Monthly Archives: February 2013

Please meet my guest blogger, Sheila Feeman

My guest blogger today is Sheila Feeman.  NOTE: This article has been posted with permission and copyrighted by Sheila Feeman of Beginning Anew Life Coaching.  It may not be published or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of author Sheila Feeman.

Throughout the enormous weight of my sadness, guilt, and personal loss, I struggled to find moments of peace.  Those moments came, interestingly enough, when I could conjure up my Mom’s voice or when I could imagine her big, toothy smile.  There were some truly wonderful years.  The year she spent planning my wedding was so busy, chaotic, and joyful that the project itself seemed to be a better diversion than any medication.  The year following my son’s birth seemed to give Mom a passionate purpose and a fresh role in life:  loving grandmother.  There were dozens of beautiful moments of shared family time:  Jason’s bris, Passover dinners, Sunday deli lunches, vacations in the Florida villa, birthday celebrations, my first Mother’s Day, the surprise party Mom planned for my fifth wedding anniversary, the bash my parents made for themselves to commemorate their own 35 years of marriage.

I often heard questions like:  “she’s got so much to live for–why can’t she just enjoy her life?” Those queries, born of ignorance, don’t address the disease of mental illness.  If the solution were that simple, suicides would be far less rampant.  It’s like asking a woman who’s had a double mastectomy to wear a bikini.  Such a thoughtless question doesn’t begin to take into consideration the trauma of the disease of cancer, just like the question about life’s enjoyment doesn’t account for bi-polar disease.

The difference between mental illness and other illnesses is two-fold.  First, a lot of mental illness can’t be ‘seen.’  In my mom’s case, she appeared “normal”–elegantly dressed, coiffed, functioning.  The problem was the workings of brain…not her body.  Second, there has always been stigma around any kind of depression, anxiety, or mental/emotional issues.  The stigma, again based on pure ignorance, is enough to depress the patient even further.

In my continued quest for inner peace, sitting quietly with her picture in hand is usually helpful.  Seeing her beautiful smile, her perfectly designed outfit, her professionally styled hair brings a serenity that continues to increase with time.  I’m also comforted by the knowledge that somewhere out there she knows and she’s proud…that her grandson is a Rabbi and her granddaughter is an LICSW.  I am left to enjoy her legacy and continue to give thanks for the beautiful family she mentored during her brief time on earth.

 

Taking a five-year-old car for its yearly test

subaru

SERENADE 2 SENIORS   ………    and THE YOUTH OF TODAY.

And a very good morning to you all, especially to the car owners out there as I am sure that you will understand where this is coming from and why I am taking a break from my regular blog material.

THIS WAS MY BREAKING NEWS !

A few days ago, at 7:15 a. m., I took my five-year-old, pale blue Subaru Impreza for its yearly test. I was rather apprehensive as my daughters and sons-in-laws felt that I should replace this vehicle and purchase an up to date model which they said would be more reliable for an ‘older driver.’  Well, imagine my relief when my ancient vehicle passed the test without the tiniest hiccup.

Both grandma and grand-car are well and in good shape, thank you. I was thrilled probably because I do not see the need to replace my old faithful, but also because I wanted to show the children that for a change, I’d made the right decision. I decided to spoil my car and took it for a well-needed carwash where I splurged and let them give the old girl a good scrub down, both inside and out. That car needed it. When I emerged from the carwash, It looked so squeaky clean and shiny that a friend even asked when I’d bought a new car.

I have to admit that once, for a period of a few weeks, the car had let me down, but most of the time, has been my reliable and faithful friend.  What she needs is a great deal of TLC and she gets it from me.

As soon as we got home and I’d parked in the carport, I called my sons-in-law and told them what a great performance ‘old faithfulhad put on at the Testing Garage. They laughed, especially when I told them that for another 365 days, I won’t have to worry about buying a new car.

To all the drivers out there … have a great day and drive carefully.

How does one cope with the death of a child?

I have received quite a few emails from parents who have just lost their children and every single one of them agonizes about  how they will cope with their loss. I replied to them all, but unfortunately, I do not have a push button answer. It pains me to think of a parent in this unenviable position and all I could do was tell them how we’d handled our loss.

