Dr. Nancy Andreason writes, “[Mental patients] are urged to exert more mental and moral control, to have more self-discipline, to adopt a more positive attitude. This is a very unfair way to treat people who are suffering from a tragic and painful illness that they cannot in fact control. To ask them to ‘shape up’ is like asking a person with a broken leg to run a marathon.”
When the brain becomes physically ill, it is not possible for the individual to “will” its healing. It takes medication, therapy, compassionate care, and huge amounts of time to heal. Complete recovery might only come after months or years. In the meantime, the patient is in an exceedingly fragile and vulnerable state. Sometimes, they never return to their former state of mind. Then the patient and their family must learn to live with a “new normal.”
Biologically, the physical trauma of a mental breakdown is intense. While recovery might occur faster when a patient cooperates with the available treatments, the physical changes to the brain still must have time to heal. Can you imagine the devastating psychological grief and shattering of mental integrity that happens with a psychotic episode? Recovery, against all odds, takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength on the part of the patient. The last thing we should accuse a victim of a breakdown of is having a “character flaw.”
My Dear Family:
This letter is a plea for your compassion, understanding and patience. We have all just come through an episode of my mental illness. I have experienced it personally and you have tried to deal with its effects while continuing to take care of our family as a whole. It has not been easy, but I have done the best I know how and so have you. For this, I thank you.
As a result of this episode, I am now exhausted. Maybe I look all right to you, but inside I’m wounded. Even the least stress, the least effort is overwhelming to me. I need to just sit and pull myself together. I need to sleep a lot, and not do much at all. This may go on for quite some time.
It may be hard for you to see me this way. You may feel it is your duty to help me “snap out of it.” You may be wondering if I am using this as an excuse to be lazy. Please be gentle with me; let me heal.
If you want to do something for me, there are three things I would appreciate.
1) Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. It also affects my ability to think, feel and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry if the effects of my illness have made your life more difficult. Learning about the illness may help you put these difficulties in perspective.
2) Help me find effective treatment. This takes patience and persistence. In my present state, I may not have the energy to follow through by myself. I may need you to advocate for me, until we find people and medicines that really help.
3) The other thing you can do for me is listen with an open heart and an open mind. Don’t try to advise me. Just listen while I work this out for myself. Your trust and understanding during this time of rest and recuperation will help me feel confident enough to decide when I am able to step (perhaps gradually) back into life activities.
Thank you for your support and compassion. It will make my path to recovery more smooth and sure.
With thanks and hope,