Author Archives: Jill

About Jill

Author of books and articles on support and experiences of living with a mentally ill family member. My aim in blogging is to let others see how a loving family, with a father and husband who is able to give unconditional love, can help the family cope. Many call me the blogging grandma.'

BODY LANGUAGE

body languageBody language tells an alert person much more than we realize. Our bodies are actually controlled by our subconscious minds and subsequently not always in accordance with what we are saying. For example, when sitting with my son’s psychiatrist, if I sat with a straight back or with my legs a bit apart,  it reinforced the fact that I felt at ease in my surroundings.

I didn’t, because I wasn’t at ease.

I remember our frequent visits to the psychiatric hospital to visit our son and had an appointment with his doctor. On one occasion, I was so upset by what the doctor had said, that I needed to go to the toilet, but … how could I leave my husband and son and maybe miss something important that transpired? So, I must have been squirming on my chair when the doctor asked me whether I was particularly upset that day. Then I blurted out; ‘Not more than usual but I HAVE to go to the toilet,’ and I fled.

When speaking to someone, If I leaned forward slightly, it showed that I was actively listening, but, if I leaned away, that was a signal that I was disinterested in the conversation.

If I crossed my arms, it was a visual clue that I was turned off by what was going on around me. But, if I hung my arms comfortably at my sides or let my hands lie loosely in my lap, it told the other person that I was open to hearing what he/she had to say. Folding my hands loosely in my lap made me seem more credible and assured.

A handshake is one of the most important nonverbal communication cues as it can set the mood for the entire conversation. A firm handshake, not a crushing one, gives one instant credibility – while a weak handshake makes one appear fragile.

I knew that it was advisable to make direct eye contact although there was no need to stare. I read somewhere that it was a good idea to remember to blink and look away occasionally. Good eye contact shows interest in the conversation. At the hospital I was upset and not always interested but I kept the body language rules I’d read in my mind all the time. I was probably afraid that the doctor would think that I was the problem even though in my heart of hearts I knew that I was not because no one can cause schizophrenia. This is worth repeating:

NO ONE CAN CAUSE S C H I Z O P H R E N I A. 

                                    No one can cause s c h i z o p h r e n i a.

It was a good idea to show empathy with simple actions of agreement like a nod of my head or a smile. Those actions let the medical staff know that I was on my son’s side and that I was able to identify with his plight.

Taking notes on paper or on an iPad let the staff know that I valued what they were saying and that I was engaged in the conversation – even though I wasn’t always. Taking notes is not appropriate in every situation. I had to use my judgment.

If I felt that I was talking too fast, I took a deep breath – held it for a second or two then let it out. I always focused on slowing down my speech and body movements. I thought that it made me appear more confident and contemplative. It also helped calm me down when I felt nervous which I nearly always did in the company of psychiatric professionals.

I always endeavored not to glance at the wall clock the way psychologists and psychiatrists do, as this signaled that I did not really want to be present. Of course I didn’t but I had to keep those appointments in the hospital, now didn’t I? If I looked at the floor or the ground, it told people that I was either shy or disinterested.

We all have the odd itch that needs scratching but touching one’s face repeatedly shows dire nervousness. So does picking at things – whether it is at clothes, a notebook or one’s fingernails. It was far better to leave them alone as this demonstrated boredom and disapproval.

If I sat on the edge of my chair, it communicated that I was literally on edge both mentally and physically. It was far better to sit back. Leaning into a conversation made me appear engaged.

I made an effort  not to tap my fingers, my feet or even my pen as that would have indicated impatience or signs of stress.

I was told to place items that I needed to the side of me because if they were in front of my body, it might have indicated shyness or resistance and that was not the picture I wanted to paint. Of course all of this had become quite natural by this time. I’d had ample practice by then.

I knew that it was important to be situated close to the other person but not too close as that might have made  him/her feel uncomfortable.The other person would have known instinctively if I were faking a smile. A true smile comes from within. If I needed to smile, I thought of a happy memory.

To this day I am aware of body language all the time – both  mine and that of others as it  allows me to learn a whole lot about people.

Don’t upset your son, the therapists said ….

 

 flowers 3 S C H I Z O P H R E N I A. I have written so much on this subject but here is more about some of the therapists we met.

‘Don’t upset your son,’ they said. 

‘But Doctor, he has false beliefs, hears voices, his thought processes are muddled, his behavior erratic. We don’t know what happened, what went wrong, when it started to go wrong. Where does it come from? We need to know. Why did this illness erupt in our family?’

No reply. They sat and stared at us.

There were even more questions tumbling about in my head. And the stigma! It was like nothing we’d come across before.We stood by helplessly while the doctor stared at us and were forced to try one therapist after another.

We believed that our son would recover. After all, people enter hospitals ill and exit well, don’t they? That’s what hospitals are for. We tried an army of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists. We tried psychotherapy, occupational therapy, dance therapy and group therapy, yet, our son continued to be out of focus, angry and frustrated. Having no preconceptions, but with faith in modern medicine, we believed that he would get well again. It was so hard to stand by and watch him suffer so much. He had no quality of life and the voices in his head clamored relentlessly for his attention.

