Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Un-expressing emotion

One nugget of information I picked up early on in my research into schizophrenia was that some doctors noticed that people who recovered had parents who barely noticed that their child was ill. It was hard to know what to do with that kind of information, so I just tucked it away at the back of my mind.

This, in retrospect, is low expressed emotion. It is harder to do when your relative is floridly psychotic, because you have to pretend that nothing is really very wrong, when something seems obviously very wrong indeed. I have tried this "don't see don't tell" strategy all along with varying degrees of success. Right now, after seven long years, it is working very well. My husband and I don't discuss Chris. He is no longer the subject of our concerns after a day at work. This is in sharp contrast to the first few years, when every odd gesture, every odd statement, every missed appointment, was a cause for worry. We discussed whether Chris was ready to take a course, we discussed the meds ad nauseum (and disagreed over the need for them), we worried about his future.

We are done discussing Chris. Recently Chris enrolled for a single course once again at the local university. "Fine," I said to Ian, "if you want to check-in with him on how he's doing, and monitor his output, great, but count me out. I don't want to get all involved in worrying about whether Chris can pull it off this time. I don't even want to discuss this with you. Just keep in mind that if Chris finds himself struggling, you will have to be the one to pull the plug on the course before the drop date."

So far, our "don't discuss, don't tell" strategy is working. I'm sleeping at night, Ian and I aren't tense about Chris. Chris seems to be doing okay. I don't ask about his coursework, even in a superficial way. I try not to initiate conversation with him. I have learned the hard way about how unnerving this can be. If we just let him get on with it, Chris will be fine and so will we.


  1. I believe what you are describing is the essential need, particularly for family members and care providers, to break free of the limiting contextual beliefs that surround a diagnosis of "schizophrenia".

    I suggest that an appropriate level of interest in the individual's pursuits would be consistent with what might be offered to his siblings and that this interest should be motivated by love and support and not anxiety and fear. What you describe sounds like apathetic indifference yet I doubt that is what it is. Most spouses or parents and children who reside together will ask how was your day?, how was work today?, or how was school today?

    I believe that the pursuit and achievement of goals is paramount to recovery and acknowledgement and encouragement by family members is a valuable inspiration to the individual pursuing a goal.

  2. You show remarkable courage embarking on this new tack. Parenting is full of firsts and we need to be bold enough to chart a new course when the present one is not making headway. You have more than gone the distance with the old route and consider: what positive contribution can one make in a less than balanced state? I imagine Chris, his siblings, and your husband are only too relieved to see the new (old?) you, and appreciate the recent apparent lack of focus on every breath Chris takes. I did not conclude from your entry that you have sent Chris to Coventry, rather that you have reestablished equilibrium to your home.


I am no longer approving comments. All I ask is that you be respectful of others and refrain from using profanity.