ON MENTAL ILLNESS: When Childhood is Over

Jack Bragen
Friday April 28, 2017 - 02:54:00 PM

I almost titled this week's column, "You Can't Go Home Again." However, since I haven't read that book, by Thomas Wolfe, and since I am not really speaking of the same situation, I decided not to give it that title.

When a person with a psychiatric disability gets older, parents aren't available as much to provide help, or just to be there and lend a sometimes false sense of security. (Even if the sense of security is false, it still feels better.) Parents may become deceased, or they may get older and may wish to go on with their own lives, rather than caring for middle-aged offspring that can't quite survive on their own.  

And in some instances, a disabled offspring may be in a position of caring for an aging parent. This can be very demanding when a disabled person could be struggling merely to care for oneself.  

It can be frightening to have to survive on one's own, when we haven't been prepared for it by the mental health treatment system. And we may not be adapted to handling the same level of responsibilities that a nondisabled adult is expected handle.  

The loss of a parent can be devastating. It is not just a matter of lacking practical help in one's life. There are no words that can convey the loss of a close family member.  

And then, we must fall back on the mental health treatment system to become caretakers of us. And their agenda is to manage us, keep us out of trouble, and keep us from pestering the good working people. Their agendas for us may be far different from what we want and need.  

When childhood is over, and when we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, it can be harsh. It is hard for someone with a significant disability to live independently, partly because we usually don't have a pile of money or a good paying job to soften the blows and misfortunes that random chance may render.  

I was recently "T-boned" in my car by and Uber driver, and the collision was his fault. At about the same moment, hundreds of miles to the north, a dear member of my wife's family passed away.  

Now, my wife is dealing with loss, and I am dealing with the difficulties of temporarily (I hope) not having transportation. Meanwhile, finances have become harder due to unrelated issues.  

What prepares you to have the rug yanked from under your feet? Nothing. You just have to get back up and try a little harder.  

When I was young, I longed for the day when I could be an adult and not have to follow the dictates of parents or be a small person in a big world. I wanted great things for myself. I wanted out of public school, and I wanted to no longer endure the bullying of classmates. I wanted great success, and I wanted to live on my own terms.  

Now, I am an adult, I am getting older, and I am realizing that it is probably a lot easier to be a kid. The problem is that when you're a kid, you know nothing. When you get older, you know more, and that is the problem.  

Almost none of what I'd hoped for when young has come to be. Instead, I am doing everything I can to get by and to live with some amount of comfort. I am grateful for not being homeless, for having family to help, and for a number of other things that are good in my life.  

Getting older is difficult. When you have a brain illness and brain-suppressing medication that affect the ability to handle hard situations, the difficulty of life situations is at least double.  

At this point, it would be nice to have more care from the mental health treatment system and not less. However, I am up against the reality that there is really no one who will take care of me but me. And this is both good and bad.