Heroes and mental illness

HEROES AND MENTAL ILLNESS 

by Marion Bono
by Marion Bono

“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not by the powers they are graced with.” -Brodie Ashton

There is something catastrophic going on in the family. Constant tension and nervousness permeate the home.  Chaos and shock rule their lives. Something has gone awry with the family, or is it coming from just one family member? The family member who normally has good insight and understanding has become irritable, critical, and even abusive. In addition, this person displays unpredictable over-reactions to ordinary events. This person who has been warm and thoughtful is now rude and hostile. They no longer have the ability to express joy, becoming withdrawn and isolated. A responsible student can no longer concentrate, cannot cope with even minor problems. Something is wrong.

Which path will the family choose? Will they hope against hope that the situation will go away? Will they make up logical excuses for illogical behavior? Will they fight and scream at the family member who is exhibiting bizarre behavior and getting in trouble with the law?  Will they allow the situation to spiral down to the depths of despair? Will they turn their back on the offending family member – let them” hit bottom?”

The heroic family will struggle to come out of denial and face the fact that something is wrong. They choose to reach out for help. They get their family member to a physician or psychiatrist. They choose a path that leads to education, comfort, support, and understanding for them and a path to recovery for their family member. . It takes more courage to reach out for mental and behavioral problems than it does for the more familiar problems all around us – problems like asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, crooked teeth, skin problems.

In the meantime, what has happened to the person who has been exhibiting symptoms of mental illness? They have “lost themselves.” Their ability to function has declined. People see them as odd or peculiar. Their thoughts and speech become disorganized. Their life plans are not working out. They see and hear things they have never experienced before. They are losing friends, can’t maintain a relationship, can’t keep a job.

What are their choices? The doctor says treatment works and gives medication that causes weight gain, drowsiness, clumsiness, decreased sexual functioning among other unpleasant symptoms. If they refuse medication, the consequences are dire and harsh. Some will choose to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs which can have devastating results. They may become violent. They might end up in jail. One of the most difficult things about some types of mental illness is the inability to recognize that they have a mental illness. Sometimes repeated hospitalizations are a blessing because the person is put on meds often enough to see a glimmer of hope – maybe they can recover.

The hero chooses to work with the doctor to find the right meds that will help restore their life. The hero decides to lead a new life- a life of recovery, a life which embraces their disability combined with their personal gifts and talents. They respond to that inner glow, that desire to have a purpose, that desire to be the wonderful person they were created to be. Some heroes even see their disability as a gift. They realize that there are so many organizations, professionals, and volunteers whose mission involves improving the lives of those with mental illness.

So maybe being a hero does embrace, not only the path they choose, but also “the powers they are graced with”- the power to know that things can be better.

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Marion Bono, a member of NAMISWLA, facilitates a support group and teaches the Family-to-Family course, from which these articles are taken.
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