My son is no stranger to the local hospitals. His mode of transportation is usually in the back of a constable’s car while in the midst of a bad positive presentation of his paranoid schizophrenia. Why can’t we just take him in ourselves or call an ambulance? We cannot force compliance because he is an adult and thus, he is the only one that can make his own medical decisions. This is in spite of the fact that he has no ability to comprehend his illness and will not cooperate in the process. By law, we have been powerless the entire time he has been ill, as his disease manifested after the age of 18.
One of three resolutions is in his future –
- He will be taken to prison instead of the hospital where he is likely to be on the receiving end of violence because of how his disease manifests in recitations of violent words which will antagonize both fellow inmates and officers in charge.
- He will believe himself capable, leave home, and live under an overpass where he will frighten people and invite harm from other homeless people because of how his disease manifests in detailing frightening violent scenarios that someone is likely to think is directed his way. We have already learned that people like him are not allowed at homeless shelters.
- Or we will be able to protect him from both of those outcomes and coerce medication.
In the hope that the latter will happen, my husband and I take shifts. I, thankfully, am the day shift. My husband has the nights, the time when the foul mouthed rages build to incredibly loud levels and are sometimes expressed in a physical way that my husband can withstand, but I could not. During the day I try to distract him early enough to get him thinking about something other than the topics that are the source of his rage. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we can divert him, but other times we need to call the constable’s dispatch.
A few times the event occurred in the backyard and a neighbor dialed 911. Failure to contain a son with violent verbal expressions in his mental illness is not the best way to keep peace with the neighbors.
Exhaustion, both mental and physical, sometimes wins. Overwhelmed by how our lives have changed because of our son’s illness and how law makes it nearly impossible to help him, it is easy to fall into severe depression.
Yet here we are, almost eight years into it, and surviving.
We each have our own way of living with it. My husband diverts his mind at all opportunities, works out at a gym, and whenever possible sleeps during the day or early evening so he is ready at night. This works for a while, but when he hits the wall, his brief explosions are large and not helpful for our son. However, my spouse’s Italian nature does seem to need it.
I use mental imagery of peace and strength combined with breath work to moderate my emotions just enough to get through each event and to find happiness. Sometimes that works. Sometimes I take the wrong way out. I’ve stuffed myself silly with food and drink as if sufficient calories will destroy the pain. That does not work too awfully well and results in a great deal of weight gain which led to increased medical issues of my own, and more even more stress.
I’ve tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs to lighten my mental heaviness. That worked for quite a long while. When it stopped working, I found myself repeating “I am so tired, I am so tired…” over and over again throughout each day. I often sat slouched over in a chair with my head in my hand. The lines on my face deepened. Crinkled laugh lines were overtaken by pronounced furrows in my brow.
I thought that accepting the medicine our family doctor suggested was a sign of personal failure
I thought that accepting the medicine our family doctor suggested was a sign of personal failure and bravely stuck it out as best I could. Then I reached the point where I was unable to breathe my way up out of the mire and understood that I needed to accept help from the doctor or I would be of no use to my son. She advised me to try a very low dose of an anti-depressant, one that also works to silence emotional hunger as well. Sometimes medicine is helpful to get you back into good patterns of stress response. My threshold of losing control is now much higher. In addition, I have lost six of the 50 pounds I’ve gained and should that continue, my own health will be greatly improved. My doctor said that once I feel like I’ve got things under control again – and after I’ve done so long enough to set new healthy stress response patterns firmly in place, I can wean myself off the drug.
Of all the things I tried, what did not work was trying to find an already existing friend to confide in. I have yet to find anyone that can handle what we go through. Instead they pulled back when I need them to lean in. My situation is different as it is both potentially dangerous and frightening. If your family member is not so scary, you might find it important to talk to a friend. Life with someone as seriously and horrifyingly ill as my son is to be in a constant state of change. We are always in an event, anticipating one, or so relieved that he has been so much better for a few days. This means it is necessary to increase the ways I respond and not get stuck in a single method. While I am bolstered by the medicine, I’ll work to expand my repertoire of techniques and resources.
Below is a good starter list of things to try, but please do understand that it is not a sign of personal failure to ask for help and accept a little assistance from modern medicine every now and then. Stress Response Techniques
- Breathing exercises, such as that recommended by Andrew Weil or the Three Breaths do work with daily practice, but for those times when you cannot breathe, try one of these:
- Mental imagery found in guided meditation. There are many dvds and books on the topic and yes, they are helpful.
- Get up and move – exercise in the gym, take a walk in nature, do yoga, or Tai Chi.
- Make a friend of someone in a similar situation through a support group, someone you can call or email when things get overwhelming. If you are seriously depressed and your doctor suggests counseling, do it.
- Get out of the house if you are able to do so and do or get something nice for just you – go to the library, get a manicure, or a cup of hot chai tea
- Spend time learning a new hobby that takes both physical and mental concentration. Learn to knit, crochet, draw, make jewelry, paint, or build something with wood.
- Try acupuncture and Chinese herbs from a TCM provider.
- Talk to your family doctor about other forms of help, and then do what is suggested.
- After working your way through the above suggestions, breathing will become easier. Learn to breathe well once more.
This sort of caregiver role is a lifelong position. You must make sure that you are able to handle it. Take care of you too. How do you handle extreme stress?