My brother and his wife were dinner guests at my place last night. We had a nice time. My sister-in-law can get quite negative and be difficult to please but the dinner went well. Actually, her attitude and disposition has changed for the better lately.
They are a little older than I. They have both been officially labeled as mentally disabled for most of their lives, and therefore unemployed and on low income.. It's a shame because they are very sociable and have generally good character. My brother was ambitious and into many things, working hard to save money and accomplish a lot. She was a daycare worker and had a family as a young woman. They both eventually accepted their situations and understood their diseases, but have maintained some bad eating habits and never excerised, so they also endure some physical ailments now. My brother has had diabetes for a long time but he is not careful about his sugar intake and his blood sugar count is often too high sometimes these days. Also, he tends to eat too much.
They both experience intense fear and anxiety every day; is expressed more as outright fear but she has often displayed intense anger when anxious, but she has been improving greatly in recent times. Her demeanour is brighter, anxiety reduced and willingness to engage in life increased. It is a relief to all.
I think the turning point was a near-death experience about three years ago. A dedicated hypochondriac before, she visited hospitals so frequently that she caught a super-bug, which was very debilitating. She had good reason to get to the emergency ward in that period. She had a close call one week but came out of it. I wonder if she had some opportunity for counseling during that time because she began to turn herself around. Anyway, she evidently reflected a lot and vocalized questions about various causes for mental illness and her life's circumstances. She does not want to hang around hospitals. Feigning or exaggerating illness used to be a way to seek attention; she doesn't seem to need as much attention. I think that, besides better appreciating some vulnerabilities and disadvantages in her early life that were factors, she realizes that her behavior and outlook have been self-defeating. Now it appears that she is regretful she squandered so much potential and time in life before and held herself back.
It is simultaneously wonderful and sad that someone should experience an awakening like that. It's great that she has more energy and will to take life on and is more open to living and trying new activities. It is heartening to see someone growing and feeling better. However, it is sad that she and her husband are so constrained by low income and have little means. Of course, their learning has been hampered by the illness, problematic responses by family and associates and the kind of emotional baggage that accompanies someone with long term disability. The illness still defines them and gets in the way. Both of them, she especially, are more aware of how it gets in the way.
Dependent on a housing subsidy, financial assistance and supportive services, they are trapped in a bureaucracy. There is always tension between their view of themselves and their wishes and those of the state's institutions. Also, they are always reminded that they are lacking something or not as well equipped as most other people apparently are. (The incidence of mental health issues is very high in the US and Canada.) In fact, funding and services for the mentally ill has dwindled over the past two decades.
However, the present regional government has been increasing social funding and raising rates for social benefits, which my brother and his partner have been enjoying. Just a couple of hundred of dollars more each month can make a huge difference to the very poor.
Also, we can happily report that federal government pension benefit rates have gone up and the calculating of benefits owing has been improved, resulting in a higher monthly disability cheque for my brother.
It takes strength to face society and get out there for someone in their kind of situation. Fortunately, there are lots of caring people who offer ideas and material support. The family pitches in if they are aware of something lacking that they can supply or something damaged that they can fix. However, they cover up some problems.
Here's an example. Though another sibling had bought them a great new bed they liked, I got the sense that they were not using it. After several months, it finally dawned on me that it was probably too high to climb onto. I surprised them by getting step stools for each side of the bed and now they sleep in it.
Sometimes their solution to an issue is not really the most practical. For instance, they were not opening the patio sliding glass door because it was loose and they worried that the pet cats would escape through it. They did mention this problem frequently, appealing to the building management and another sibling. No remedy for years. They endured an enclosed, small apartment on the hottest of days, trying to get relief from fans. (The ceiling fan has not been working for a long time, and the management is taking a very lonnngg time to fix or replace it.) Finally, I ordered a local company to custom make a pet-proof screen and it was installed a few weeks ago. BIG RELIEF, of course!
There are magic moments. They are expresions of sensitivity and compassion from concerns people who notice a difficult situation. For example, the screen company never charged me! Without pronouncing that they did not intend to charge me, they simply never got my payment information and never sent my brother a bill. Amazing! It was a job valued at about $270 CD plus tax!