. I just wanted to know. “What is it like for you?
What did you do to handle it. What should I be doing?"

I signed up for anything and everything that would ensure I was near people with an ill family member. I ended up joining the local support group and the state board for NAMI-AR. Last year, NAMI-AR began offering Family to Family to the spouses, parents, and siblings of someone with a serious mental illness.
My husband and I joined others with ill family members. We saw the empowerment of information and shared experiences.

Taking the course was great. Teaching it was even better. We enjoyed a weekly feast of fact, food and friends. The class got all the information I had gathered in my reading, plus more.

Every week someone from each of the families found something they could apply to their loved one. Once for a couple minutes we experienced the overwhelming whirl of voices and thoughts that victims of schizophrenia experience most of the time. After we studied the list of symptoms one attendee correctly diagnosed a friend’s ongoing problem. Some found relief in discovering that genetics is not the only explanation, that an accident or a virus can trigger a serious mental illness. We all struggled to practice the practical lessons on dealing with our family member.  After a time to recuperate, we have decided to do it all over again. The next 12-week class for family members begins  … soon, if you are looking for all the information and support and education that I was, I hope to see you there.