Stories and experiences

My Daughter's Story

My story is a very long one, and so complicated that I will attempt here to focus on only one part. Of course, it's hard to separate one thread of the story from the thick mass of confusion and trauma of this tale, because all aspects of the story are connected.....but I will try. Although many descriptive details would add to the atmosphere of the story, I will avoid them in order to prevent identification of the persons involved.

My daughter (I'll call her 'S') became psychotic ten years ago, during the winter of 1997-98. She was then in her mid-late twenties, and had been living part time with her boyfriend in the city and the rest of the time in a small community to the north. She was trying to extricate herself from the boyfriend who was intense, controlling and excluded her from her friends. They were smoking huge amounts of pot on a daily basis, which increased during their eight or nine years together....and later that extended to cocaine. (I don't know if other drugs were involved.) I know that the boyfriend was verbally abusive to her, and I know that 'S' witnessed physical violence between him and other family members. She hasn't admitted the physical violence being directed toward her, but hinted at it in an oblique way. They would get stoned and watch horror movies; those images manifested later on as delusions when 'S' became ill.

'S' became weakened and distressed, and despite her efforts to leave the boyfriend, he made it very difficult for her. When she finally managed the breakup, she turned to another man, who was a drug pusher and parasite. I believe that her judgment was really impaired by this time, because it was so out of character for her to associate with someone like this man. I found out later that he not only was supplying her with pot, L.S.D. and ecstasy, but that the pot was most likely laced with crystal meth. (I was later informed that there was a meth lab in the basement of the house he lived in.) After she met him, she went very quickly into a downward spiral, and entered into a chaotic state.

I just want to put in a short aside here, because you may wonder how this could have happened. My daughter was living on her own or with her boyfriend during this time, and despite my many warnings and pleas about the drugs and her relationship, she either didn't want to hear my advice, or couldn't extricate herself before it was too late. I can see now how her drug use was interfering with her ability to make decisions and first, on a high, she thought she was invincible, and later, some kind of cloud came over her and she became helpless to it.

The rest of the story is about the battle to save her. I went to the place in the country where she was, kicked out the second 'boyfriend' and took her to a remote place to detox. Other than feeding her well, there wasn't much I could do to ease her withdrawal. I think it took about three weeks. The psychosis didn't go away though, and after begging and pleading the whole time with the mental health system for help (that's another story) we finally got a diagnosis from a private psychiatrist, of paranoid schizophrenia. Two and a half years after her initial break, she has had two more relapses, but has finally gained some insight about taking her meds. (We have also added in some vitamin therapy, energy work- Reiki and lots of cognitive stimulation and creative classes etc.) She is now taking a college program and hopes to find part time work at the end of it.

I have read a lot about schizophrenia and drug addiction. In fact, at the beginning, I thought that after she quit drugs, the psychosis would go away; but although I do believe that the drugs were part of, if not the cause of the breakdown, it seems that once the psychosis takes hold, there is no going back. I am familiar now with every corner of the mental health system here, and despite the good work and intentions of some of the people working in it, there are many flaws. I found the system a complex labyrinth, and often felt that trying to get help was adding more punishment onto the original trauma of the mental illness itself. Although my daughter looks like she's going to have an o.k. life, I fear for all the people who won't. I fear that the proliferation of drugs everywhere will destroy many lives.

I have a lot of empathy for anyone embarking on the journey of being an advocate for their loved one living with a mental illness, and for those living with it themselves. One of the things that would help to make it easier for those struggling with the illness is better education and de- stigmatization of it. One of the worst parts about dealing with the illness is the fear and aversion other people have toward it and the ill person. I have felt that it has extended toward me as a caregiver as well.....people like to say they admire you for what you're doing, but are loathe to actually help. In all these ten years, I can only count two people outside the mental health system who have ever really engaged directly with my daughter. I hope that this is changing, as we seem to be seeing more and more mental illness and drug addiction while services appear to be diminishing. Of course, services need to be increased, and also shaped to fit the needs of the clients, with input directly from them and their caregivers. Homelessness is a very big problem where I live also, and it is easy to see how a person with a mental illness can end up on the street, and how their problems are then amplified because of this.

The challenges of being a caregiver-advocate for a person with a mental illness are huge. One thing that helped me through it was remembering that no matter how bad I personally felt, or how hopeless this situation looked, nothing would happen unless I did steps a.b.c. And no matter how many tears were shed, the only thing that helped was getting the psychiatrist, the medication, and doing the rehabilitation. The reward in seeing your loved one regain their life again is immense, and worth the struggle.

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