“I don’t care what the &%@!* you think!! It’s all your fault!! I’m outta here!!!”
With that, Ben picked up the massive carved oak coffee table and threw it at the window. It hit the window and the wall with a thud, pushing the window frame in a contorted mangle of metal and glass out toward the garden, knocking a gash into the wall with the impact. Families that are suffering together with psychiatric disorders know this scene so well…
The table fell to the floor, unaffected by its collision, except for a few paint scrapes off the wall. The wall, however, didn’t do so well.
By then, Ben had already grabbed a china lamp and slung it toward another window. The shattering glass of the window and the shattering china in the lamp base formed a tinkling wind-chimes sort of symphony as they fell.
Ben beat his face with both fists, cursing his life.
Little 6-year-old Sara shrank back into the shadows of the hallway. She knew not to cross her big brother at times like this. He was her hero and had been her best friend ever since she was born. He was kind, patient and included her even though he was 7 years older.
It scared her when he got like this, but she also instinctively knew he just couldn’t help it. She knew he’d probably cry again after this rage subsided, because he felt so helpless to control it and so sad about hurting the family.
She slipped back into her room and quietly closed the door to play with her dolls…and try to not hear what was happening.
Then her mom’s gentle voice sounded soothing and reassuring. She was helping him calm down, like she had so many times before. After 30 minutes or so (it was hard to tell time, but especially when every second seems like an eternity…) she heard Ben trying to talk through sobs… she knew what he was probably saying, and she wanted to go hug him. But she thought it was better to let mom do that right now. He might be embarrassed to know she heard all of that.
Each One Copes in His Own Way
Sara felt confident the “storm” had passed, but then the front door slammed so hard the house seemed to crack. She quietly opened her door to look and listen. Ben and Mom were talking in low tones in the living room…but she could see her older brother’s door was open.
Then a car started and screeched away outside.
Ohhhhh. I guess Ben’s episode made Gregory mad again. (Huge sigh) I wish everyone could just be happy. We must be the only family that goes through this..
Out of nowhere Scruffy, their mixed breed little dog, scooted between Sara’s legs and into her room for safety. She picked him up, and could feel him trembling…
Hugging Scruffy close to her, Sara withdrew back into her room and ever-so-quietly closed the door.
Quiet Distractions Provide Solace
She set up a tea party in her closet where it would be extra quiet… and brought in Baby Alive and Jenna to share it with her. hmmm….we need one more, she thought. She reached under her bed and pulled out Timothy, her cream-colored teddy bear…and took him into the “tea room” in her closet floor. With the light turned on, she pulled her closet door shut.
Ben had stopped sobbing by now…and was looking at his feet. It’s never going to stop, he thought. What’s wrong with me?? I always ruin everything. I’m the black sheep of this family.
Why can’t I be like everyone else…? I’m so worthless, stupid, bad, and rotten to the core. I should never have been born… I’ll probably end up being a criminal…
“Whatcha thinking, Ben?” Ben’s mom waited patiently for Ben to gather his thoughts.
While Ben was searching for words, the front door opened.
Learning to Support Each Other In the Family
His dad was home from work. Ben tried to look pleasant.
“What’s going on…? Has something happened…?” Ben’s dad spotted the bashed windows and looked worried. Then his eyes fell on Ben’s swollen red face. Ben felt humiliated and didn’t know what to say.
“Hi Bill. How was your day?” Ben’s mom hated to bombard him with the latest family crisis when he’d just walked in from a stressful day. And she also hoped to give Ben a break from his dad’s scrutiny.
“It was fine, Lil. Is everything ok?”
The air in the room hung heavy with tension. But they were a family, and they needed to face times like these together, so Lily spoke up.
“Everything’s fine, honey. Ben had another episode today. It was terrible for him…well, for all of us. He’s feeling pretty discouraged right now. We were talking about what we could do to find a doctor that might help more than Dr. Mendolssohn has. Someone maybe who specializes in adolescent bipolar disorder?”
Ben focused on the pet hair on the rug. Bill nodded and stared at his feet, hands in his pockets. Lily stroked the sofa cushion. When a family is suffering together with psychiatric disorders…well, each one harbors his own secret pain.
A big part of that pain is helplessness.
Bill spoke first. “I noticed the car is gone…did Gregory leave?”
Ben sighed. Lily nodded.
The NON-Squeaky Wheel Needs Attention, Too
Lily sprang up from the sofa and headed for Sara’s room. Her little girl had been so quiet…and with all the turmoil, she forgot to check on her. Guilt swelled up and threatened to choke her.
Tap, tap, tap. “Sara? May I come in please?” Lily tried to sound cheerful.
Lily opened the door and didn’t see Sara.
A tiny muffled voice squeaked, “yes, Mom?”
