My sister is being kidnapped. Again.
It doesn't help that it's her own brain that is doing it, and that we can see the crime in progress. The victim is on one side of the glass, pounding on the barrier, crying to be let out... and we are helpless on the other side, reaching out but unable to touch her, unable to pull her to safety and comfort, unable to stop the torture and give her some peace.
We appeal to the authorities and 'experts' and professionals, we go through the required motions, we stand guard and we advocate and we try to make sure that she knows we are there.
The person we know is wandering in some chaotic internal labyrinth; we can hear the echo of her voice, but the substance is lost. We can't know how much she can actually hear of us; we can only call out and hope.
The process wears us all down. This has happened before; we know the drill, but it never becomes routine. Always we are pilloried between fear and hope: will this time be longer or shorter than the last? Will this time be better or worse than the last? Is there a pattern, can it be determined? When will the next time occur (maybe, maybe this time it won't - but always the fear that it will)? What are the options? Will we run out of options this time? Next time? Will there be a time when she runs out of the strength to endure, when she just gives up? What then?
We are not alone. 1% of the world's population suffers from schizophrenia, more than 9% from serious mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, major depression, etc. That's a lot of families affected. Many of them end up fractured, destroyed, or just plain exhausted by the grinding process of dealing with the toll the illness takes on everyone it touches. The attendents at hospitals frequently comment on how lonely many of their patients are, how they spend their time at the hospital unsupported by friends and family, how they lose their jobs and homes and pets and loved ones while they are trapped in the chaotic wilderness created by their brain chemistry, unable to organize and rescue their 'real lives' from the other side of that barrier.
I don't think my sister or my family would have made it this far without the support of Vail Place. Vail Place is a local community service program that provides rehabilitative and social support for adults with persistent mental illness, support that enables them to live independently and to function as contributing members of the community. Vail Place is currently a model program in the Twin Cities, but it is growing nationally - and it is a life saver, as well as a quality-of-life-saver.
When she is well and strong, my sister does public speaking, trying to spread the word about Vail Place and similar programs. These programs not only improve the quality of life for people suffering from serious mood disorders; they improve the lives of entire families and entire communities. In a world where government health programs and private health insurance are becoming more and more difficult to obtain, where treatment is becoming more perfunctory and med-oriented, and where homelessness is becoming epidemic among the mentally ill, programs like Vail Place provide support that allows people dignity and independence and self-sufficiency.
If you are able, please look for similar programs in your community, and support them in any way you can. When my sister finds her way out of the wilderness, she will have Vail Place and her family and a home to come back to. It would be a great comfort to know that others will find something similar when they come back to themselves...