May 11, 2009
And no, not necessarily a "good grief". ;)
At the start of this year, if you had asked me what I thought grief was, I would have talked about sadness about the loss of a loved one. Since that time, my understanding of it has become more nuanced. While I believe loss of a loved one, from something such as death or even moving away, is the biggest cause of grief, I've also come to see that it comes from other areas, too.
My biggest discovery of the last few months is that there is a lot of grief surrounding mental illness. I first saw it in family members of those who had a mental illness. After that first realization, I was a little bit dumbstruck at how I could have missed it before. I did some reading on it and it really became a bit of a focus for me. When talking with someone who was struggling with a family member that had a mental illness, I heard how much they wanted the "other version" of the person to return. They would talk about what potential this person had "before" and how they just couldn't keep up with their siblings and they have had to "lower expectations".
I later was able to see a little bit of it in the people that had the mental illness themselves. The "I used to be able to..." and "I remember when..." rang in my ears and stuck with me. So much unacknowledged loss was present, as the people were trying to only get back to where they were.
And that's where my learning is coming in. Why do we seem to seek for the person with the mental illness to get back to "where they were"? We, as human beings, change and grow and fall back and adapt and shut down and everything so much through our lives. Why is it the person with the mental illness that is supposedly never supposed to do this? I had a family with a 40 year old son that first experienced psychosis in his early 20s. They kept talking about what he was like before and how all they wanted is for him to get back to where he was. I understood where they were coming from, but it didn't make sense on some level. It's not that their expectations were too high...it was that they were skewed in some way.
There really doesn't seem to be a lot of literature on the subject, which is very unfortunate. I would really like to learn more. I have found a few journal articles and this one book, Grieving Mental Illness: A Guide for Patients and Their Caregivers, but that's about it. Most of the articles related to this are about how grief from the loss of a loved one through death can contribute to mental illness. I hope that in my further studies, I'll be able to investigate this a little bit more, as it's really an interest to me.
Any thoughts? I'd love to hear people's experiences on this subject