Dick: Coping Strategies

Dick copes by not dwelling on his brother’s situation. He moved to a house by a lake where he works in the yard to keep busy. He and his parnter Marion are also now providing day care for her four-year old grandson, who he finds to be a “joy.” He reflected that his sadness about his brother’s illness has decreased over the years.

I think the stigma about my brother lasted maybe a 5 to 10-year period. I still feel sad about my brother’s conditions, but it’s not an overwhelming sadness that I had when we were going through the hospitalizations. There are flashes of normalcy that he has for two or three weeks before he goes manic—they just don’t last long enough. When he’s in that period, I try to enjoy it, but I can’t because I know that crash is coming.

Dick is grateful for his brother’s caretaker friend who does the yard maintenance on his land and spends time talking with Stuart. Also, Stuart gets out of the cabin to play poker tournaments during the week. However, Dick also tearfully acknowledged major concerns about his brother’s health.

Morbidly obese. Sedentary. Chain-smoker. Takes a fistful of pills, morning and night. I’m somewhat fatalistic. You have a guilty thought. If he passed away, he’s out of his misery. I am not religious. My brother doesn’t show any outward signs of being religious. He doesn’t go to church. He doesn’t talk about spirituality or God or anything. But I think he believes he’s going to heaven. I believe he thinks that.

When Dick initially became the primary caregiver for his brother, he looked for support groups but no one told him about NAMI at that time. When his niece got a job with NAMI, he started going to classes. Now he has access to NAMI resources and also teaches the Family to Family class. He finds it very helpful to talk with others who have similar experiences.

Note: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) offers an 8-week Family to Family class, specifically for family members who have a relative living with mental illness. Participants learn about: 1) major mental illness, medications, and side effects; 2) skills in coping, problem solving, and communication; and 3) community resources.

Every class that I’m an instructor at, I tell them you might think I’m doing this for you. I’m not. I’m doing it for myself. If you really want to learn a subject, teach it. That’s what I get out it. The more that I learn about mental illness and the treatment of mental illness and coping strategies helps me deal with it better.

Dick also has a network of friends that help him cope, although they usually do not discuss mental illness because he is concerned about making others uncomfortable. Dick reflected about the demands he has in his life stemming from supporting his brother. He declared, “You know, I usually don’t feel sorry for myself. But from time to time I ask why me?” Generally, his “go to” coping strategy is not thinking about it. He concluded, “I’m very good at that. Some people aren’t. I understand that. I push it down; I push it away. About once a week I say, I haven’t called him. I guess I should. “

More of the Story: Ambivalent Feelings