I am not blaming the hospital professionals for the fact that Doron did not recover. I blame them for their lack of empathy, their failure to give our son a gleam of hope. Nobody can live without hope. And, I don’t think that the old school of therapists should be allowed to practice any longer – the ones who pointed the finger of blame at me, always at the patient’s mother. ‘Did you spend time with your son when he was a toddler?’ they asked. ‘Did you listen to him? Did you take an interest in his activities and his schooling? Is your relationship with him now a good one?’ they asked. Actually, they didn’t ask the questions. They fired those questions at me.

We started family therapy at the psychiatric hospital and we asked; ‘What can we do to help our son?’

The reply; ‘Well, what do you do?’

‘What do you think we should do?’ my husband ventured again.

No reply this time.

‘What should we do when our son becomes abusive?’ I asked.

‘How about yelling us what you do in those situations.’

Then I asked: ‘What should we do when our daughters bring friends home and their brother shouts, throws objects about and becomes abusive?’

Reply – ‘Act normally.’

‘And what is normal? I whispered.

End of session, someone announced. I wondered whether they stared at the wall clock all the time. That session ended unsatisfactorily.

 Next session – back to ‘what is normal?’

I replied. You suggested that we act normally. Well, to do that, we would have to stop breathing, avoid scratching, walking, talking out loud or moving. We’d have to allow our son to sleep on unlaundered sheets in a dirty room and never utter a word when he spilled food onto the table and down his shirtfront – or when he flung a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice I’d prepared for him onto the floor in case I was going to poison him.

We were so busy with Doron and his schizophrenia that our daughters did without, without sufficient time and energy from us, without vacations and parties at home, without frills and extras as all the available cash we had was poured into another treatment, another therapist’s pocket. My husband and I did without. We minded less.

 

Sometimes what we care about most, gets all used up and goes away, never to return …

 

respect people 2

SERENADE2SENIORS

She grew up with practical parents. Her mother washed aluminum foil after use. She was the original recycle queen before there was a name for it. And her father was happier getting old shoes repaired than buying new ones. Their marriage was a good one, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a street away.

Their daughter and I were good friends and I can see them now … her Dad wearing jeans, a tee shirt and a floppy hat. Her mom usually wearing a house dress, dish-towel in one hand and a duster in the other. They loved repairing things. He fiddled with the kitchen radio, the screen door and even curtain rods.

This was their way of life and I found all that fixing, renewing and saving, strange. My parents were so different. My friend once told me that she wanted to be wasteful once, only one time, but to her parents, wasteful meant affluence, and that throwing things out meant that there’d always be more.

Then, my friend’s mother died and on that clear summer night, in the sterile hospital room, both my friend and I realized that sometimes, there simply isn’t ‘any more.’

Sometimes, what we care about most, gets all used up and goes away, never to return.

SO, while we have them, it’s best that we love and care for them, repair what’s broken, and – heal when when someone is ill.

This is true of marriage and of old cars, of children who bring home bad report cards, of dogs with bad hips as well as of aging parents and grandparents. We cherish them all because they are worth it.

Some things are best kept, like … a best  friend who moved away or a classmate we grew up with.

There are things and people who make life worthwhile, like people we know who are special, and so, we keep them close.

Our culture of intolerance

no more stigma 9   Isn’t it strange that although mental illness is so prevalent, it has such a stigma? Mental health statistics and facts reveal that over 46 million Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness, yet our culture has developed a pervasive habit of intolerance toward these fellow citizens.

Wouldn’t our lives be different if we stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people we encounter? Maybe, from today on, we should look for the good in everyone we meet and show them respect.

Please join me in trying to stop the stigma, the hate and the culture of intolerance.

you can't catch metal illess by being kind to someone 

 

 

 

They slipped flyers of tombstones into our mailbox … ?

pile of flyers     pile of flyers    pile of flyers    pile of flyersNot long after our son died, our mailbox filled with flyers advertising tombstones. We were expected to shop around. Would you like a rough or a smooth stone? Must it be thick or thin – marble maybe? We were also bombarded with telephone calls asking how much we wanted to spend on our beloved son’s tombstone. One tombstone representative was so argumentative, that I doubt whether he would ever eat food that agreed with him. Another man asked whether we wanted space on the side of the grave for plants or for a memorial candle. Not one of them expressed any kind of empathy or understanding about what we were going through.

Much later, we chose plain, rough marble, as plain as our son’s lifestyle had been.

funeral wreath

 

When talking to someone with dementia, don’t argue – agree.

When talking to a person with any kind of dementia:

Agree with the patient rather than argue. Distract rather than try to reason. No one is perfect so try not to shame that person.  Reassure rather than lecture . Avoid saying; ‘Do you remember?’ Reminisce rather.

My late husband remained my best friend even after he became ill. He was a man full of love and quiet wisdom who accompanied and supported me throughout the ups and downs of our lives. t was my turn to take care of him.