I’m an only child and was the only niece and grandchild on both sides of my family until I was 10 years old. My parents divorced when I was 4, and despite this situation, I’ve always kept close relationships with both of my parents. My family has always been a constant source of support in my life, but my diagnosis of schizophrenia did change my relationship with my family.
Being an only child, I struggled in my youth to make friends and was often bullied for being overweight. My parents and family did everything they could to help me feel loved and supported. I was encouraged to use my love of art and music to help me build my self-esteem. I was always included, and my aunts and uncles trusted me to babysit my younger cousins as I grew into a teen.
After high school, I moved out of my mother’s home to the city of Chicago to make it on my own. I made my way by working as a telemarketer and as an assistant hair stylist in various hair salons. I did this for many years, but my symptoms began to manifest, making it difficult to do my jobs. I began to have paranoid thoughts, and I started to hear a voice and did not know where it was coming from. I began to have delusions of reference and believed that newscasters and radio announcers were speaking directly to me.
After 9/11 and the death of my grandfather, I had my first-episode psychosis. I believed that I was under surveillance and being watched by the local police and the government. My fear became so overwhelming that unfortunately, it cost me my independence and my job, forcing me to make the decision to move back home with my parents.
My family knew that I was not doing well, but they did not realize how bad my condition had become until I returned home. They were very worried about me and urged me to see a therapist, but due to my symptoms, I believed that nothing was wrong. I thought that my family was against me, and this put a strain on my relationship with them.
After I expressed that I wanted to take my life, my mother made the very hard decision to have me involuntarily committed to the local state hospital in our community. I was so angry and hurt that she did this to me. I thought that she was discarding me and that I would not have a home to return to. It wasn’t until my mom came daily to visit me during visiting hours that I realized she was fighting for my mental well-being, and that my family was not afraid of me – but for me.
Upon my discharge from the hospital, my family rallied around me. Their support was instrumental in my recovery process. I felt like I had my own cheerleading squad. My family took the time to learn about schizophrenia so they could be better able to support me. They encouraged me to finally participate in therapy and to engage in positive coping skills. They also supported me in my decision to go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree. On the day I graduated from college, I reflected back on my mental health recovery and felt a sense of accomplishment that I would not have been able to achieve without my family’s support.
It’s not lost on me that the changes in my relationship with my family are not always the norm for some of my peers. The signs and symptoms of living with schizophrenia make it hard to cultivate a satisfying relationship with one’s family. Often, families struggle to understand what their loved one is experiencing and how to advocate for them. So, here are some tips that can help family members to help their loved ones who are in crisis.
Remain patient and don’t take things that your loved one may say while delusional or hallucinating personally. Speak slowly and confidently in a caring tone. Don’t restrict their space, and stay calm while remaining aware of what may heighten their fear or make them act aggressively. Focus on your loved one’s feelings instead of trying to convince them what they are experiencing isn’t real. Most importantly: Remember that recovery is possible for your loved one.
Looking back on my recovery process, I realized that throughout my life, my family had always been there for me, and they didn’t give up on me when times became hard. At first, my diagnosis placed a wedge between my family and me, but ultimately, it was my diagnosis of schizophrenia that brought me even closer to my family.
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