In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays when you have a mentally ill relative


Now I know many of you are thinking that yep you've got one of those too. But I'm not talking about annoying, irritating or even emotionally unhealthy relatives; I'm talking about mentally ill (as in major breaks with reality that can be found in schizophrenia).

One of my sisters is a paranoid schizophrenic. Like most things in life with a schizophrenic, holidays can be both good and terrible. As I'm cooking, wrapping presents and making Christmas preparations, I find myself thinking about her.

First off you never know if she'll actually show up. I've learned to deal with that by always having a place set for her at the table and some sort of simple gift for her ready and waiting. The only bad thing about that is that if she doesn't show up I can see my mom, when she doesn't know anyone is watching, looking sadly at that extra place setting at the table. I know she's wondering if somehow she did some really wrong, bad thing to make my sister so crazy. It doesn't matter how many times I try to explain the whole thing about how mentally ill people have a different brain chemistry than the rest of us and how it is a physiologically based illness; in some corner of her mother's heart she will always wonder.

Then if my sister does show, you hope that at some point she will leave and not linger at your home for days on end. Oh I know this sounds terrible, but only if you've ever tried to live with someone who perseverates on negative topics, mumbles to themselves, periodically sneaks sideways glances at you to ensure you're not doing anything that could harm her in some way, washes things repeatedly and leaves wet things about the house, repeatedly starts water boiling on the stove for some end that she never seems to get to, stays up almost all night wandering about the house, drinks and drinks and drinks coffee, says things that are totally untrue and not at all in reality and to which you are never sure how to respond, sometimes becomes agitated and will hit herself - only when you've lived with all of this plus more - only then can you understand how difficult and draining it can be.

But on the actual holiday, it can be good. I've found that if I work really hard to keep things in the present, right now, we can have fun together. My sister can be her real self for awhile and relax. We can enjoy the festive atmosphere, food, walking together after the meal. Like many mentally ill people, she can "hold it together" for awhile.

I guess I write about this because it helps me process and prepare. I also do it because I think that most people have no clue about mental illness and the challenges it brings and I hope to bring a peek inside this experience.

2 comments:

RCUBEs said...

I know a little bit sister Tracy because I deal with them at work. It is difficult at times. I think it is helpful that you are sharing some info about this for there are so many who are not familiar with these illnesses. It is sad when medications do not seem to help sometimes.

I pray that you will have a meaningful celebration with your sister and the rest of your family. God bless you and keep you always.

Michelle said...

Just wanted to drop a note to say I'll be thinking of you and praying for peace in your home and with your family.

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