Fighting the Stigma.
Adele was called into the Principal’s office to discuss her twelfth grade son. She was not surprised. He had been in two fights and had been acting strange. She supposed he would be expelled if his behavior did not improve. Deep down Adele feared there was another problem, but she chose not to acknowledge it. After all, he was just a teenager, sometimes teenagers had problems.
The meeting went badly. They discussed the fighting. Adele defended her son. Why blame him for everything, did he start it? The Principal appeared to be trying to get something else across, she did not want to hear it. She was not ready for the truth. She went home with a warning he would be expelled if his behavior did not improve. Why couldn’t he tell her outright he might be mentally ill? Afraid of a lawsuit ,or at a loss for words? After he was expelled, a doctor diagnosed him with Paranoid Schizophrenia.
Why won’t anyone talk about this openly? There is no shame in having other diseases, why this one? It is like a secret sin in the family, a huge failure. Everyone wants to appear altogether, smart, and God forbid that something like that could be wrong with my family. Sick with an illness that has no known cure, they are intelligent, clever, sometimes gifted. Their IQ’s score the same as the general population, however, this disease can prevent functioning on a normal level. They enjoy sunshine, the smell and beauty of nature, food, no less than any other person, but they become numbed, unable to express joy or sadness. On rare occasions a very ill person, off their medication or undiagnosed, can lose all contact with reality and become dangerous to others and themselves. The notoriety of their actions frightens the public, increasing the stigma.
Living with a Schizophrenic is difficult. They can be uncooperative, paranoid, extremely manipulative, unwashed, self-centered, and emotionally detached. Inside they are very afraid. Perhaps the healthy part of their brain is still there, locked inside, surfacing briefly at times, and disappearing. I believe some part of them is watching, waiting for a release from their wretched existence of self-loathing, loneliness, despairing, hearing voices, hallucinations, not knowing at times if the person talking to them is real or imagined. As with any chronic illness, it wears the family down with worry and helplessness. As a caregiver, be kind. Never be physically or verbally abusive. Set boundaries. Above all, look after your own well-being first. Do not be ashamed to talk about it. They desperately need your love and support.
Barbara Smith is a member of the Thursday Writing group that are regular contributors to Island Woman magazine. http://islandwoman.ca/author/thursdaywriters
This is an account of her experiences.
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