“It’s so hard to accept that I am different,” says a young woman sitting in her parents’ living room. “My mother helps me deal with the fact that I have to accept my illness. She understands me and knows how hard it is.”
“My daughter is far too disruptive to live at home,” another mother told me. “She won’t share accommodation with others in the group home, maybe because she is lower functioning than they are. When my beautiful, sweet daughter landed up in a psychiatric hospital, my husband and I blamed ourselves,” she told me tearfully. “We turned into a pair of automatons but at the back of our minds, we both realized that mental illness was bigger than we were – far bigger than we could handle on our own. I’ve been through tough times thinking that I was a bad parent. I cared for my daughter and loved her and it’s hard to grasp that in spite of all that, she became so very ill. Because of the terrible stigma, I find it hard to share all this with simply anybody. But, when I met another family that is was going through something similar, those meetings saved me. I feel less isolated now. I thought that I was the only one going through this. At our support group, everybody shares their stories and ours doesn’t seem so unusual over there. People speak of feelings of helplessness, anxiety, frustration and confusion, and while listening to them all, I know it could be me talking about our daughter. Telling a friend or a neighbor that your daughter is mentally ill, is not like telling her that she has diabetes, you know. Why there should be a feeling of embarrassment, I don’t know, but there is.”
“Try and explain to me why you feel embarrassed when telling people your story,” I said.
“Because I wonder whether they will grasp it. After all, not everybody has mental illness in their families. Then I wonder whether they will accept me after hearing my story and that stops me even more from sharing it with people not in our support group. Sharing with other families in the same position is one of the best things we can do, especially when we are facing the toughest of times. When we had to tell our daughter that she could no longer live with us, it broke our hearts. But, we did so on the advice of her psychiatrist. Do you know what I think? I think we all suffer from compassion fatigue syndrome, if there is such a thing. I have seen health workers in a psychiatric hospital who are exposed to lots of trauma and I see the same signs of fatigue in them. To me they all seem to be at the point of exhaustion.”
Then she thought for a moment and added; “The stress wrecks marriages as well as health,” she told me.
“There was a woman in our support group whose husband suffered from severe depression and the stress of living with that almost wiped her out. She told the group; “My husband slipped into a depression aftr we’d been married for three years. As a result, he lost his job and most of his friends. On one occasion I went with him for a job interview and as we got there, he turned to me and said; “I’m sorry but I can’t do this. It seemed as if he’d decided to give up on life altogether.”
“How did you cope then?” I wanted to know. “I didn’t really. When he was in the depths of his depression, he paced, cried and was unable to sleep much. All ideas of going back to work were banished and he spoke of taking his life and leaving me to get on with mine.” I hugged her as I didn’t know what to say.
“It took a few years, but when my husband did manage to come out of his depression, the whole family felt better.”