Three Local Stories of Mental Health and Empathy
The following three stories come from real people with real experience. Though they remain anonymous, their stories are shared to remind us all that a little Empathy goes a long way!
I struggle to write our story of mental illness and health because it is not MY story. My story is shared by my wife and two daughters so therefore becomes OUR story.
Our story began little over seven years ago now when both our daughters ended up in separate hospitals four days and a country apart. One in Newfoundland and one in Alberta. Individually it’s their story to tell however as their parents we can tell our side.
To say it opened our eyes would be an understatement. Speaking only for myself with this next statement, I was very ignorant towards mental health and illness at the time. I, like many, thought you could just push through it, it’s in your head not your body after all. Of course, I was wrong. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. As parents, we feel our children’s pain. We want to protect them, keep them close, under our wing, shield them from the harsh side of the outside world that we have experienced. But sometimes in doing that we overlook our own mental health. Sometimes in an effort to stay strong for our children we don’t watch our for ourselves.
Now this turns into MY story.
I know how my wife, feels as a parent but I can’t really tell her story as an individual. We all have a story worth telling. Listen to one another. Not just this week of mental health awareness but every day, and tell your story. You’re not alone, people around you care very much.
I don’t know how much of MY story I’ve told in these few paragraphs but I’ve begun telling it and I hope you begin telling yours.
When the crisis hit we did not understand what was happening. In the months beforehand our son had been showing symptoms that we put down to standard 18 year-old rebellious behavior. As the delusions and psychosis finally began to overwhelm him, we waited 3 days to take him to the hospital, still unaware of the gravity of the situation. The months and years that followed became a rollercoaster of new hopes and broken dreams, renewed vows, relapses and crushed aspirations for our son and our whole family. 11 years later we have finally achieved a comfortable acceptance, thanks to several hospital stays and a monthly injectable medication that has brought some stability to our son’s life.
When our son became ill we entered a hidden world of families and individuals with experiences similar and in some cases much worse than our own. But when our crisis hit we had no idea about the incidence of psychosis in late teen years, about what the symptoms were, what to do in time of crisis, and above all about the benefit of hospitalization. Our focus was to get him out of the psychiatric facility as quickly as possible, when in reality hospitalization might well have improved his longer term outcome.
Now we know, and that is why we wholeheartedly support the Canadian Mental Health Association and their efforts to raise awareness about Mental Health, and reduce the stigma around Mental illness.
Our story begins in the summer after our son’s high school graduation. He had done well, been accepted into a great university and my husband and I were feeling the excitement of the “empty nest” coming on. Our youngest was heading off in the Fall, time to focus on ourselves and dive into dreams of our own. We had enjoyed watching him grow up that Spring, to develop what appeared to be a heightened intellectual awareness and an eagerness to debate the world around him. He had started smoking marijuana pretty much daily but we were not too concerned as his grades were good, he continued his love of soccer, had friends and he seemed happy. One evening not long after graduation, around a family favourite meal, he stated the food tasted “weird” and he headed to his room. I’m not sure what made this happen…. Intuition perhaps…. but my husband checked during the night to find an upside down bedroom with our son looking for his camera in the smoke detector.
And, so it began, a loss of a normal childhood turned into an overwhelming situation we knew nothing about. The hospital admitted our boy, got him medicated and released him back into our care. That was 10 years ago. I won’t go into the details of his journey since then. If you have psychosis in your life you know the cycles repeating themselves in and out of reality with the goal staying “in” as long as possible before the “out” occurs once more. As a family we considered ourselves broken for a long time. Trying to understand why and how this happened. We mourned the loss of who our son was and found blame in many things. In the depths of despair it is amazing the parts of you you are willing to surrender to make things right – your marriage, your home, your friends, your work, and on the flip side the things you would undertake if it would heal your son, for me a belief in God to save us.
But at the end of the day, I’d have to say that being you, simply you, and your own drive to support the person who is sick is critical. You have to commit to it knowing you’ll make mistakes, but also know you are giving your all. You have to educate (I found the book “I’m not sick and I don’t need help” great), hope (plastering uplifting messages around) and take care of yourself (massages were my bff) and get outside support whenever you can. You have to learn a new way of talking and being. You will have to change, and you will have to do your best and know that it will be enough. Yes, there are people who can help, but day to day it will be you, until someone else who loves the person like you do, can be there.
Over time, I have now found a new love in who our son is today. The disease has fuelled a resilience, and bravery in him that few of us will ever know, but his inherent sweet nature remains. I always joke that he is the nicest person in our family, which is big, because as folks know, we have some incredibly “nice” people in our family.
At my lowest, I posted on my bathroom mirror this excerpt from the poem “Desiderata” – “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should”. Reading this day in and day out, I eventually believed that this was what my life was meant to be. Acceptance leads to empathy. Empathy to understanding. Understanding to a sense of belief, that eventually brings peace.
“This is Empathy. Before you weigh in, tune in”