We had a party a while ago. A party to celebrate six years of being “ECT Free”. That in itself is an awesome statement, but I realize it also means six years of no hospital visits. Chris has reached a stage in his recovery where, although still an option, we rarely think of having to use it. In looking back on how he got here, I really believe that motivation and purpose were some of the strongest factors on his journey to recovery.
ECT was not a pleasant time for him, but it was also an extremely difficult time for us. He still had an apartment downtown, but he was unable to live on his own. The early morning appointments were hard on our family. Dealing with the knowledge that in 80% of these cases, untreated depression of his type results in death. Arranging our work schedules to take the day off so that one of us could be with him. Telling or not telling co-workers the reason for our absence. Getting up earlier than normal and driving quite a distance. Waiting, worried that he was going under anesthesia again, driving home with him sleeping. Dealing with the nausea, having the strength to help him up the stairs. And, as a mom, just feeding him! At that time, he was a vegetarian who couldn’t eat dairy and was also allergic to eggs. Those were all difficult, but how do we support him when he was at his lowest, depressed, his friends (and ours) ostracizing us?
When my children were growing up I had three rules for them:
- Be Kind
- Be Responsible
- Be Self-controlled
Chris is all of those things, but following ECT, when he was at his lowest, he was none of them. There was a point in our relationship when he couldn’t look at me. We spoke through his father, even if we were in the same room. I had to always walk behind him. In processing, I think he had to put his anger somewhere, and I was his target. I also think that my not responding back in anger, helped us move forward.
Motivation and purpose. Those are hard things for anyone in life. When the mental illness you have robs you of motivation and strips you of your purpose, or what you thought were your goals in life – it’s even harder. For me, to help him with this, I had to go back to the rules I raised my children with:
- Be Kind – I had to understand his illness to empathize with him. NAMI’s Family to Family Class helped tremendously with that. I had to realize that it wasn’t him, it was his illness causing some of his behavior; but also that he was still accountable for his behavior. Staying calm, being patient, and having hope enabled me to help him. I think that my mantra “God’s got a plan” helped him form different goals and purposes. We helped him with them, but in the end they had to be his – he had to mourn the old ones and embrace new ones. We also had to learn to be kind to ourselves. To not blame ourselves for his illness. To make sure we took time for our own goals and purposes (sometimes just a nap!), something we are still in the process of learning.
- Be Responsible – As much as I wanted to be there, doling out his pills for him, keeping him home where I could see him, and listening to every conversation with his doctors and ex-fiancée, I had to refrain. For him to be responsible, I had to be responsible and let him be accountable for his own actions. His motivation and purpose can’t come from me, it has to come from him. I also have to remember that sometimes his illness robs him of the skills/feelings that he needs to be responsible and I need to step in and help. That’s a fine line, and oftentimes I failed at it. It helped tremendously when he went to a cognitive behavior therapist. He learned so much. I think our part in being responsible was giving him tools to understand his illness. We also had to refrain from “knocking him down” when he failed. The time to talk about a failure is not when you’re failing, it’s when the situation arises again, so that you remember that knowledge. Maybe, at the right moment, with a conversation like: “Last time you weren’t able to do this because of _________, what things can we do to minimize or help that in the future?”
- Be Self-Controlled – To be self-controlled is to be motivated and to have a purpose in life. To remember that it’s not all about you. Chris, before his illness, was blessed with great potential, especially in terms of our worldly society. Part of our journey has been to realize that he also has great potential with his mental illness. It helped define him and using his skills gives him purpose. Small goals at first, like taking his pills – being motivated by the fact that the illness effects more than just him and being aware that he can’t be selfish about that. Encouraging him with his goals, and helping him identify what they are. Oftentimes his goals, if we measure them in terms of that worldly society are pretty simple (e.g. it was a bad night – I need to rest, make sure I take my meds, eat healthy and get a little exercise). But we don’t, we never have. We’ve always told our children “do the best you can with the gifts God has given you.” He’s been greatly blessed, and so have we!
Here is a link to an article: http://www.namiyolo.org/tipsforfamilies.html#MOTIVATION that will hopefully give you some guidelines in helping with motivation and purpose. Additionally, I would tell you to:
- Keep a sense of humor. My husband, son and daughter are all blessed with wonderful senses of humor – I just try to keep up! It can help you through a lot of things.
- Communicate! This takes a great deal of effort. Be honest with each other, respect each other and above all be kind to each other.
- Keep a timeline or journal. A timeline is something we’ve talked about re-creating because sometimes you don’t know how far you’ve come until you look back on it. Celebrate the good days! In anyone else’s life they would seem like pretty ridiculous events, but here are some of the “milestones” I want to include:
Chris stopped sleeping on the floor of our bathroom! When he was first learning to live with voices, he spent every night on the floor of the master bedroom bathroom in our home. I think that lasted about 5-6 months. In looking back what helped was our accepting it and recognizing it was his way of coping with it. I recall that we would ask him every week or so if he wanted to sleep elsewhere and one day he said yes.
He went to sleep on his own! My husband, or sometimes I, would usually read to Chris until Chris went to sleep. We started this when the words didn’t make any sense to him. This went on for about 8-9 months. What helped was our not demeaning it or complaining about it. It stopped when Chris told us he was going to try it on his own. I think what also helped was him getting a tattoo (tattoos are not in my comfort zone!) with Psalm 91:11 on it. “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all of your ways.” It’s a Bible passage that he learned as a child which brings a great deal of comfort.
He decided to end his pill rebellions! He has written a blog about this which you can find in the archives. I can’t tell it any better than that!
He started his blog! This is something I can tell you about, because him blogging was my idea. He has filled countless notebooks with his writings and there was so much that I felt he could share. I believe I started encouraging him probably 9-12 months before he actually started it. I think we got to this point by him knowing that we loved him and only wanted what was best for him; by him knowing that he needed to identify some limits (like posting once a month). We even made a list of all the topics that he could blog about so that he wouldn’t run out of topics, and my wonderful husband used his computer skills to help Chris make it all possible.
At a recent support group meeting for NAMI, we talked quite a bit about motivation. I truly believe that guiding Chris to find motivation and purpose helped tremendously with his recovery. I am honored to call him my son as well as to have been asked to be a guest contributor to his blog.
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