My heart broke, along with the world, as I watched news coverage of the Connecticut school shooting, Friday...It was the first time the news had brought me to tears since 9-11. I can't even pretend to understand the gravity of that kind of heart ache and loss. It makes no sense and it never will. My heart simply aches for all those affected by this.
It was only an hour or so into the coverage that I heard what I knew was coming...the news media attributing these horrific actions to mental illness, my heart sank even more...
While I have deep and profound convictions about gun control and public safety and the issues surrounding this specific event, I choose not to discuss them here. Nor do I intend to compare our experiences in any way with this overwhelming tragedy.
But with all the talk of mental illness, I feel compelled to share something deeply personal to us. Many know, Mental Illness has profoundly affected our lives and family. But most do not know the journey to diagnosis or the battle for care...
My mom and my superman were diagnosed within a few years of each other with the same illness (albeit: type one and type two) Two lives affected by the same illness in profoundly different ways ...Diagnosis brought relief, fear and an overwhelming heartbreak for a still young daughter and wife....Its still something more than a decade after diagnosis I am trying to wrap my brain around.
From her late teens, Mom's life had been racked with unexplained episodes of odd behaviour, debilitating lows and "I can conquer the world highs...It wasn't until our late teens Kelli and I knew something just wasn't right with her. But what??? Nobody put the pieces together until after Kelli and I had left home...
My sweetheart and Superman had dealt with debilitating (undiagnosed) depression through out his teen years, but it wasn't until he broke his back at work, a decade later that the wheels came off. A combination of pain killer addiction and antidepressants brought out his first understood manic episode and months later, a correct, but unwanted diagnosis.
Navigating the mental health world is overwhelming and daunting at best, even in a country with universal health care...
The crisis almost always comes before the care.
I know what its like trying to convince a delusional loved one that what they are seeing, hearing and feeling are not reality.
I know what its like to lock down meds and anything else that could be harmful.
I know what its like to call the crisis hot line for help and be told calling the police is the only option, and then having to call them.
I know what it's like to find loved-ones after a suicide attempts and think "I hope this is bad enough for admission this time"
I know what its like to beg a doctor "Please just don't send them home"
I know what its like to sign papers and commit a loved one to a psych facility against their wishes.
I know what its like when a loved one passes a competency test over and over again, and our hand are tied to do anything else.
I know what its like to go thru 7 psychiatrist before we found one that we could work with.
I know what its like to be told by family members "you know if you could just be a little more patient and listen more...they wouldn't be like that"
I know what its like to have a well meaning albeit completely uneducated Church leader tell me meds weren't really necessary.
I know what its like to have an employer show up at our door, during a hospitalisation and tell me "I won't have people like that working for me"
I know what its like to be the "talk of Church" or the "Talk of town" or the subject of meetings.
I know what it's like to have my grade schooler come home in tears and then have to explain that their loving father is NOT "a basket case" even though someone called him that at school.
I know what it's like to hear "but I thought he was better?"
I know what its like to feel hopeless, overwhelmed, misunderstood, abandoned...BUT
Our New Reality.
Here's what we have learned.....
There is hope.
We can never give up on seeking HELP. Real HELP. If someone doesn't understand or isn't helpful move on. But keep seeking.
We have had to come to accept that we deal with an illness every day that requires the intervention of medication and professionals and friends and family.
A competent, knowledgeable psychiatrist is essential. We LOVE the one we have now. If you don't like the first or second or third, keep going until you find one you LOVE...they exist, I promise.
Have at least one friend and one family member you can completely confide in, who can and will drop everything and run, who loves you and your loved one, unconditionally. My life has been profoundly blessed by these individuals who have known just when to call, stop by, reach out...Understanding, empathetic people do exist, usually they are the one who have faced mental illness in their own families.
Be HONEST...with yourself, your loved ones and those around...I am a gate keeper of sorts. I say no to things, cancel activities, monitor meds, if something is worrying or not right, I speak up. I tell people what we need and ask for help until I get it.
Pray. Like a lot. And no if you pray or have FHE or go to Church or read your scriptures more , your illness is going nowhere, trust me we have tried...being MORE righteous or religious will not cure anything...But I do find great peace by seeking guidance from a loving Heavenly Father.
And here is my biggest beef, misconception....Mental illness excuses actions and behaviour... I cringe every time....
Truth: Mental Illness does not automatically absolve us from all responsibility of behaviour, self care, the Golden Rule, family responsibilities, the 10 commandments, and on and on.
Access to and seeking competent care provides hope for the best possible outcome.
One would not deny a friend or loved one help for diabetes or cancer or... The same needs to be said for Mental Illness.