Caring for Families Who Have an Invisible Illness
Welcome to the Journal. Our intention is to write short, yet informative, pieces about serious mental illness that will educate and inspire compassion. We know that there are numerous websites you can visit for general information about illnesses like Schizophrenia, for example. Instead of a generic list of symptoms, we're going to share about the real life situations behind the labels and diagnosis. Names and circumstances may be slightly altered, but we believe there are some exceptional individuals you should meet. People who live right in your own backyard (so to speak). So sit back, grab a cup of coffee and spend a few brief moments with our Journal.
Today we are going to hear from Bob Campbell, one of our Board members:
Four People in a Foyer before Church
First person: My daughter broke her leg playing soccer on Tuesday.
Responses: Wow, is she in pain? How does she get around? Will she miss school?
Second person: My husband learned that he has bone cancer.
Responses: Oh, I am so sorry. How can we help? Does he need help getting to treatments? We'll set up a meal schedule for you. That's one thing you won't have to worry about.
Third person: My wife has been told she can no longer drive, her eyes are so bad.
Responses: You are still working, aren't you. I am home most of the time. If she needs to go anywhere, please have her call me. I'd be happy to drive here anywhere she needs to be. I'll call her and take her for coffee, just to get out.
Fourth person: My wife has been diagnosed with a severe psychosis. Sometimes I don't know how to help her.
People can understand and interact about injuries and diseases that they can see or have experienced. But they often fail to understand that a diseased brain is also a broken part of a body. As a clumsy example, think about a car. It is easy to understand that it cannot operate properly if a tire is flat, the alternator or starter doesn't work, or the engine--the nerve center--is broken. But the human equivalents are not so easily understood. We understand the flat tire (broken leg), or the alternator (immune system), or the starter (heart), but the engine control center (the brain) is discussed, or not, as though it is otherworldly--not part of the human make up.
Of the four people in the discussion that opened this post, the person needing the most support and understanding is the fourth person. The girl with the broken leg, the husband with cancer, and the woman with failing eyesight, as upsetting as these things are, and they are not to be slighted, all have the ability to understand and participate in their treatment or recovery process. They are able to assist or interact with the caregiver in some way. The woman with the psychosis has lost the ability to understand or properly assess her sickness. Her control center has a short circuit. While this is terrible for her, it may be even worse for those who love her. She is not able to understand the kind of help she needs, and is often inclined to combat it. Logic is not part of the solution. Behavior can be strange and unexpected, but without a logical resolution. The major caregiver is not inclined to vocalize his/her need for support and assistance because to do so requires sharing things about the loved one that don't put her in the best light. It can be a very lonely care, one that absolutely requires total selflessness. Adult-level conversations are not the norm. Love for each other either grows or disintegrates, depending on the caregiver's depth of commitment to his spouse and God.
P82 Project Restoration exists to love and support families caring for mentally ill loved ones. Our goal is to raise awareness that mental illness is not a stigma, it is a broken control center. We want to create a community of acceptance, understanding and support for the mentally ill and their families.
Author: Bob Campbell
Bob's background includes 48 years in corporate IT and the last ten with a non-profit organization in the Phoenix area. He is active in church service, including 25 years as choir director. Bob has been the sole caregiver for his wife with a brain illness for the past 8 years. Currently he volunteers as a database consultant for a mission agency as well as an adviser to P82 Project Restoration, Inc. He is championing our Committee on Crisis Care Team Training for Faith Groups coming this Fall 2017.