Talking About Grief and Mourning

Once again I’m the first and only person writing about a topic no other mental health writer or agency has tackled before: what it’s like in bereavement for a person diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia, or another emotional illness.

My father has been gone over two years. An aunt died over a year ago. After my father died I started to have conversations with him. He appeared to me in dreams.

The older you get there will be different kinds of losses–of  the people you love, of friends that no longer suit you, of dreams that go unfulfilled.

As the years roll by, our accreted sorrows can engulf us even though we’re doing well and able to function. Our grief as we get older can become unbearable not just in mourning our loved ones. Our pain over not getting what we wanted in life can also consume us.

I haven’t yet had a boyfriend come into my life or a book contract for my second book.

One, just know that you are not alone.

There’s hope that you can get what you want even though it might take longer or you might have to go about it differently in your method for achieving something. It took me 13 years from start to end to publish Left of the Dial.

Two, just understand that you shouldn’t take other people’s bull crap.

They have no idea–most likely they have no compassion because they’re in this world for self-gain so don’t value kindness.

Only I understand what it’s like to have a mental illness. I identify as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I’m 53, and I’ve had to survive by my wits and grit all these years in recovery. I decided long ago that I wanted to act as a cheerleader for others with mental illnesses to give them the hope, support, and encouragement that has been often lacking.

With the “everyone can recover” mentality what gets lost in the message is that even though you’re in recovery your life can still be hard.

A therapist once told me: “Your pain can be greater because you’re aware that you’re different.”

So-called normal people just don’t get it about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. They can’t possibly truly understand.

You’re left to yourself to make your way in the world. No one asks you how you’re doing. No one calls you on the telephone to brighten your day.

To add to this the feeling of grief you have over a loss can threaten to overwhelm you, to consume your waking thoughts, to settle on your chest like a weight, to make you lose hope.

Grief and its twin rejection can seem like immutable forces that will keep us on the sidelines of life.

My analogy is that there’s not a glass ceiling for us, there’s a glass wall separating us from others. We can see the outside world and want to be a part of it yet there’s a glass wall separating us from that world.

There’s a counter-intuitive solution to combat sliding into permanent despair. I can’t take credit for this strategy. It was my own mother who told me:

“Love life. That’s the only one you have. You have to live your life.”

Then my mother said:

“It’s about getting up every day and getting your job done.”

Each of us is doing the best we can with what we were given.

One some days our job will be simply to get out of bed. On other days our job might be to go to a coffeehouse and buy a hot chocolate.

I”ll end here with this:

I understand what it’s like to be in mourning. I understand what it’s like to have ongoing setbacks.

 

 

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Setting Up a Home Gym

I’ve exercised in my living room two or three times since I was thrown into the role of caregiver for my mother.

You don’t need an expensive gym membership to work out every week.

You can go on YouTube to watch videos to see how to perform different exercises.

For a cost of $90 or so upfront you can buy equipment to use in your home.

I’m not a big fan of buying things on Amazon yet I do shop on this online superstore every so often.

I bought from Amazon sellers a 20-pound kettlebell, two 10-pound dumbbells, and a 36-inch foam roller.

That’s all you’ll need to exercise in your living room: just these three items.

Amazon also sells adjustable weight dumbbells.

With this equipment you can do an exercise routine for thirty minutes or longer.

If you’re not ready for higher weights buy the weights you can use at this time.

Turn on the radio, internet, iPod or other device to your favorite music for a mood boost while you work out.

Some exercises you can do in your living room:

Stretches and foam roller

Kettlebell swings

Single-leg deadlift

Alternating V-ups

Goblet squat

Curtsy squat

Pulse side squat

Lunges

Dumbbell curl

Chest press

Renegade Row

Plank

Side Plank with hip drop

Bicycle crunches

Figure 4 crunches

Push-ups

Jumping Jacks

Self-Care 101

Like I wrote in here recently you have to expect that setbacks will happen. It’s not a matter of if but when you’ll experience a setback.

As this is true it’s imperative to adapt to the changes happening in your life. You need to be flexible and open to doing things differently.

Be flexible  while you’re experiencing the setback and in an ongoing way after the setback ends.

The point is if you ask me to change as you go along in your life.

Your needs will change as you get older.

It’s also critical to remember to be kind to yourself when you’re not at full speed and are unable to do what you were ordinarily able to do.

Be kind to yourself. As long as you’re doing the best you can there’s nothing to be upset about if you’re experiencing your own kind of retrograde period.

This setback time is perfect for editing and revising, taking stock of where you’ve been, thinking about where you want to go in the coming weeks and months.

We are all human. You and I might always mourn the passing of our “glory days” like the baseball pitcher in the Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days.”

I’m here to tell you to have no fear: the best is always yet to be.

It’s possible to emerge on the other side of the setback stronger and more confident.

None of us can predict the specifics of our future lives.

Yet by taking consistent action to move forward in the direction of our goals we can bloom.

Yes: the best is yet to be. I firmly believe this.

Refrain from agonizing over what you’ve lost or haven’t been able to do.

As long as you wake up and God gave you another day it’s possible to make positive gains.

I’ll report in the next blog entry about setting up a home gym.

8 Tips for Caregivers

Though I had a breakdown when I was 22 years old my parents didn’t ever have to act as my caregivers.

By the time I was 25 I lived in my own studio and had a full-time job.

I’m 53 and act as my mother’s caregiver now. It’s as if I’ve become a mother to her after all the years she cared for me.