Most bereaved parents experience guilt for having outlived their child as it is not in the natural order of things. One mother told me that when she heard the news, she was so stunned that she thought her heart would stop beating. She couldn’t breathe. She wrote about the hurt of losing her child which knows no age barrier and the number of years lived didn’t make her child’s death any easier. She wrote about her devastation. “I found that there was no one for me to talk to. My friends didn’t know what to say and my family didn’t want to upset me. I was expected to deal with an unimaginable catastrophe.  How does one deal with all that pain? I could not make sense of it. As a counselor, I had studied the grieving process and helped others through it but what I did not know then, was that one day I would have to deal with the same kind of loss. A lot of time has passed and I know know that eventually, the grieving process will lead to healing, but I have to reach that stage.  The process requires self-examination.  Today, the sky seems more precious than ever, bluer somehow. I hear birdsong more and appreciate nature in a different way. Maybe I am getting there, but I know that many ups and downs await me.”

But the above process takes a long time. In our family, when we were reeling from our son’s death, we had to pick up the pieces and begin to put our own lives together again. We kept asking one another, but how? We spoke a lot in the family circle. We assured each other that we would always be there for one another. And most important of all, we realized that we had only two choices open to us … to sink into a depression and give up on life, which was not a scenario we wanted to face, or, to slowly start the coping process. We had to try and start living without the shadow of schizophrenia hanging over us. But, we would always miss, think about and talk about our son.

I think that this was one of the hardest things we’d ever had to do. I felt as if I had one label on my back saying; She’s the one. She’s David’s mother, the lady whose son took his life and the previou label was, she’s the one whose son was in a psychiatric hospital.

I have written about the stigma accorded mental illness, then had to add that there is even more stigma accorded suicide…also, a total lack of understanding. We heard things like: it’s a cowardly thing to do, he wanted to die, time will heal, you have other children. Even though we were in mourning, we had to be the patient ones and explain a whole lot about mental illness and how difficult David’s life had been.

As a family we had promised one another that we would do all we could to get our lives back on track, more or less. And so, another coping process began, and always, I bore in mind  that … it’s not what happens to you in life that counts, but how you deal with it.

The invisible line between the rest of the world and me

the world

My son’s suicide drew an invisible line between the world and me. I lived grief day by day, endless days, wondering how I would survive the following one, burdened by anguish. There were moments of tears, of agony, even moments of laughter which a psychiatrist said was bordering on hysteria –  my way of grieving. Yet, I seldom broke down in public. I don’t know why. Maybe somewhere deep inside, I remembered what I’d always heard as a child, and that was; Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.

Many people avoided me, made a detour when they saw me. Some made me feel as if I should sweep up my heart and pack my love for my son away because I would  no longer need it. I was told that he would live on in my memory but live is exactly what he would not do.

I was told “He’s at rest in God’s hands,” – yet in God’s hands I’d watched him suffer. Will God be gentler now? I’d sought God when in desperate need, only to find his door slammed in my face. I had bargained with Him on and off for so long, believing that if I obeyed all the rules, He would protect me and my family, but things don’t work that way.

‘You should have taken your son to a herbalist,’ someone told me. ‘You should have watched over him 24 hours a day,’ was another piece of advice. ‘Why didn’t you change his medication?’ asked a third.

And that was when I made my escape to our garden where it was far more peaceful. I had no answers to the above questions. My husband and I had tried every single thing we could possibly think of. Being medication resistant is a terrible situation to be in and that was what happened to our son.

Barbara Morrison reviews DAVID’S STORY by Jill Sadowsky. January 14, 2013

Barbara Morrison review of David’s Story by Jill Sadowsky on January 14, 2013

Barbara Morrison’s website is:  http://www.bmorrison.com/blog/

Sadowsky has written a wrenching memoir of her son’s mental illness, which was eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. The film A Beautiful Mind, based on a true story, characterises the most common course of the disease: onset in young adulthood, auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and social dysfunction. It is not multiple personality disorder, now commonly known as dissociative identity disorder, but rather a disruption of cognitive processes. It is far more common than I thought. Sadowsky quotes a doctor saying “One in every hundred people in the world suffers from this illness at some time or another.” More than a quarter of all hospital beds in the world are filled with patients who suffer from schizophrenia.

As a parent, my heart ached seeing the disease gradually take hold in their beautiful son in spite of the family’s best efforts. Initially they were stymied by a lack of information, as Sadowsky and her husband battered themselves against the medical profession trying to get a diagnosis.

