One day I went to a Mind consultation group about the experience of carers. They wanted us to describe visually our experience of caring for our loved one if we wanted to. I thought about my son’s entry into the mental health hospital system where he stayed for a long time after the very bad psychotic episode in 1998 (diagnosed a long time later as part of a Bipolar Disorder). I wanted to paint something so they gave me a blank piece of paper with a drawing of a footprint on it.
I started from the heel because at the beginning my wife and I felt as though we were being ground into the ground by the tremendous shock of what happened to our son and what we were going through. It was a very black and depressing time getting used to visiting regimes in a secure hospital environment. There were days of ‘lightning (black and red squiggles) with occasional green patches when he was calm and we felt hope for the future.
Months later as medication began to take effect we saw both periods of sustained mania and periods of coming to terms with what had happened and an emerging view of the future. By the mid-sole of the footprint there were alternate periods of depression, mania and calmness when he began to write poetry about his experience or realised what life may be have in store for him. He was not thinking about our experience and he never really has so its was hard for us to support him from afar on a daily basis but as the breadth of experience he was having (and we were having of the system he was in) grew in many directions, often causing us great frustration as the months and years went by.
The picture at the toes end of the footprint showed less psychotic behaviour by our son and days when he got leave and went running; started to play the guitar or we were able to go out with him, gave him pleasure. The ‘grass’ got greener and his freedom grew larger and we all began to see a discharge from hospital, albeit conditional, become near to realisation.
The experience changed my life as I became immersed in the mental health system and health in general. Our son has recovered, with a well developed medication regime, to the extent he now runs his own craft business, has a house he does not have to worry about and a future he and we never felt was coming. He lost many years of his life but we all grew in the process.