real life

"It hasn’t always been easy living with someone who has schizophrenia."

Mary Oxley-Griffiths and Jeremy Oxley

By MARY OXLEY-GRIFFITHS

My husband Jeremy is the lead singer of The Sunnyboys, a well-known Australian rock band. I knew this before I met him and I also knew about his schizophrenia diagnosis.

It was my twin boys, then 10 years old, who first suggested I should meet Jeremy. They were watching the band on television and thought Jeremy had beautiful kind eyes. Partly to humour the boys, we looked up Jeremy on the internet and I was both astounded and upset to find that his band, the Sunnyboys, had broken up many years ago mostly due to the fact that Jeremy had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. As I read more about him and his mental illness, I felt drawn to him and I wondered what I could do to help.

Eventually I tracked him down and when we met, we hit it off immediately.

When we started living together, Jeremy had a few medical issues in addition to his schizophrenia, including diabetes. To get the right mix of medication to treat all the conditions took about nine months so during that time I scaled back my workload (I’m a nurse) to focus on helping Jeremy and managing my boys.

It hasn’t always been easy living with someone who has schizophrenia. Jeremy has not had a psychotic episode since he has been on medication. Prior to this, these episodes could come at any time of the day but often they were more noticeable at dinnertime when we were all sitting around the table. Jeremy would say he was seeing and hearing people. Together with my boys, I aimed to keep family life as normal as possible and not let the episodes interrupt our lives. So we would just carry on with dinner and the boys might casually tell Jeremy that he was okay and he should tell the voices to go away. The boys simply accepted Jeremy the way he was.

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Jeremy and I were married in 2011after a two year engagement.

I am passionate about the need to rid the stigma associated with mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia. These conditions are more common in the community than people realize and too often people are misjudged, alienated and categorized by their illness.

A person with a mental illness is like someone living in a cocoon. You have to find a way to peel back the layers of that cocoon to find the real person inside.

Often people living with schizophrenia are frightened but it is so important their family and friends to help and support them. This can be frustrating but just think how much more difficult life is for the person who has the illness and lives it with every day.

It is also really important that those of us who care for people with mental illness also look after ourselves.

I find release in various ways. I often can’t get away from home so it’s important I feel good about being there. I like creating positive mood boards and books by cutting out images I like and make collages. Over the years I have made two huge scrapbooks. Any time I am feeling low I look at these. They are great mood lifters.

It’s really important to share your experiences; sometimes a vent can really help. It’s essential to find someone who may also have a loved one with a mental health condition as they are the ones who can really understand what life is like.

I also think small rewards ‘just for you’ are important elements in managing the stress of looking after a loved one with mental illness. A massage, a small gift for yourself like a lipstick, or treating yourself to a nice lunch; it is important to prioritise your own needs sometimes.

To help provide more information for families and friends with loved ones living with schizophrenia, a new resource has been launched: www.fullstoryschizophrenia.com.au. A new health coaching service for carers will also soon be launching – CareCompass. The service, supported by Janssen, is designed to help carers focus on their own needs and wellbeing so that they in turn can provide better support for the person they care for.

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