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HOPE on the Other Side

Aug 23, 2018

An introduction was made for the interview guest, a fellow mental health professional, George Bulahan, RN. He has worked extensively in psychiatric nursing at various care levels, at several hospitals and some clinics in Southern California, mostly in the San Diego area. He is currently a candidate for a Masters Degree in Nursing.

Nurse George was able to talk about what NAMI calls "lived experience" with those living with severe mental illness. He agreed to talk about his own mother and your nephew on the podcast. There were some particular episodes mentioned about each and the ongoing balance his mother now has in her life.
In his case, the early life experiences with psychosis in a close family member were confusing and difficult to understand. Later during his professional education, George was able to better understand the symptoms of psychosis and the particular features of schizophrenia.

As both a professional staff caregiver and as a personal family-life caregiver George has a philosophy of being honest and transparent with the person living with schizophrenia. His example, to the listening audience, of how he successfully & meaningfully interact with a loved one is a valuable example. It is a useful technique to empathize with the emotional reactions that the loved one has to the delusions and hallucination symptoms while at the same time not fighting with them to convince the person that the symptoms are “false” perceptions. George also spoke of beginning conversations with people living with schizophrenia starting in view of that person, where they can see you, and approaching the other person in a calm and non-threatening, friendly manner.

Next, in the interview, George spoke of a former life partner. This other man suffered from chronic psychosis, likely it was something in the schizophrenia spectrum. But in this case, there was a common complication of street drug usage. According to USA government reports almost 50% of people living with schizophrenia also have alcohol and substance use or dependence diagnosis. And the non-alcohol substance use, abuse, and dependence run about 27% in those living with schizophrenia.

George tells of the complexities in his personal partner relationship; what he did to respect and acknowledge the delusions, while at the same time not arguing about the truth or fiction of those delusions. This is a form of compassionate support. Ultimately for personal self-care reasons, George had to leave that relationship. There had been some negative consequences for George such as depression and missing work. Then he made concerted efforts to transfer care of his partner to community mental health services. Subsequently, after some rehabilitation on the part of the partner, George now has a new healthy friendship with the fellow.

In closing, George recommends that the caregiver has a strong foundation in self-care and self-love. It is important to ask for help from friends, professionals, and peer support groups, such at the S-Project group organized by Dr. Ken Campos.