The end of the road and it’s now time to spread our wings

Drum roll, please. I’m making it official. I can finally say that after 14 years, my son Chris is well. Weller than well, as Dr. Karl Menninger would say. And I’m no longer afraid that I’m tempting fate by saying this. I’m not worried about a relapse, but if it happens, at least I’ll have a better grip on what to do about it. I had to learn these skills on my own, no help from mainstream medicine or mainstream thinking. In the immortal words of Andrew Solomon, the creator of “If you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself.This especially applies to your health care.”

To give you a brief update, in March Chris enrolled in a three year vocational course in an area in line with his interests. He loves it. He’s socially way, way, way, more outgoing than I’ve ever seen him. He recently appeared on stage yet again as a member of the chorus in the musical Cabaret. He takes acting lessons at night. He continues to sing in choirs. He’s got a girl friend. He does lots of volunteer work. There are some residual problems that he’s working to resolve. He’s on half the recommended dose of Abilify, which he plans to eventually get rid of completely, if possible. A depressing side effect from the drugs is the huge amount of weight gained. After a couple of false starts involving a diet doctor and an acupuncturist, he’s now on the HCG diet, the only diet I know that enables weight loss from metabolically (medication) induced weight gain. The results in only three weeks are encouraging.

Several parents have contacted me recently wanting to know how I’ve done what’s supposed to be the impossible. My book gives the best flavor of what Chris’s recovery looked like and goes into great detail about my experiments, but it’s only just arrived at the publisher’s and it will probably not be out until early next year. So, to answer people’s questions about how to do it (and I emphasize that there are many paths to take, this is only one), here’s a very brief summary of how you can help your own relative based on how I believe Chris got to where he is today:

My son has recovered/renewed/reconstructed (choose one) largely because his family, to use a golfing term, kept our eye on the ball. We made his recovery our goal. We let no one tell us otherwise, in a world where there are always lots of people prepared to tell us otherwise. We did not get sucked into negative energy activities that ultimately lead nowhere. By this I mean fretting too much about saving the masses when it is the individual (your relative) who counts most and where you will see the quickest results —if you stay focused. You can be active in mental health organizations and/or lobby your government later —once you get your own relative up and running.

Our cluing in didn’t happen overnight. The best thing I learned early on from people who know something about recovery (people with lived experience) was to remove ourselves from framing Chris’s problems within the medical model. I’m convinced Chris could have recovered sooner had we not gotten side-tracked by institutional psychiatry perpetrating the false belief that there was something gone horribly wrong with his brain and only they knew the magic formula to set things right again. I am convinced that had we learned or been taught how to properly communicate with Chris when he was struggling, recovery would have been much quicker and less fraught with danger. I had to largely figure out these communication skills on my own. It is outrageous that so much time was wasted because psychiatry hasn’t got a clue how to handle “schizophrenia.” It’s families that are “handling” schizophrenia and we’ve been doing this without knowing what to do or how to do it well.

I sincerely hope that you can replicate in your own lives the lessons that Chris and his family have learned in our journey.

For further information about how to establish good communication with your relative, please check out Krista McKinnon’s online course.

Ron Unger LCSW has an excellent slideshow: Understanding Psychosis as an Attempt to Solve Problems.