Life never seems to go according to plan does it? But in a way, that is a good thing. Sometimes upsetting the applecart sets us off on a journey that we could never have envisioned for ourselves.

I had plans for my retirement. Becoming a caregiver put those plans on the back burner. But look at all of the life experiences that I would have missed in the last seven years. I would never have envisioned myself writing a blog about how mental illlness has impacted my journey, that is for sure. Life is enriched by our experiences.

I began my role as a caregiver in a fog of ignorance about mental illness. Until it impacted my family, I considered it someone else’s problem to deal with. My family and I were just fine. Seven years later, I realize that it WAS my problem. I’ve learned to be more accepting of our differences. To realize that human dignity and inclusiveness is everyone’s right. To advocate for the mentally ill, to speak up when people denigrate those with mental illness. That mental illness can impact anyone’s family and does in fact impact one in five Canadians.

In learning those lessons, I have experienced some of my happiest moments in the last seven years. I developed a new closeness with my son. I got to share his thoughts as he tried to cope with his illness. I gained a great deal of insight and compassion for those living in the world of the mentally ill. I found out that Service Ontario is an enormous help to those in need, that my Member of Parliament’s staff is very caring, that the Canadian Mental Health Association is there for me and for everyone. And I found out how supportive my friends and family, my son’s employers, and even our respective apartment  managers can be. I have learned that I don’t have to fix everything myself. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I made it through.

I love to knit.  In knitting, you create a wonderful garment that hopefully will give someone pleasure for many years to come. In caregiving, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you made a life a little better and what better reward is there than that?

I can never repay all those who have helped me along the way, but I can pay it forward. 

About Bonita O'Neill

Bonnie O'Neill is a 67-year-old retired elementary school teacher from Ontario. At the age of 60, she began a seven-year journey - caring for her 26-year-old son who had just been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. This blog documents that journey. She loves to knit and finds that living with someone with schizophrenia is a lot like knitting. Sometimes your work is wonderful, sometimes it unravels, sometimes it gets tangled and sometimes you just want to chuck it.

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