Tag Archives: coping techniques

B. Morrison reviews David’s Story by Jill Sadowsky

B.Morrison Barbara Morrison reviews David’s Story by Jill Sadowsky. (Jan. 14, 2013.)

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 disfunction. 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 other. 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 came 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 afterschool special. We are not spared her frustration at his limitations and failed attempts at independence or her weariness at having to go through it all again when he relapses or stops taking his medication. 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 as suffering from schizophrenia. 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 son.

Through all the fear, anger and frustration, what is most apparent is the love, not just for this diffiult and damaged boy, but between all the 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. She continues to speak to parents and health professionals about her family’s experience 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 this book to review, knowing from this website that I share her goal of confronting social stigma. I approached the book with caution. I knew there would be tears, and there were, but I 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.   https://jillsmentalhealthresources.wordpress.com/

Coping with mental illness in a family

I can no longer remember how many psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers my family met during our son’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia and the only place we received really practical advice was at the two support groups we attended. One was run by a social worker, and the second was known as a self-help group run by two parents…myself and a friend.

About 22 parents attended meetings every two weeks and not one of them wanted a professional to run the group. We invited a psychiatrist and a social worker on the odd occasion but the  most helpful talk was by someone who suggested using humor to defuse difficult situations at home. The only time I remember laughing out loud during those difficult years was during the hour he spent with us. At the support groups we learned:-

  • To take one day at a time.
  • To alter our expectations to fit the new situation.
  • We learned that it’s not what happens in life that counts but how one handles it.
  • We learned that a delusion will not go away so forget the persuasion and arguments.
  • We learned to separate our child from his/her illness which I found very difficult to do.
  • The group made me aware of how damaging my anger was and helped me learn to handle  it.
  • I actually learned to accept the things I could not change, the strength to change what I could, and the wisdom to know the difference. I learned that mainly from my late husband.
  • We learned to search for the positive aspects of our lives and I found that I had quite a lot to be thankful for. I had a loving, supportive husband, healthy daughters and grandchildren, jobs that we enjoyed doing, and a home of our own.

What I wanted from the professionals, was some honesty. When they realized that there was little they could do for our son, I needed to know this and to know how to proceed from there. What was good for him and what would bother him most. I know that not all parents want to know the true situation but when parents do need to know, it can only be of help to them.