Caring for a family member with mental illness can at times be a scary, demanding and lonely experience.
This true-life personal account of one woman's experiences and feelings reveals many lessons that can help others

Mental illness true story of a mother acting as carer for her daughter suffering from manic-depressive psychiatric disorder with features of paranoia and self-harm Mental illness true story of a mother acting as nurse for her daughter suffering from manic-depressive psychiatric disorder with features of paranoia and self-harm

To Walk on Eggshells to Care for a Mental Illness Sufferer
by Jean Johnston


Life leads the thoughtful (wo)man along a tortuous and varied path.
Its course is often full of obstacles, then everything becomes smooth.
Here, an eloquent thought pours forth easily in words.
There, the heavy burden of knowledge must be locked in silence.
However, when two beings are united in the intimacy of their hearts...
They can break through iron and bronze!

*Overview     *Excerpt     *Review     *Order a copy
*Discussion of Mental Health Issues Raised




Overview of "To Walk on Eggshells"

Straightforward and upfront, Jean Johnston was by her own admission something of a psychiatric virgin when her daughter developed symptoms of manic depression - now more commonly called bipolar disorder. She gives a revealing insight into her role as nurse and parent and how she felt as the pair embarked on the remarkable and extraordinary journey that would lead to recovery.

The Author, Jean Johnston, writes: "Facing the challenge of looking after mental illness is frightening and isolating. I hope this account of my experiences and how I felt, along with what I learnt, will help to alleviate the loneliness of their situation as they face the challenge of being 'The Carer' of mental illness with the book perhaps offering some reassurance."

A U.S. psychiatric consultant, Christine Gayler MSW CAGS CCRC CPRP, writes: "This is a passionate and perspective account of a mother's love, fortitude and resolve throughout her daughter's journey of Recovery from mental illness. In openly and honestly sharing her heart and experiences, Jean teaches about compassion and humility, and the pivotal role that carers play in the process of recovery".

Jean's account as a mental illness carer stands alongside her daughter's own book detailing her experiences as a mental illness sufferer and a psychiatric ward patient. Together the two books give a valuable and unique insight into the progression of increasingly severe episodes of depression, hypomania, mania, paranoia and self-harm symptoms - the impact on the person suffering and the repercussions for her family. These twin perspectives present an unusually full picture of one family's experience of the evolution, progression and control of a clinical psychiatric disorder.



Excerpt from "To Walk on Eggshells" by Jean Johnston

(Copyright Jean Johnston & The Cairn © 2005. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)

We all know the old adage - for better or worse, in sickness and health....etc.etc. Yes - but mental illness? That was never in the remit - there had been absolutely no mention made of it whatsoever.

So whether it was their partner, child or sibling I think most people on being told someone they were related to had a mental illness, would have an initial reaction of -"you've got WHAT?"

We all have our own ways of dealing with such events. Regardless of what we as individuals might think, at times like these there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way. These are my thoughts on how it was for me as a mum. They are solely my own views which is why I make no mention of the other members of my family. My perceptions may not necessarily be the same as theirs and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on them. Whatever anyone thinks as to how I coped and their opinions on what actions I took - that is up to them. All I can say is that I did the best that I could with the resources and experience at my disposal and with the best of intentions. Most people do not get lessons on being a carer of mental illness - I for one certainly didn't. I'm a pretty straightforward person - what you see is what you get - and this is what mental illness got when it came to call.



Review of "To Walk on Eggshells"

The first thing that struck me about "To Walk on Eggshells" was the total lack of structure to the text - not even a chapter title in sight. The text is what I would term a "stream of consciousness" writing style. Jean does reveal that she is: "a talker and a thinker - and I do both rather a lot!".

The lack of any structure did mean that at times I found myself puzzling about the time relationship of some of significant events described. Browsing or "returning to" specific sections of the book was well nigh impossible. That being said, I have to say that the subject matter and the concise style of writing did make the book easy to read from cover to cover.

Practical help
The book bristles with practical tips on coping with mental illness episodes in a young adult child and makes sound points about "not getting hung up on diagnostic labels", "not getting too analytical" etc. At times I felt that the text did become a bit of a "lecture" or "advice session", though Jean does also freely acknowledge that "each journey is individual".

Armchair psychiatrists sticking their oar in!
Jean, quite rightly, draws attention to the nuisance and distress that amateur experts can cause with their injudicious and often ill-informed advice for dealing with an ailing family member. In this regard, I have hesitated (honestly!) before adding my own "two pennyworth" of comment below. When people are looking for ideas or considering "the next step" or have reached a point of stability, gentle suggestions may be helpful, but when people are in the throes of a crisis, or committed to trying a current approach, it can be a case of "too many cooks spoil the broth".

Jean, quite rightly in my experience, draws attention to the sterling efforts and deep caring of some psychiatry professionals. Does she go too far in idealising UK NHS psychiatric care? Read her book and make your own judgement. Certainly her personal experience of the nightmare that mental illness can bring has led her to work assiduously, alongside her daughter, for better understanding of mental health issues by all sections of society.

Relationship Issues and Bipolar Polarities
It is great that Jean and her daughter have both written accounts of this phase of their lives together, it gives some unique insights into the "interactive dynamics" of the evolution, progression and control of a mental illness. I wonder if we could persuade other family members or friends to add their own piece to this jigsaw of human suffering? - a suffering to which none of us can say we are safely immune.

Reading the mother/carer and daughter/sufferer accounts together I was fascinated by the apparent bi-polarity of relationship between them. The mother playing a pragmatic, "grounded", "matter-of-fact", "down to earth", extrovert, rock-like and stable role in their relationship and the daughter tending towards the other end of the spectrum: impulsive, imaginative, emotional, deep-thinking, intense and introspective.

An Inspiring Book by an Inspirational Author
The author is clearly a remarkable lady, taking on the very daunting and unpredictable world of mental ill-health symptoms with great stoicism, intelligence, hard work and dedication. Her treatise will be of great help and support to practically all of us, because depression, mania and self-harming symptoms and behavior patterns are all-too-common in our society today. Ignorance and fear compound the helplessness frustration that we face when those around us succumb to the pressures of life, trauma, genes or their current lifestyle (quite often a combination of these factors).

Phobias and shame still surround the issue of "madness" in a family member, in all its many manifestations, though surprisingly many of us will, at the same time, pay money to see people behave in crazy strange ways as a source of entertainment! It's not quite so funny when it is someone close to us and the behaviour or suffering cannot be turned off when you have had enough!

Virtue is the denial of self and response to what is right and proper.
Deny yourself for one day and respond to the right and proper and everyone will accord you virtuous



(Review by Dr. Michael Meredith - a UK Stress Management Trainer , Healer and ex-sufferer from bipolar disorder)


*Discussion of NHS Mental Health Issues Raised


To order the mental illness care book "To Walk on Eggshells"
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*Her Daughter's Manic-Depressive Illness Story: Bipolar Disorder - Personal Experience
*Resources for Depressed People: Depression - Reading List


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