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The SANE Blog

Meet Sandra and Kym.

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As we reach the end of Schizophrenia Awareness Week, we’re sharing the inspiring story of Sandra and Kym, a devoted couple whose life journey together has been shaped by Kym 's diagnosis of schizophrenia. Their story is one of resilience, love, and unwavering commitment to understanding and supporting each other through every challenge and triumph.

"Amongst other things, firstly I am a wife and a mother. I have a PhD, so my husband calls me doctor," Sandra begins. Kym, a former nurse, shares a life filled with diverse interests with Sandra. They both garden, read, love cinema, interior design, visual art, and culture. Sandra, with a background in marketing, has taught painting and drawing, and tutored Honors students in research methods at UniSA. However, everything changed when Sandra became a full-time carer for Kym following his schizophrenia diagnosis.

Kym is so much more than his diagnosis, he is an intelligent and compassionate individual who once served as a nurse, dedicating himself to caring for others. "My husband plays chess and has recently taught himself Latin. I can do neither," Sandra laughs. His intellectual curiosity and love for learning are just a few of the many qualities that define him. Kym’s passion for chess and his recent endeavour to learn Latin reflect his vibrant and inquisitive mind. Sandra emphasises, "It’s important to see beyond the diagnosis and recognise the incredible person he is."

Reflecting on how Kym’s diagnosis impacted their relationship, Sandra shares, "No doubt, it has been challenging. At times it's run the gamut of emotions from A to Z and then some. It's been everything, both heaven and hell and back again. We will have been married 39 years this year. If anything, his diagnosis made us stronger." Despite the challenges, they find joy in shared activities and have grown closer through their shared experiences.

Both Sandra and Kym cherish their time in the garden and the daily ritual of reading. "We have 'Friday night flop out' where we watch a movie or a series, eat snack foods, and generally relax after the week. We love talking about current affairs." Their shared love for nature and intellectual pursuits strengthens their bond and provides a sense of normalcy and joy.

The most difficult aspect of caring for a partner with schizophrenia has been the loss of friendships. "Many people are still wary and frightened of this state of consciousness. We have felt abandoned and missed out on life  experiences that would have previously been shared before Kym's diagnosis," Sandra reveals. The stigma surrounding schizophrenia has led to a sense of isolation, particularly after a particularly confronting psychotic break. Doing their own research was crucial.

"Kymwas a nurse and had firsthand experience working on a mental health ward, so he was aware of what was going on with his own mental health. When he was diagnosed, I visited libraries, read journals, and scoured the internet for information." Sandra and Kym explored beyond the medical model to understand his experiences better, which helped in maintaining a stable and supportive environment.

"I have mental health days where I just wander op shops and second-hand book shops to take a break from my carer role. Kym likes to listen to music with headphones on and switch off from the outside world when he needs to, and that's okay too." Sandra and Kym’s biggest motivation is to let others know that "with time, patience, and understanding, love does conquer all."

To those with a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia, Sandra advises, "Hang in there. While it can be the most difficult of times, it will also be the most rewarding experience; to be present in the company of someone who sees the world in colours that don't exist yet- what a gift." She emphasises the importance of seeking help and assistance. "It can be really difficult at times, and you will feel like you are all alone in this, but you're not. There are a multitude of great organisations that can help if you need. Some are just a phone call or keypad away." Kym’s schizophrenia led Sandra to pursue a PhD on language and schizophrenia, present her research at Oxford University twice, and have it published in a book.

"I have learned how privileged I am to be so loved by someone who experiences the world sometimes so differently to myself and who has shared his sometimes sublime and poetic visions." Despite ongoing awareness campaigns, Sandra feels mental illness is still misunderstood. "Surely we are at the point that we understand health to be holistic—the mind and body can become unwell, and it's just being human."

Sandra and Kym’s story is a testament to the power of love, resilience, and the importance of understanding and supporting those with mental health challenges. By looking beyond the diagnosis, Sandra reminds us to appreciate the unique individuals who live with schizophrenia and recognise the richness they bring to our lives.

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