An old friend of mine, H, has recently experienced her mother being hit by a severe depression, hospitalized, ECT’ed, and then sent home. H’s father is frail, suffering from COPD, and the strain of him being close to dying from it for years finally got to H’s mother.
What hit almost as hard for H, I feel, is that the system worked kind of well enough while her mother was in treatment, but then she was just sent home with pills and … nothing.
I know how that is. And it’s the dark side of our otherwise quite well-oiled heavily taxpayer-funded health system. It is like a great machine, good at treating bodies and the parts of bodies that connect with minds (i.e. brains).
It is less good at caring for humans.
Anyway, although we both agreed this was not the end of the world and not as bad as, say, cancer, it still is a hard situation.
H’s parents are in their 70s and don’t have an awful lot of physical or mental resources, and now it’s a lot worse. So the big question is what to do now and when to do it.
H and her brother will, I feel, soon settle on some kind of increased visitor activity (more than they already do) and slowly but surely try to convince their parents to pay for some private and professional help – i.e. a psychologist or similar.
To get them, and perhaps in a way also H and her brother, through this.
And “this” could take a year, if not more. I know that, too.
And with parents who are so old and frail and whose habits and perspectives are already very much locked in, it is more difficult to say the least.
One reason – the classic, classic reason – for their ills is the: ‘I don’t want to burden anyone – I must be dutiful’-attitude of so many of their generation.
Add to that the ‘everything must be perfect in our house’-attitude.
Add to that the deep and depressive disappointment and fear that now everything is going to be far from perfect, perhaps just a downward spiral into a black hole for their remaining years.
That is the kind of monster they are facing. And H and her brother. And so many others.
Even with a psychologist or other, much needed, help. Which must be given for this to have a chance. For there to be hope.
More must be given – time, money, patience.
And courage. Lots of that.
From all parties.
But there is one thing in particular that I think is going to be decisive:
That is if H’s parent’s can change, in just a small but significant way, their minds – about what it will mean for H’s mother to get well again.
And for their lives to be ‘good’ again.
If they see the only way as ‘the same as before’ they are going to lose. Both of them.
As I did, after my hospitalization in 2005, they have to emerge from this dark night with a new way of seeing their days – and themselves. They have to change their minds about some things and what is of value and what is not.
For example, they have to learn to appreciate the less they actually can do now, instead of wishing for their full capacity to be restored. Because that wish will only drag them down – drag H’s mother down – and make her more sick.
It was the insistence of security and perfection that partly made this happen in the first place, I believe. Like with so many others.
And add to that the whole ‘stiff-upper-lip’-schtick.
So an attitude change towards being better at asking for help and recognizing when help is needed – that is also a must.
To protect against renewed breakdowns, yes, but the reason for this needed change is more than that …
It is because there is a need, for a change in the way H’s mother especially – but also her father – see all of life. There is a need for a change in their way of seeing what it is to ‘better again’.
But where “better” means a ‘new kind of better’.
On its most basic level, and just with this particular issue, “better” is about acknowledging your own weakness and need for help and learning to appreciate yourself anyway.
If you can’t see such a change as “better” then you won’t get better.
For reality is merciless here. If your nervous system can’t take the way you live, it will break down again, even if you think that you ought to do fine, or that you are fine.
But there is a lot more to it than these stray thoughts, of course.
And it is a difficult and hard road ahead.
Still, there is hope. As I know from my own journey, even if my experiences – or that of many others – can’t be totally transplanted to this situation.
These past weeks, as I understand H, has been about putting out the big blaze. Now the real reconstruction work starts.
But it is a very simple kind of work in its essence.
They need help. And professional help. And it has to come from family and private funds.
And everybody needs patience and courage and needs to acknowledge, each in their own way and time, that the healing process will not lead back to the old life.
It will lead to something new, which – frightening as it may seem now – is actually the best. For example a more flexible and realistic and loving and communicative attitude towards … everything.
That’s a tall order.
For old and frail people like H’s parents.
But it need not be perfectly like that.
There just needs to be a movement – towards change.
That will give hope.