ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Dealing With Loss

By Jack Bragen
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:52:00 PM

The occurrence of loss of various types in our lives seems universal, and happens sooner or later to all people with no exceptions. 

Emotions related to loss can exist in response to letting go of nothing more than an illusion. Following a psychotic episode, the realization may come that the thing upon which we had pinned our hopes isn't happening. It takes a certain amount of strength to face that. But once we do face a fact of not getting something we wanted, (even something we thought we must have) we are relieved of a self-imposed burden. 

While mental illness is apparently based on a malfunction in the brain, we should not ignore a psychological component. An episode can be triggered some of the time by a loss or by a perception of loss. 

When we feel grief or disappointment, it can disrupt an already breakable state of wellness, or could lead to medication noncompliance. 

When facing a genuine loss as opposed to one based on the imagination, the pain associated with it can run a lot deeper, and it can be harder to acknowledge the grief, in comparison to a loss based on a delusion. 

(A mental health professional who I won't name suggested I go into a day treatment program to deal with my delusions about writing, citing that I believed it would do for me things that were unrealistic. I went, and after a couple of weeks of that, decided to hang onto my delusions about writing, quit day treatment, and get back on the computer. Not all goals are unattainable, and we do not need to be overzealous about being a good psychiatric patient.) 

When I lost my father, it was deeply painful, and I cried a lot. However, I had sixteen or seventeen years of recovery under my belt and was able to face these emotions without it leading to a relapse of psychosis. When I lost my cat, beforehand, who had been loyal and adoring of me for fifteen years, it was difficult as well. 

People with mental illness must experience losses just as must everyone else. However, sometimes for us, a loss is harder because our emotional systems may not be as intact. When psychosis is in command of someone, or depression, or mania, we can not deal properly with grief. Letting go of someone or some thing is one of the highest functions of the human mind. A mind that isn't operating properly can't do that. 

To deal with loss, we must remain stabilized on medication, and may need extra attention from qualified caregivers. Grief must be acknowledged but not overemphasized. In some instances, privacy is needed, and not all caregivers are privy to a personal loss.