Letting go of rigid ideas and beliefs is useful, says long-time carer George Schickert. He reflects on his family’s journey and what it’s like to move on from initial diagnosis to emerge stronger.

Shifting perspectives: life can be good again

It's been 20-plus years since my son was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia”. The bewilderment, the pain and the suffering of that time may be distant memories to me now, but they are never forgotten.

The journey has been a long and difficult one, with issues that have taken my wife and me to the depths of despair. 

But I have no doubt life is better now, my son seems to have come to terms with his illness and manages the best way he knows how, with our support and a mental health group around him. 

At that time, I did feel like a drowning man who could not keep his head above water. Today, it's more like you are paddling - but not getting anywhere.  The ups are not as high and the lows are not as low, but our lives have a constant rhythm.

So, if it’s up for a while, I now know it won't be long before it’s down again. So it goes. It’s better not to be attached rather than question: Why me? Why him? Why us?

Our aim is to support our son to feel loved and wanted, safe and fed properly. In return we have a loving son who, while he may never aspire to great things according to social standards, gives us moments to cherish which fill us with pride. 

Take this message that he wrote on my last Father’s Day card:

“Dear Dad,
You have shown me the mercy of God
You are caring and kind and with your 
talent and love you have given me life.
This is your day to be celebrated, you 
are the best father anyone could ask for.
Happy Father’s Day.”

I was bursting with pride when I got this card and it makes the pain of our journey totally worthwhile. You see, 20 years ago I could not imagine ever feeling like this again, but with love and nurturing there are moments of pure gold.

It was a matter of adjusting our expectations, he will never be Prime Minister of Australia, a doctor or lawyer, but neither will most people. When he was born that was never really what we expected, either.  "As long as he was happy and healthy," that’s what we would say.

Now, when he gets through the day without torment and we can joke and laugh - well that’s a great day.

In those early days, when your child or anyone you love for that matter is diagnosed, you can't imagine that good days will ever return, but they will, if you can hang in there. 

It’s just the good days may have a different meaning to what you originally thought.