Schizophrenia In-House

9 Tips On How Not To Weird Out Kids

Mental health problems

Mental health problems

Crucible: “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” —Oxford Living Dictionaries

My wife’s mental illness came on, like a crucible, while I was writing Safe Trip to Eden: 10 Steps to Save the Earth from the Global Warming Meltdown.

Needless to say my personal meltdown coincided. I made every mistake imaginable. But I would like to think there’s a bit of profit to be eked out from one’s missteps. Here are 9 lessons learnt hard:

• Mental illness changes a spouse-caregiver drastically. Who one is at the start is not who one is at the end. Some come out okay, with extra special powers and knowledge. Even while hanging on for dear life, growing into a more equipped and powerful person should be the vision.

Read: Depression & Bipolar Disorder

It shapes families. The illness began when the twins were three and their brother nine. Each learned compassion and communication. It is part and parcel of our DNA. Whether from conception or interacting with the illness, the kids’ intuitive empathy for others is unmistakable.

• Teflon parasite. Her illness took her over and spoke for her. It didn’t want to get better. It would gaslight me when I pointed out the obvious to prove it had complete control of my wife. If I said, which I did many times, “Please get help,” it would reply, “You get help.”

If I said, “You need to see a doctor,” it said, “You need to see one.” If I said, “You’re not well,” it retorted, “You’re not.” It was the adult version of “I’m rubber and you’re glue.” It’s the big lie and don’t be surprised if the mentally ill try to make you think you’re the sick one. You’re not.

Addiction or mental illness? My wife was addicted to alcohol and tobacco—that was on a surface—but for an eternity it did not hit us that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were staring at our face, both distinctly different from an addiction.

• Learn. A thousand experts later, I didn’t know if the loads of my knowledge helped her, but it helped me to explain things to myself and our kids, parents and the world.

Don’t pretend things are someplace near normal during the worst times. This ride will be filled up with weirdest things. My wife blasted noise she called music at air raid level decibels at all times of the day and night while drinking herself into oblivion; she was arrested for indecent exposure for wearing knee high boots and panties and banging on a drum at an apartment complex’s community pool; and sped down highways incoherent with tequila and Wellbutrin. This was mind bending.

Read: Catherine Zeta-Jones Sets an Important Health Example

I had no great answers for why mom was drinking 30 beers a day, smoking four packs of cigarettes and laughing like a witch 48 hours straight, but the combination of four bodies under the blanket on the couch, watching Courage the Cowardly Dog and then wrapping the twins like burritos in their blankets for bed on a cold California night provided reassurance that everything was okay—and that was happening was out there.

As for me, when I woke in the morning and there were no reports of accidents involving a gray 2001 Suburban, I fell to my knees and breathed a sigh of relief.

• You won’t get much help. She was acting the way I just described. I couldn’t do anything. She was my wife. This was her home too. She wasn’t physically threatening anyone. She had rights, and I couldn’t just force her out of the house. I wouldn’t. So it was this weird insanity zone we had to keep normal.

We were relieved when she wandered away, finally, but then she would return at random moments, sometimes angry, sometimes confused and, still, there was nothing society would or could do, nor could I but live with it. I wish I’d gotten help.

Friends tried. They listened for hours to her or she knocked or banged on doors. The sheriff began taking her in and letting her go and then, as the arrests built up, she began fleeing jurisdictions in a wider sweep until we would be getting calls from towns in Texas and across the map. Everyone let her go, or she escaped.

• Don’t weird out. The kids did all sorts of classes in the community including theater, music (trumpet and guitar) and martial arts. We went fishing for barracuda, surfed, day tripped to Santa Barbara and hiked in the redwoods at Big Sur. Our black 4-Runner ran up and down Pacific Coast Highway chasing the sun.

I mean, I didn’t weird them out by trying to make them grow in unnatural ways. They were learning to like things without the one whom we loved and we knew could never return.

Accept help from your own kids. Maybe you’re not the best sandwich maker but they’ll let you know quickly if you need to leave the crust on or off.

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