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Stirring Up Mental Wealth

Author: Cecile Bibawy 

(Stigma Series 4 of 6)

Dear Reader, I need to explain something to you. That man over there that you say is your husband? He's not really your husband. Yes, I know. You've been saying it for years. You got married 20 years ago, had children together, and live in the same house. But it's just not true. He's really not your husband. And since you think this, you really need to take medicine to correct these wrong thoughts you have and be normal.

So, let's go. Where? To the hospital, of course. You need help. You’re sick, don’t you see? You need to get better. I only have your best in mind. I’m telling you this because I love you.

Yes, I know I’ve been telling you this for the last 20 years. And you refuse to believe me. No matter how many times I tell you and the proof I show you and the prayers I pray for you, you won’t listen. You’re not married to him. He doesn’t exist! The fact that you’re so convinced he is is proof that you’re sick. You have to trust me. Medicine will help you. I hate to see you like this. Please, just trust me.

Imagine, and it would be easier to do so if you're a married woman, if your sister, brother, parent, or best friend said these words to you. (If you are a married man, just switch "husband" to "wife." If you’re single, switch it to “sibling” or “parent” or “close friend.”) What would you say to them? You would think there is something terribly wrong with them, yes? You’d conclude that they need mental health treatment right away.

If you and I were close, and you told me that my husband George is not really my husband and

that he doesn’t exist, and that I need to see a psychiatrist and swallow psychotropic pills

because thinking so is false and proof that I’m sick, I would be very hurt. And I’d think you were

in need of those very same pills.

Tragically however, if I had schizophrenia, this is exactly how it would appear to me. Because

the perception I have of my life and the people in it are real. That husband in my mind is as real

as your real husband. 

Just as there is no way to convince you that your husband is a delusion, there is no way to

convince someone with a severe mental illness that what they see and think is not real.

This is why it is so hard to talk to my mother when she is not taking her medicine. My mother

has struggled with schizophrenia for more than 50 years. Thankfully, when the right medicine is

found, it works and we can “get along.” We can discuss life, and she can visit with the

grandkids. But when she refuses the meds, her mind is in hell, quiet to me, loud to her. I want

to make it stop, but I can’t. I want to reach inside her mind and fill in all the gray matter that

was lost. I want to lighten the cross she carries.

My book, Loving Her Mind, is like the end of a long year in a way, an old story of the trials of

mental illness peppered by pain, confusion, stigma, and the resulting coldness of isolation. The

old year grays into a cold winter, and the people creep inside their warm homes as a mentally ill

person and their loved ones creep inward, quiet, secretive, floating and stuck in their troubled

minds. I tell the story of what happened and the aftermath. I surmise the effects and propose

new things that are not really that new.

For years, I debated whether anyone would want to read my family’s story. Who would care?

Plenty have written and published their poignant stories about difficult childhoods, mental

illness, and family disfunction. How is ours any different?

I wrestled for years with these questions in search of the answers. I asked God, who tenderly

led me along. He sent me coaches, supporters, beta readers, editors, and words. 

He gave me words to explain shapeless feelings and trauma that had formed high walls inside

my heart and soul. And He gave me courage to share these words with humans everywhere. Yes, I was scared.

Are you scared?

I don’t mean to pry. I know it’s a personal question. And most of you will never tell me, but…

are you? In your life, is there someone you know who is struggling mentally? If yes, what is

more scary? The illness/disorder or that someone will find out about it? 

In my case, I was scared for people to find out for two reasons, not just one. I was afraid to lose

my friends, and I was afraid to lose my aunts and uncles - Mom’s siblings. After opening up, I

was only able to keep some of my friends.

My relatives were unaware of the details happening in our home for many long years. Recently,

the window I offered them in my blog and ensuing book, hoping they would get a clear view of

our daily struggle with schizophrenia, was slammed shut. Some of my cousins never knew their

aunt was diagnosed with a severe mental illness until they were in their thirties. Stigma

petrified our family and me. Ultimately, it slowed my mother’s recovery. Stigma keeps people sick.

Without the dark cloud of stigma, her loved ones would have discovered sooner effective ways

to talk to her. In my book, you will find what we did and wish we had done to reach my mother.

Xavier Amador, author of I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! Is a moving story and wonderful guide

that offers communication tools for caregivers of the mentally ill. I learned so much from his

account and research.

Telling our stories helps S.T.I.R. it up. It came to me while writing: 

Speed up recovery

Talk about it

Instill hope

Remove stigma

Crushing fear by the brave telling aloud of our stories scatters the clouds that hover. That’s the

way of things, isn’t it? The scary things tend to become enshrouded with stigma. Then we keep

it all inside.

A sweet author friend said I was a quiet storm. She’d known me all of 24 hours, but she knew

me. I had said one thing about my past. One thing to begin the unveiling of mental illness in the

family. I finally understood all the darkness of shame, secrets, and pain that lay behind that veil.

And I knew that lifting it would cast the light of truth and diffuse the root cause - stigma.

The words to our stories are laced with a silent cry of hope that our people cannot hear with

their ears - hope that  we can shield the winds of fate and falter, distinguish the good and

grotesque, grab hold of what was and what could have been, accept what is fact and what is

mystery, recognize accidents revealing themselves as acts of salvation, and embrace joy amid

pain and love amid fear.

Even if not struggling themselves, a vast sum of people can say they know at least one person

who struggles with mental disease. But if you don’t and you are not a caregiver, what can you

do? If you lend a hand when a person or family is in crisis or lend a listening ear when someone

wants to share, you will hold a safe space for us. Like soldiers commanded to hold the fort,

defend it from attack, you’ll be in the fight. You’ll be a warrior, fighting with us.  

Sometimes, it just takes a question - the simplest, most common of all questions - asked in

sincerity: how are you? At just the right time, that’s all it takes for the words to pour out like an

avalanche or a soft rain - whichever is most needed at the moment. Sometimes you won’t know

how to respond to what they are saying. That is okay. They want what we want. To feel

validated and loved. Empathy goes a long way!

When you join forces, you’ll find a plethora of local and online resources that can be tapped. A

quick search online and asking those you know in the field will equip you to equip another. Just

being willing and able to refer someone to a trained therapist will normalize mental health care.

We easily drop names of our best doctors, dentists, mechanics, and hair stylists. Everyone

should have a favorite therapist or mental health specialist to refer. 

We don’t always think of it - the significance of taking care of our own mental health. If we all

actively tended to our minds with the same commitment as to our bodies and spirits, we would

mightily help the mentally ill! Instead of breaking hope and trust, we’d break stigma. A person

struggling is less afraid to seek help if issues are openly and readily addressed. Families that

discuss together what’s happening find solutions and take loving and effective actions. Healing

quickens and hope is renewed. For the love of our people who struggle, let’s do it scared and

S.T.I.R. it up.


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