by Susanna Bertelsen
Decades ago, in the 1980’s, I received a frantic call from my mother in Ohio, who announced over the phone, “Your brother has Schizophrenia. And they put him on Stelazine.”
To say the least, at that time, this family news was both disconcerting and challenging. Schizophrenia? Stelazine? What did I know about all this? How could I, in Minnesota, possibly support my parents back in Ohio? I recoiled to think that he had a mental illness…what would everyone say and think, after all!
Fast forward to 1995, when my father died, and the doctors thought it would be mutually beneficial for my brother (my only sibling) to continue to live at home in Ohio, with our mother. This was fine with me! Then, suddenly, mother died January, 26, 2002, and, I inherited my brother. Less than a week following mother’s funeral, we headed back to our home in Minnesota, with my brother in the back seat of the car, sleeping out one of his long Stelazine-drugged snoozes, all 13 + hours of the road trip! What NOW was I to do about all of this!?
I was frantic, confused, and felt helpless. Soon, I began to reach out for information. Help came in many grace-filled ways, including from NAMI Minnesota. The Family to Family support and education changed my life. I was shown how HOPE for RECOVERY exists today, in a way that was not available to my family in the 1980’s when they needed it the most. Eventually, I began turning to and leaning on God from day to challenging day. AND, I sought out the support of an understanding Spiritual Director, because I realized that I could not walk this walk alone. Overtime, having my brother Edward around, and thriving, became a blessing for all of us in the family.
Five years after Edward began to live nearby, I felt a need to “return back to the community all that we had learned from this experience.” In 2007, I trained for and began teaching Family to Family peer education to families whose loved ones live with the challenges of mental illness. In this way, I advocate for those living with mental illness and their families by providing both educational and spiritual support. Moving forward after Edward’s death May 5, 2012, I want everyone in my situation, whether a parent, sibling, spouse, partner, other relative or friend, to realize that “You are not alone, you didn’t cause it, and there is HOPE for RECOVERY!”
On October 12, 2019 I will facilitate an inspiring and informative NAMI MN – HOPE for RECOVERY workshop at Loyola Spirituality Center, in collaboration with NAMI MN.
Afterward, I invite you to consider my Spiritual Direction bio. I offer a supportive, listening ear to caregivers of those living with mental illness. My contact information is listed there.
I invite you to check out the HOPE for RECOVERY workshop at
and our other supportive programs and workshops on our website at