I sometimes bring up the idea that it is important to be on your relative’s side when a diagnosis has been handed down. I read the CNN article Growing up bipolar and glommed onto the following quote:
Jennifer, the middle child, was always the most sensitive of Konjoian’s three children, her mother said. She never had any episodes at school; they usually happened when she felt overwhelmed by her family: for instance, when her siblings picked on her.
“I felt like nobody was on my side. That’s kind of how I always felt,”
This child was given a label of bipolar (after initially taking an antidepressant, as is so often the case) and yet, here it is, in black and white, that her behavior was a problem at home, not at school. Her family was driving her crazy. She felt that they weren’t on her side. I can identify with this. As a child I was continually angry and lashing out, at home, never at school. It was my family that was driving me crazy and I didn’t learn coping skills until I finally tired of myself and made a vow to stop. Naturally I felt nobody was on my side at the time.
Being on the person’s side, seeing life from someone else’s point of view, is huge in healing. Most parents are too busy settling disputes amongst siblings to really focus on the child’s point of view.
When we landed in the mental health system, after a while I began to wonder who was really on Chris’s side. It took me a while, but I finally realized that Chris’s perceptions were real, not something that should be dismissed as lunatic ravings. Okay, psychosis is an unusual way to express yourself, but for some people, it is the only way until they master a way of not retreating into psychosis. The doctors claimed they were on Chris’s side, but then they referred to him as a patient, they spoke of his delusions, they gave him drugs to sedate him. They encouraged a view of a limited future.
Parents can easily fall into the same trap and will take the side of the doctor, which is a negative and mechanical view of the individual. Ian and I cajoled Chris into taking his meds because the doctors said it was essential. We looked at Chris as if he was the crazy one. We were not on his side. We confused empathy with pity.
After a while I “got it.” I decided Chris was right about whatever it was that was bothering him. He had justifiable cause. Chris’s way of expressing himself as a child was not like Jennifer’s. His way was quiet and non-confrontational. Everybody has their own way of dealing with anger or fear.
Why are we so eager to believe somebody else and not our relative when it comes to mental health issues?