Acting as a caregiver you have to care for yourself at the same time.

Here are 8 Tips for Caregivers:

Eat healthful food.

In New York City you can order from FreshDirect to deliver food to your doorstep.

Kettlebell Kitchen offers nutritionist-created meal packages delivered to your door or to your gym in New York City.

PeaPod is available in other areas.

Have on hand in your family member’s kitchen a complement of take-out menus. Be able to order a pizza or Chinese food to be delivered in a pinch.

Have a laundry service pick up and deliver your laundry.

The items will be neatly folded yet often wrinkled. I simply live with the wrinkles because I don’t send out good shirts.

In New York City the tropical summer air itself can smooth out your clothes’ wrinkles by the time you reach your destination.

I’ve place wrinkled tee shirts in my closet in August. The shirts are wrinkle-free by the time I take them out to use courtesy of the internal humidity.

Hire a House Cleaner.

It’s worth it to free up your time and preserve your sanity.

I ordinarily dislike cleaning chores on a regular day so have a woman clean as often as possible.

Set up a home gym.

All you need is a kettlebell, a set of weights, and a foam roller.

You can type in the names of exercises on YouTube to watch videos on the kinds of moves you’ll be able to do at home.

Turn on music and pump up the volume as you break a sweat.

No need for a costly gym membership if you’d really rather not pay a monthly fee.

In a coming blog entry I’ll talk about how I use my living room as a gym.

Hire a Home Health Aide to come in once or twice a week.

For the things you can’t do or provide on your own hire trained help to come to your family member’s house or apartment.

They can cook, possibly clean, and do other things for your loved one once or twice a week or more often if needed.

Contribute money to a peace of mind or emergency fund.

This way if you have to take unpaid leave from your job you’ll have the cash to cover it.

In New York State workers are given 40 hours of paid time off each year to care for a sick family member.

Keep your cell phone powered up at all times.

For your own safety and the safety of your loved one.

Carry a spare cell phone charger with you in case the battery runs low.

Talk to a friend or a therapist for added support.

In New York City you can dial (888) NYC-WELL to talk with a peer or social worker who can give you information about mental health resources.

 

Returning to Life

I’ve been away insofar as I’ve had to act as my mother’s caregiver for over five weeks.

No mental health agency or organization is talking about how adult children diagnosed with schizophrenia are becoming caregivers for our parents.

In fact no one is talking about the graying of people with mental health conditions and our needs as older Americans.

Yet again I’m the only one talking about this topic.

Over five years ago at the HealthCentral website I wrote a news article about geriatric psychiatry.

Even then no one else was writing about these things.

In coming blog entries here I’m going to talk in detail about acting as a caregiver.

Someone has to write about this topic.

You owe your mother your life because she gave birth to you.

There’s no excuse for abusive parents.

Yet short of abuse you should do the right thing when your parents get older.

Summer Health Tips

For those of us taking medication the drugs could interfere with temperature regulation. Thus we might not realize how hot it really is.

We could be at greater risk for heat stroke.

Anyone on schizophrenia medication should drink plenty of water in the summer. We should stay out of the sun from 12 noon until 4:00 p.m. These are the hours when the sun is most intense.

Always wear sunscreen. Apply 15 to 20 minutes before going outside.

I take Ziprasidone the generic for Geodon.

So I don’t stay outside in direct heat for more than 10 minutes in the summer.

Alas, at the gym it always seems like the air conditioner ISN’T blowing when I’m doing a routine there in the summer.

This mystifies me as I’ve been a gym member for 15 years. Ever since joining I’ve had to lift weights with barely any air conditioning blowing for every summer so far.

You might not want to do this yet I do this: I shorten how long I work out at the gym in the summer. This is because yes it can be entirely too hot in a gym during the hot weather.

A number of public libraries in New York City are designated cooling centers because they have air conditioning. Signs in front of these branches list them as Cooling Centers.

Dial 311 in New York City to locate a Cooling Center near you.

Check where you live elsewhere to see whether you have any locations listed as cooling centers.

Staying in your own home when you have air conditioning can also be okay in the summer.

Either way it’s imperative to drink plenty of water.

We’re All Winners

Unlike the disability rights crowd I’m content to use the word “courageous” to describe what it’s like waking up every day and having to live with an illness whether chronic or in remission.

As a fifty-three-year old woman, I don’t think anything or anyone is normal in this world. One day I simply couldn’t get out of bed again. So I stayed home.

Yes, I tell you: give me some kind of prize for having had a breakdown. Call me courageous even though I recovered and I’m in remission. No one should have to deal with an illness every day of their lives regardless of whether or not they still have symptoms.

First of all, folks, it’s courageous to practice wellness in a climate where others want the right to choose to be ill. Only the ill times were no joke for me.

My belief is that you can find your kind of wellness within your illness even if your condition is more severe.

I’m not going to minimize or discount the pain people are in. Nor do I want others to gloss over the pain I’m in. Though I report from the land of Well and Plenty I didn’t always have this fertile tilled soil. It’s too darn hard to get where I’ve gotten that you bet I expect others to have compassion for all of us.

We cannot live our lives in mortal fear of emotionally clueless people who have no compassion for us and our trials. That’s why I say: give us some kind of Nobel Prize just for waking up and being able to go out the door in the morning.

Whether we’re still in pain or doing better isn’t the point. The exclamation point is that each day we’re trying our best to survive and thrive.

We’re winners just because we get up in the morning.