Lily got down on her knees and looked under the bed. Nothing.
She looked on the other side of Sara’s bed. Nothing but a couple stuffed animals.
“Sara? Where are you?”
The closet door opened. Sara’s hair was disheveled and the rims of her eyes were red. She’d been crying. Lily rushed over to her and swooped her up in a hug.
“Whatcha doing in your closet..?”
“Wanna help me cook supper?”
She swung Sara onto her hip and off they went to the kitchen, chattering about the tea party.
With Psychiatric Disorders, Symptoms Can Look Like Bad Behavior
Bill was sitting with Ben, helping him with his algebra homework. He knew a lecture about behavior wasn’t what Ben needed. He needed acceptance and support. Bill had made plenty of mistakes while he learned how to provide what his family needed in times like this.
Another day. Once again they’d survived another major bump in the road. Tomorrow they’d call the insurance company about the damaged windows. But for now, they were thankful for peace.
He and Lily did their best to try to help Ben’s self-image remain strong…though they knew all too well that their best efforts might not be enough. They also tried to be sure Gregory had their time, support, and attention, too. It was easy in this household to be overlooked.
They were learning to avoid reacting with even more conflict or criticism. But rather to choose words and tone that soothed. Everyone needed it. And they believed their reactions were improving.
Family: Suffering Together with Psychiatric Disorders
Which brings up little Sara. They worked hard to try to protect her innocence and sweetness. But they couldn’t protect her from the frequent upheavals in her own home.
They also knew they had to be sure to communicate and make time for their relationship with each other. That was usually the first to be sacrificed.
Most of the time they were both stretched pretty thin.
Got anyone in your family with a psychiatric condition? It might be an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, severe depression, social anxiety (yes…that’s a disorder too), addiction, PTSD… there are lots of possibilities.
No matter what the condition, and whether it’s you or someone else, a family with a psychiatric disorder suffers together, feels helpless together, gets frustrated together… no one escapes.
And while it’s easy to blame, that doesn’t accomplish much, does it? It just makes the wounds infect.
But just as Bill isn’t to blame for the high blood pressure he inherited from his grandmother, and Lily isn’t to blame for her kidney stones, Ben inherited the tendency to develop his condition before he was ever born.
To try to manage his blood pressure, Bill either jogs or takes a brisk walk every night after work while Lily cooks dinner. Lily is careful to stay hydrated to avoid more stones. Ben tries to get out and play football in the afternoons and they work together to see that he eats balanced meals and gets to bed early. And they all take medication for these health problems.
When The Brain is Disordered, It Can Be Hard to Maintain Order At All
Not just for the person with the condition, but everyone close to him, too.
So don’t be fooled. The family tries to maintain these routines, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. It takes a concerted effort, and they try to support each other and understand when things don’t go as planned. Because, when a family is suffering together with psychiatric disorders, everything is more complicated, it seems.
Families like this have plenty of bad days. More days than they care to admit actually… where all the opportunities to manage their collective health slip through their fingers.
But they do try. And when things fall apart, they help each other get up and try again. Or at least they try to. Sometimes everyone just gets sick and tired of it all. So they retreat into their corners to recover a bit, then come together and face their life together again. At least that’s their intention.
Life Is Challenging on Some Level for Us All
If you don’t have a person in your family who has a health condition, maybe things go smoothly for you…? But I bet they don’t go as smoothly as you wish. Nobody’s life is perfect.
Still, if you do have one or more family members who endure chronic illness, (the genetics often strike multiple times in a family) you probably feel like no one can imagine what it’s like. You likely feel isolated and alone. Maybe you feel embarrassed, because your life isn’t perfect. And you’re right to some degree. No one knows what it’s like to live your life. But you don’t know what it’s like to live someone else’s either.
I can say this however… that if your family suffers with a member who has a brain or behavior disorder, we know it impacts the whole family. And our hearts are with you.
Is Your Outpost Suffering Together with Psychiatric Disorders?
Family is our most important outpost of support. No matter what the challenges a family faces, they don’t manage them well all the time. In fact, it’s fair to say there are LOTS of times the whole family seems to implode.
Some families have financial struggles. Other families have marriage struggles. And still other families have health struggles. But whatever the challenges, pulling together is the best way for everyone to come out in the best shape possible.
But then, that’s life, isn’t it?
It’s for you we work at Innovative Psychiatry to find better solutions, more effective treatments, and the compassion and support you need. And we’ve found extraordinary results for families like yours with ketamine treatment. You may have a family member with bipolar disorder, major depression, or PTSD. If so, call us.
But don’t forget to take note of other family members who may be suffering in addition. They may need treatment, too, so they have the energy to conquer the days, weeks, and months of stress at home.
There is help available for your family. To feel better, with restored hope, and more harmony.
To the fresh emergence of your best selves,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.