Heather: Navigating Family Relationships

Past patterns of family communication made it difficult for Heather’s family to manage the stress brought about by her brother’s symptoms.

I think because my parents historically have not communicated together very well, they didn’t have the tools when the big emergency came up to fall back on. We had never practiced how to communicate openly or even talk about a health crisis. In the moment, it was really hard, and sometimes I felt left out of things. They were the ones calling the hospitals or the courts or the facilities and working with them. Everything I got was second hand. Eventually, I realized that was okay.

Heather now sees her role as listening to her brother and sharing any concerns with her parents, but it is not easy to have conversations. She views her family as “very stoic and Midwestern” and feels they do not have the skills to talk about tough or controversial topics.

The only time Heather talked with her in-laws about mental illness happened when she married Scott. His mother reminded her that marriage is “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” Some members of Scott’s family also live with mental illness; his mother lives with depression, his uncle had bipolar disorder, and an aunt lives with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Brad does not know that Scott also lives with a mental illness. Although it might be helpful for Brad to see that symptoms can be managed, Heather doesn’t want to give him a false goal and compare himself with Scott. She feels that it’s her husband’s “secret to tell.”

She admires how Scott manages his life. He recognizes “when enough is enough” while Heather will keep pushing until she wears herself out. Scott regularly works out every Sunday, which initially was hard for Heather to accept because she wanted to spend this time with him. But now she recognizes how his exercise routine helps him manage his life.

More of the Story: Moving to Acceptance