When there is ill-health in a family, whether it is Alzheimer’s disease, mental illness or other handicaps, holidays take on a completely different meaning. We were never as carefree as we’d been before schizophrenia knocked on our front door.
Holidays used to mean happy, carefree times. But, any crisis seemed to occur when others were away on vacation, including most doctors and mental health providers – who actually needed a respite, but then, so did we. And so, I started dreading vacations. I watched other families packing to go away and all I could think about was my son who was no longer able to enjoy much due to his struggle with schizophrenia. In many families, mental illness left broken careers, broken relationships and broken marriages. Ours held strong although stress was always my bedfellow. I have often been asked; ‘How did you survive?’ I am not sure but I do know that my husband’s unconditional love played a big part in my coping process.
We had to develop ways to deal with holidays. We learned to respect our son’s ability to cope/or not cope; respect his routine and his need for space. We learned that it did not work to say; ‘loosen up, it’s only a short holiday. Can’t you enjoy yourself? Can’t we all enjoy ourselves?’ That was exactly what he was unable to do.
We tried to create an environment without stress when we realized that we would not be able to have a perfect break. We had to strive for ‘good enough.’ We learned not to invite too many people on the odd occasion when I had the emotional energy to entertain. We learned to listen to his needs and sought his opinion on arrangements. Dealing with all the happy people everywhere, going shopping, laughing and actually looking forward to their holiday break was so difficult for me. To this day, even though our son is no longer with us, I have a problem coping with the memories associated with vacation time and other traditional holidays.