Katie: New Understanding

Katy reflected on her 12 years of anguish after Kevin’s initial hospitalization.

I would cry a lot. I would just sit there and sometimes think and then get sad for my brother—survivor’s guilt. It is like a death. He is so not the same person. It’s really sad when he says, “I want to have a job. I want to have a wife. I want to have kids.” You see him being hopeful, yet struggling all the time.

For a while, Katy experienced anger every day as she saw Kevin and other brothers who were abusing drugs and taking up their parents' time and resources. Now she can see how far she has come in understanding her response.

Therapy has helped me a lot. I’m no longer trying to be the savior. I take it as it comes. Talking with my therapist for years about how I felt and then experiencing my postpartum depression, I can put myself in their shoes to some extent. I’ve experienced all the tough emotions, but I’ve come a long way. I’m very different than I once was. I’m so much healthier.

Katy moved from criticizing Kevin’s health habits to accepting what helps him cope.

What would make Kevin happy? One year for Christmas I gave him a big pack of cigarettes and Mountain Dew. He was beyond thrilled. I’ve realized through my own research, cigarettes actually calm people who have schizoaffective bipolar and schizophrenia. Smoking obviously isn’t healthy, but knowing they provide some sense of calmness for Kevin justifies it in my mind.

Katy sees herself becoming a more compassionate person through her journey. She has developed friendships with others who experience symptoms of mental illness or have a family member with mental illness. She developed a repertoire of sources of strength and support. She attends church with her husband and children. She relies on God and has realized that she will not “have all the answers.” She is working on being more present, living more fully as opposed to always worrying, and has learned to use meditation. She reads self-help books that are faith-focused and listens to podcasts with positive messages.

It’s a change in mindset in trying to accept what is happening instead of pushing it away. That’s a kind of meditative way to live. Letting it flow and trying not to attach myself as much to a scary feeling. The negative feelings are passing through me more quickly than ever. In the past, I would hold on to those feelings and fight against them. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t like to be vulnerable, who is determined to save the family, and work hard. Becoming more vulnerable and being okay with sharing my feelings more is relatively new to me, and it feels good.

Although concern and care about Kevin is always present, it is no longer the center of her life. She has figured out how to detach and “life is better as a result.”

I can pray for him. I can be there to talk to him. I can be there when things get rough. That’s really all I can do. I can’t control what happens to him. I can’t talk him into being different.

Katy concluded that her own compassionate nature can be a detriment when she always puts the needs of others before taking care of herself.

It’s humbling. I’m imperfect. Here I tried to be the savior and it didn’t work. But I’m also proud of myself at the same time. You actually have to put yourself first to help others. You have to make sure you’re healthy, in a good state of mind to help others. That just comes with experience. I am kinder to myself. I have a very God-centered life and ask God to bless my family members and bless me. It’s made me okay with being more vulnerable. It’s opened me up more. I always used to be more guarded about how I felt. It was always about how other people feel, not me.

Katy described caring for her family as a “calling.” However, she cautioned, “You can have a calling and fulfill it but it can also occupy your life and occupy your health. " At work, she now is a people-focused leader rather than concentrating solely on work output. She finds others will talk to her about their struggles. Her work provides her with some control in her life. As a result of learning from crisis experiences in her own family, she is calm under pressure at work. She has let go of past worries.

Typically, I would be someone who’s extremely anxious. After spending a lot of my life worrying about things, it feels weird not to worry. I’m putting my energy elsewhere and leaning on God. It’s amazing when you enter this state of awareness. I definitely think God has helped me figure that out. Because worrying was always something that I went to first. It’s so empowering, like a weight has lifted.

More of the Story: Moving Forward