Why did this happen? Who’s fault? What did we do? What did he do? What did life do? Is there a reason? Is there a cure? Why didn’t we see it? Am I a bad parent? Will my other children or grandchildren have this? Why?
These questions can run through my mind at any time, but they were especially loud right after I learned of his illness and right after he returned home. “Why” is a whipping boy. If I can figure out why, then maybe I can somehow turn back time and undo the why – fix this. I’m the mom, that’s what I do, I fix things.
When it’s 10:30 at night and you get the call that your son is hospitalized half a country away and you can’t hop on a plane to go out and make everything right, I think it’s natural to want to know the why. But I quickly found out that “why” is not really important. There is no whipping boy to take the blows for this.
What IS important is to be there to answer the phone when it rings. To listen to the rambling voice on the other end that does not sound like the son that you knew. To wring out that promise that he will talk to you tomorrow, even though he is certain that he doesn’t deserve to live.
When I first thought about what to write today, I was going to title this blog “How did it all start?” I was going to go on with our story from here. But as I’ve been thinking and writing, I’ve realized that we all have our own story. We all know our own story. And we all, too often, get totally caught up in our story.
So, I will digress from our story to ask another question – What next? I have learned that this question is vital for many people along the path of mental illness.
It is absolutely vital for the person with the mental illness. What next? Will you talk to me tomorrow? Will you wait to make a decision about your life until the next step? What is the next step of treatment? What is the next phone call we need to make? Who is the next contact? What’s next?
What next is constantly on the minds of the professionals involved in our loved one’s care. What IS the next step? What will insurance cover? What is next in the patient’s journey? What will he or she agree to? Be up to? What will the family support?
Our loved one’s family and friends will be asking what next. They will want to know if or when recovery will happen. Some won’t be able to handle it, some will be magnificent. Some will not understand at all, and some will research the topic and think they know everything. Funny though, as my son said the other day, people bring flowers and casseroles and such for other major illnesses, but no one shows up at the house with a lasagna when someone is hospitalized with severe depression or because of a suicide attempt. They don’t know what comes next then.
And, now listen because this is important, if I am going to be able to handle all the above, what next is a huge, HUGE question to ask myself each and every day! I have figured out how to ask the questions of the therapists, the doctors, the hospitals and the day programs. What I have a hard time with is asking what next of those who can offer ME support (see above paragraph).
What comes next is that I now need to learn to claim what I need and not feel ashamed. The hardest time to do this is not when the crisis is happening. I’m pretty good at calling someone and saying, “This is an emergency and I need you NOW!” The hard part is feeling like I can call at 10:00 at night, or 9:30 in the morning, or whenever. To say, “I am feeling overwhelmed and I need to talk.” Or to say, “Please just get me away for a while and let me be someone else.” Or “Please can I have my house to myself for a while, can you take him to do something?” Or even, “My kitchen is a mess, I haven’t had time to shop, I’m out or money, can you bring a lasagna?” Many, many days this is what’s next. The “I can’t take one more step to do anything else if someone doesn’t help me” feelings that overwhelm.
I learned something a couple of weeks ago. The people we need can turn up in the strangest places. And they often are not the people we think they are going to be. I should know this by now, I’ve met a lot of people through the years and many of them have surprised me. A couple of weeks ago, someone I’ve known for a while turned out to be who I need now. They are one of my “what next” people. They are my listening post right now. They ask every day how things are going, and they really listen to the answer. They don’t judge or try to give me an answer or a fix to my problems. And Friday I got to bring home the makings for chicken tacos!
This usually happens for me, but only if I make sure that I am out there. It doesn’t happen if I am holing up at home, keeping everything inside. I know this about myself. I can be a mole person. I’m good at it. After all, one of the most dangerous things that can happen when you are caring for someone else is that you can suffer from depression yourself. I tend towards that anyway, have for years. So, I must be nudged out there, into the open. I’m no good for anyone else if I’m not healthy myself.
If you are having a hard time finding someone to be there for YOU, if you need someone to talk to please don’t wait. Don’t try to do everything alone. Family and friends are wonderful, and they are often great support, but sometimes you need someone who has been there. Or sometimes you just don’t have that support. Reach out. There is support available. Find someone to bring a lasagna!
Contact NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org to find support in your area.