When the phone rings
Kathleen has always worked as a receptionist. But there were certain calls she dreaded receiving. They were the crisis calls from her daughter, Debbie, who suffered from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and, more recently, schizophrenia.
When Debbie was a teenager, she called Kathleen one night from
a refuge in Kings Cross.
“I thought she’d gone to stay with a girlfriend,” Kathleen said.
Debbie’s father also had schizophrenia and she was finding his outbursts hard to live with. So, she moved into a refuge and then into Wesley Mission supported accommodation.
It would be one of several cries for help over the years.
“In those days it was very taxing emotionally because you never knew when the phone would ring and when it did you’d think, ‘what’s happening now’? Kathleen said.
“She rang me at work one morning and said, ‘Mum, I can’t get out of bed. I’m shaking and shaking’.
“She’d ring me at work and say, ‘I’ve just taken an overdose of medication’,” Kathleen said.
On a particularly busy day at work, Kathleen got a call from Debbie to say she had attempted suicide and was in hospital recovering.
Working in the health sector, Kathleen has benefitted from access to people experienced in mental health who could point her to the right assistance and resources. Despite this, the journey has been tough.
She remembers battling doctors to get a definite diagnosis of Debbie’s condition. She also found it difficult to find support other than having medication prescribed.
Ultimately, the stress took its toll on Kathleen.
“I just broke down at work one day and was advised to see a counsellor,” she said.
Reflecting on that time now, Kathleen said that the counsellor taught her that she needed to take care of herself.
She makes time now to go shopping and meets friends more often. Once a year, she takes a holiday.
Kathleen has also been attending a support group for carers for the past three years.
After the last suicide attempt, Debbie moved back home with Kathleen. They’ve now established good communication around Debbie’s condition. Debbie can articulate when her mental health is deteriorating. Kathleen can also see the warning signs and is able to chat to Debbie about it.
“I’m always on the lookout for Debbie’s warning signs,” Kathleen said. “She’ll become very quiet and subdued.”
For both women it has been a process of educating themselves about schizophrenia.
Kathleen has done a lot of reading and attended many talks on the subject.
For her part, Debbie has learned some useful coping mechanisms. If she wants to relax, she’ll go into her room, start burning incense and put on some calming music.
Debbie also recently attended a program called Meaningful Engagement run by Wesley Mission’s Home and Carer Support Services. The program teaches participants to better manage social and work environments.
While Debbie attended the course, Kathleen had more time to take a break from the pressure of caring for her daughter.
The Wesley Mission program also gave Debbie more confidence in managing her condition and she has recently said she would be comfortable living on her own again.
Before Kathleen went away on a trip recently, Debbie showed her a list of emergency contacts she had prepared for the times when her condition took a turn for the worse.
For Kathleen, it is a relief to see her daughter taking responsibility for managing her condition.
You can help carers like Kathleen.