Upon entering the room on week two, I'm greeted by name by several attendees, and surprisingly, as I'm really bad with names, am able to return the greetings in kind. This kind of bonding can only come about so quickly through shared trial, and although we've not been through the emotional twister of a mental illness together, all of us in this room have been touched in a similar way by its brutal force.
After a quick passing around of notices about upcoming seminars and conferences, one of our co-leaders points out the collection of books on the counter--her personal library of resources that she invites us to borrow during the course of the remaining 10 weeks. Then we plunge into the information starting with answers to four questions:
Why can't someone just tell us what the diagnosis is?
Why is the response to mental illness so different from the response to another medical illness?
What are the basics we need to know about psychotic illness?
Why do people change so drastically when they become psychotic and what are they actually experiencing?
Who hasn't asked at least one of the questions at one time or another? And why, despite all the doctor's appointments, phone calls, emergency room visits and frustration, has it taken this long for someone to answer them?
The second half of the class (after the short break for coffee, cookies and family networking) focuses on the characteristics of major depression and mania, and defines schizoaffective disorder. Most amazingly, it ends with a realistic, concrete and practical discussion of how to deal with our loved ones when they are a danger to themselves, others or to us. Family members are not given this information when their loved ones are enrolled in residential or outpatient programs, and there is no "Handbook of How to Deal" when your loved one is arrested. But, here I discover that invaluable advice spelled out in plain text in my Family-to-Family binder and labeled appropriately "Crisis File." Who knew?
For more information, visit the Family-to-Family section on NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's website.