Still, the book is not as dark as I expected. There are many  moments of joy and humor and family togetherness. There’s a lot of love in this family. But Sadowsky’s fear and worry for her son come through, as well as at times fear of him, what he  might do in the grip of a delusion. I appreciate her honesty and openness. This is no saccharine after-school special. We are not spared her frustration at his limitations and failed attempts at independence, of her weariness at having to go through it all again when he relapses. Most difficult is her concern about her two daughters: not only were their parents distracted by their brother’s needs, they could not bring friends home to a house made chaotic and were themselves sometimes targets of their brother’s violence.

Most frustrating is the lack of support for the family. They were not given a diagnosis for years because the doctor was hesitant to diagnose someone so young. Instead, the parents were openly blamed for causing their son’s problems, either through neglect or malicious intent. Once he was diagnosed, the mental health professionals continued to blame the parents in the face of overwhelming proof that parents cannot cause schizophrenia. – and refused to offer any advice on how to deal with their depressed and sometimes violent son.

Through all the fear and frustration, what is most apparent is the love, not just for this difficult and damaged boy, but between all members of the family. Sadowsky reminds us of the smart and generous child, the avid surfer that David had been. Her husband does not leave a difficult situation as many do. The daughters complain, but in a supportive way.

Sadowsky did not begin to get answers or assistance until she discovered a support group. It was in Israel where she lives, and conducted in Hebrew. She went on to found one for English speakers and continues to speak to parents and health professionals about her family’s experiences and what can be done to improve support for those suffering from schizophrenia and their families. She also works to erase the stigma associated with mental illness that hampered her family every step of the way.

The author sent me a copy of the book to review, knowing from my website that I share her goal of confronting social stigmas. I approached the book with caution. I knew there would be tears, and there were, but found comfort in the love binding this family together. I read the book all in one go, unable to pull myself away. I’m grateful to Sadowsky for giving us this authentic account and encourage everyone to read it and re-examine your ideas of mental illness. Check out her website for more resources for caregivers: http://www.jillsmentalhealthresources.wordpress.com

David’s Story is on Amazon and on Smashwords.

You have to be ‘normal’ if ….

waves

In our world, in order to fit in, one has to be normal. But, normal is  not straightforward. What does it mean? According to one dictionary, nor-mal means: not abnormal, regular, natural, serving to fit a standard, approximately average in every psychological trait such as intelligence, personality or emotional adjustment, free from any mental disorder, sane.

And every single day, I look around and wonder just how many of us ‘so-called healthy people,’ fit this description. Was the hit -and-run driver normal? I mean, is it normal to drive so fast? Is it normal to drive when high on drugs or alcohol?

Not a day passes when I do not think about my son and how he suffered while the rest of us were trying to sort out our lives.

When my parents died, I lost a huge chunk of my past, but when my son died, it was my future and the dreams I’d had for him that disappeared.

Coping with death is very difficult, but coping with suicide is different, and much harder. My husband and I needed to taste life again. I realized that we had atually forgotten how to live. We made a point of doings things we’d enjoyed in the past. We walked along the beachfront to watch surfers riding the waves but that reminded us of better times when our David had been amongst them. We sat down to watch the sun set slowly, painting the sky in a way that no artist can capture on canvas. In the spring we drove to see fields of wildflowers that had recently burst into bloom. We read good books, listened to soothing music. But, no matter what we did, at some point, the tears flowed.

 

It throws the whole family off balance …

When someone in the family is seriously ill, be it a mental or a physical illness, it throws the whole family off balance and the lives of the other children change drastically. I know that as I have been through it. We found it challenging to meet the needs of our ill son as well as make sure that his siblings’ lives remained as stable and regular as possible; there were indeed times when this became an impossible task.

The other children need reassurance that they are not to blame. They might feel unwanted and maybe even forgotten, so it’s important to do one’s best to make them feel special and to put aside time for them every day. If they are young, ask for their opinion, thus making them feel part of the family.

We found that providing our other children with as much factual information as possible, was the correct way to handle the situation but where mental illness is concerned, we did not always know what was happening ourselves, making it difficult to explain as well as we would have liked to do. If a relative is suffering from a terminal illness, it is a good idea to provide the children with as much factual information as they are capable of understanding. The child must be prepared in advance.