Caregiver training and my background

For about 12 years, I provided caregiver training through a program I managed together with a team of other families, professionals, and people recovering from mental illness.

For 18 years, I was a caregiver for a close family member who was recovering from severe schizophrenia. We lived together for 11 years. He is almost fully recovered now. He is much more independent and healthy than he has ever been and you'd never know he had any difficulties if you met him now.

This was truly a transformative experience for me too. I dove deep into meditation and holistic health and how to be an effective caregiver.

We learned a lot about what both the caregiver and the family member need to do in order to reach stability and then move from stability to real thriving. We received support through NAMI and friends and family.

We made a lot of mistakes, but fortunately, we learned a lot too and so we were able to train hundreds of families through an educational recovery program that we helped launch.

Our program graduated about 300 families over 12 years in small groups of 12-15 people. Many people felt it was an enhanced version of NAMI's Family-to-Family program. The main enhancements were the following:

  1. we focused on a holistic view of mental illness and included all sorts of CAM therapies in the classes;
  2. we placed more importance on the contributions of "consumers" (people struggling with the illness) and elevated them to stars, rather than victims;
  3. We did not settle for stability. Instead, we always felt full recovery was a possibility;
  4. We emphasized caregiver mental health and well-being and focused on breaking down the enabling dynamic that many families get into.

I thought NAMI was a great organization and I found so many loving people in the mental health system.  And it is wonderful that caregiver training is now part of the system.  However, I never agreed with the insistence that mental illness is a chronic condition and that medication is a necessary and long-term ingredient for recovery.  

There may be times when medication is necessary but from what I observed, it is very powerful, has significant and potentially long-lasting side effects and is really hard to come off of.  

I saw so many people who could benefit more from loving attention rather than a fixing attitude, friendship rather than an overly clinical relationship, adequately paid work, basic nutrition education, regular and adequate sleep, simple relaxation or real meditation, and gentle daily exercise. 

In terms of recovery and healing, my own experiences with meditation showed me without a doubt that a basic sense of sanity is within each person.  I also had the privilege of seeing my family member's every little step for many years and got to know quite a few other people on the road to recovery.  

My conclusion is that complete recovery, healing, and curing are all possible, but that it is mostly a slow road and very complex.  Complete recovery means learning to live a complete life and learning to not demonize one's fluctuating states of mind, but to befriend them. 

While my family member did use medication (clozaril), he has slowly decreased the dose over many years. This has been a very effective strategy for him and he has become more lucid and functional as his dose has decreased.  He now works about 35 hours a week doing paid work.

I have since left that family education program and now teach meditation and provide one-on-one caregiver training for families.

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