[title text=”Melanie E. Jimenez, Understanding Schizophrenia“]
When I was little my family and I would go camping and each night we’d gather together around the warmth of the campfire and we’d tell stories and make s’mores. We’d stare across the flames and embers rising into the darkness and talk about life. In the warmth and glow of the fire’s flames we would be comforted by each other’s presence and in those moments we were one family, understanding each other and loving each other. Like it always does, the fire would die down and we would go to bed wondering what the new day would bring us.
In the hours and days afterwards, I began to realize that I was dealing with something much bigger than anything I had ever known and with my son and my family, we headed into the unknown in front of us completely unprepared for what we now knew was acute paranoid schizophrenia. Under the suffocating blanket of the psychosis tangled in my son’s brain and all of my questions about what this meant for his future and for mine, I began to reach out to people in the same situation as mine and I began a blog and caregivers support group about loving someone living with schizophrenia. It was there that I found myself, once again, around a crackling campfire. This time though, it was metaphorical but just as real as the warm fires in the dark woods of my childhood.
Now, here I am, an often stumbling, yet finally on my feet caregiver for my son and as such, I find myself gathered around the proverbial campfire this time though with others who have loved ones with schizophrenia.
Talking openly myself, I seem to have given permission, in a way, for others to begin telling their stories too. Out of the darkness of the sometimes suffocating stigma that surrounds schizophrenia, we are all here now, each of us with our stories to tell, staring across the open flames that warm us. We gather close to each other and we stare into the darkness of this illness and the unknowns that are our future.
That we are all here together, that we can sit together in our circle around this campfire, that each of our stories are so different yet so very much the same, makes me feel like I’m not alone in the darkness. By finally beginning to bring to light the realities of schizophrenia and what it takes to care for someone living with it we have opened a dialogue heard by the world. Often there is silence, though, as the fire crackles and turns to glowing coals and it is in that silence that we speak our loudest words. The silence of a shared knowledge, a shared camaraderie, and a shared grief is our unspoken bond. We make eye contact across the fire and nod slightly and say a thousand unspoken things while tears well in our eyes.
Here is the thing though: I am not alone. WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have this fire, its warmth, and we have each other.
Our sons, our daughters, our husbands, our wives, our loved ones with schizophrenia are not alone because we are all here together with one goal and that is to better understand, to find love in the unfairness of our fate, to learn from each other, to teach the world about the realities of schizophrenia and most importantly to sometimes find laughter in between it all.
What brought us together in the first place is this illness but what keeps us together is that in the end we found friends we can depend on, even if all we do is sit in silence together around the campfire.
Melanie E. Jimenez is a writer, blogger, and contributor to websites focused on mental health and schizophrenia, including:
- Healthy Place (America’s Mental Health Channel): She contributed an article about advocating for your mentally ill loved one in “the system.”
- Children’s Mental Health Network
- NAMI website
- SZ (Schizophrenia) Magazine