My parents have been there during the darkest moments of my recovery and during the most triumphant.
From the very beginning, my parents have been present with me in my health and healing, and if my prayers are answered, they will be with me until the very end. My parents have been doing this for a long time—caregiving. My mother was the caregiver for her mother for almost 20 years during the tenure of my grandmother’s dementia and aging. Around the time when my great aunt passed, and my grandmother first began to forget things, I was admitted to the hospital as an adolescent.
My mother and father were there on the unit every day. As soon as visiting time came around, my parents would buzz the unit door and there, in hand, would be a snack or my dinner, or just something I could use to pass the time. Indeed, family support is integral to the recovery process. Our family’s proximity to our issues, our sensitive and raw exposed areas—there is no question that family is the perfect match for people needing comfort and attention during our most vulnerable times.
My parents were the first to identify my illness. Something didn’t seem right and before long, things were spinning out. When I was 17, I attempted suicide, and was again taken to the hospital for what the nursing staff called “a tune-up.” My treatment team asked my family to sit around the table and read to me their thoughts on my decision to end my life prematurely. That was the first time I witnessed the impact of my illness on the emotional state of my family.
While both inpatient experiences impacted my parents, throughout, during, and while I was on the unit—however difficult the emotions were to process—my parents persevered on their own merits and guided me along to discharge in the process. Not only were my parents emotionally supportive and very present at all times, they were an integral part of my treatment team. There wasn’t a family meeting without my parents’ voice of support. During these early moments in my illness, I still remember the encouragement and hope my parents passed on to me to keep moving and move forward regardless of the challenges poised ahead that I would have to confront on my own one day.
In college, when things again began to spin out, my parents were retired and there were no outpatient therapists that would take our insurance. I again had just attempted suicide, and upon returning to the dorm, I would need a therapist if I was going to continue living at school. My parents knew the importance of help when healing is what’s needed, and without delay I was connected to a therapist in the community.
To pay for treatment, my dad worked as a part-time security guard into his 70’s. For my parents, working to support my mental health treatment wasn’t a question—it was a priority. This speed, savvy, and importance placed on unconditional support regardless of my circumstances was the rallying cry of my parents throughout my recovery, even when I fought them on it. Later on, when my psychosis was activated, and I became extremely paranoid and delusional, my parents were wrapped up into my distorted thoughts and suspicions. As my condition worsened, I even threatened to call a lawyer and sue them when they wouldn’t follow one of my irrational demands at the time.
But my parents always knew better than whatever the illness spoke or had me believe. And when I was three hours away from home in a state hospital, not around the block anymore, my parents were weekly visitors. Every weekend, in their golden years, my parents would drive three hours each way just to make sure my treatment and health were being attended to on the unit. Even when I wouldn’t participate in family meetings or wouldn’t agree to move back home upon discharge (I was preoccupied with moving into an adult home), ultimately, when I walked out of the unit and my time in the hospital was over, I went home with my parents, who were waiting for me outside of the unit with a bag of Burger King and my favorite iced coffee.
As one therapist said to me: “Your parents really stepped up, Max.” Well, they stepped up again and again. When I came home from the hospital in upstate New York, my family administered medication, cooked meals, helped me do laundry and everything else I wasn’t able to complete on my own just yet. From transportation to the clinic where I would get weekly injections, to therapy appointments when I was too sedated to drive, my parents were no strangers to starting over, moving forward, and being okay with both setbacks and difficult times in my recovery.
And when the most difficult times were over, and I wanted to pursue life again and go back to school, my parents were supportive of me chasing my dreams and facing my demons head on. My parents are the reason I was able to find meaning in life again and they are the reason I support my clients. We all need people to cheer us on, no matter what the circumstances are. Support from one or two people goes a long way when there is no one in our corner.
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