My son Chad was diagnosed with bipolar type II disorder and Schizophrenia in April of 2010. That year while he was attending school in Bellingham WA, after a very scary manic event, he was hospitalized at Fairfax in Kirkland where he was stabilized and diagnosed. Honestly assumed Chad was using some type of illegal drugs that were making him behave so strangely, I’ve been in the military (active duty or reserves) all of my adult life and have never used illegal drugs and have zero experience. From 2010-2013 Chad was able to work, drive a car and attend Community College. In November 2013 Chad had another manic event he destroyed one of my vehicles, a cell phone and purchased a one way bus ticket to Seal Beach CA with the intent of committing suicide in the city where he was born. Thankfully a bus driver called the State police in southern Oregon and Chad was taken to a hospital and stabilized in Oregon.
In early 2014 I was reading an article while my son was with his doctor about how support groups can help mentally ill people, I starting looking for a support group that my son could attend and I found NAMI. My son has an excellent doctor; I have a wonderful employer with great health insurance and have a six figure income; I believe that I’m a good parent/caregiver: educated, supportive and stable. I’ve surrounded myself with people that understand that my son is ill and his health is my priority and anyone that does not understand that is no longer a part of my life. NAMI has helped closed that little gap between the medical professionals and the tangled web that is the mental health care system in America today. My son has been attending a NAMI Seattle peer support group since 2014 and he told me once after I picked him up from a group meeting, “Daddy, I finally understand that I’m not alone, I do not feel weird and when I’m at group I feel normal.”
Not everything went as smoothly as I would have liked of course, NAMI is a very ‘grass roots, boot strap’ organization and I had a lot to learn. The very 1st NAMI event I ever attending was the Depressed Cake Shop and I did not learn anything about NAMI but I picked up the support group flyer. After Chad started attending the peer to peer group we became members and I attended the 12 week family to family training course. There I heard about NAMI Walk and that leads up to today. We completed our 3rd NAMI Walk this June 2017 I’m now a team captain and the parking control czar.
I’m a retired Army Officer and have been working mechanical engineer for nearly 30 years so working hard at solving problems is part of my training and experience. The Army has a simple three step problem solving technique.
Close the distance between yourself and the mission/goal/problem. In this case that was NAMI and myself, needed to learn more about the organizations mission, goals history, background and people. I did not really understand what NAMI was all about and did not speak the language of mental illness.
Get dominate, needed to get dominate about NAMI; get to know the people, purpose, funding sources, politics, systems, learn everything I could. Need to learn all I could about Chad’s medications and the manufactures (follow the money, follow the motivation, follow the money) know the facts etc. Do not make any assumptions or guess. Let everyone that provides you service to include medical professionals that you’re the customer.
Get to work, needed to get to work with NAMI; volunteer, take the classes and attend the support group events, become an advocate, be a voice, band together with other parents & caregivers, pass on what I’ve learned by teaching a classes and making sure to spend at least 60 minutes every day reading about my son’s diagnosed illnesses and at every opportunity be an advocate. Tell our story, tell everyone that NAMI helped save my son’s life and tell everyone how NAMI helped me get past the grief & denial phases of my sons illnesses and into full-fledged advocacy mode. Tell everyone that one in five people have a form of mental illness. NAMI actually taught me that PSTD is in fact a mental illness and that I’ve been struggling with PTSD since returning from Iraq the 1st time in 2005. Yes, NAMI taught me that I have a mental illness.
When you have a loved one with mental illness it’s critical to have a thick skin, remember that everyone with the similar diagnosis is not going to behave or react the same way to the same medications or therapy. The person you care for and love is not doing anything to harm or bother you intentionally, it’s simply a condition of their illness. All professionals, Doctors, nurses, counselors and caseworkers make mistakes just like we do and it really is OK to cry…. Even if your total bad ass combat decorated US Army veteran. As an example Chad had a habit of using up to a two dozen water glasses per day. I got close, dominate and got to work; I reduced the number of water glasses available for him to use on a daily bias by taken most all but 8 of our water glasses to Good-Will, problem solved.
Bradley K. Benson
Proud member NAMI since 2014