Shedding the black coat

 Revised Shedding the black coat 11.2

When I began speaking to Kali about how she and her family coped when her youngest son had difficulties with schizophrenia I was blown away. My family had been overwhelmed by mental illness and here was a lady who has devoted her life to making it possible for her son to live well with his illness. I just had to write about it so that I and others could learn a better way.

This book chronicles the lives of two generations of the Paxinos family. In the first part of the book the history of this eccentric Greek family captures the hereditary aspects of mental illness and how it was managed within the family in the Greek context. This narrative also captures the wounding effects of living within a traumatised family and then continues tracing the impact of this wounding on the lives of the next generation.

The second part of the book offers a three hundred and sixty degree view of the illness (the person with schizophrenia, his mother and siblings, a case manager and a psychiatrist) then builds on this picture to describe how this family has managed and planed for the future of their mentally ill person.

Woven throughout the book is a description of how Kali a Greek mother has learned about schizophrenia and built on these learnings to support and advocate for other people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities within the mental health system and beyond.

REVIEWS 

  1. Dr Melanie Evans says: In ‘Shedding the Black Coat’ Jill Parris has written a moving and insightful account of one Greek families experience with Schizophrenia. The book follows Kali Paxinos in her journey through immigration, marriage and assimilation into Australian life. It documents the gradual realization that her youngest child has a significant mental illness and the steps she must learn to take to soothe herself, support her family and her son, whilst managing to understand and adapt to the complex mental health system in Australia.

Kali’s view of the circumstances of her life and those around her is a beautiful example of unconditional love and acceptance, as well as optimism and engagement, which has the power to be a moving and inspirational example to us all. As a psychiatrist reading this book, I am struck by how much Kali embodies so much of what we know to be essential in supporting those with mental illness, including acceptance, commitment, low expressed emotion, valuing and education.

Not content to help those in her own family come to terms with the changes and challenges mental illness can bring to the whole family, Kali goes on to become a major force in educating and supporting other families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families.

The book highlights the special challenges that CALD families face, and the ways in which our traditional approach to the management of mental illness sometimes needs to be adapted and amended to suit very diverse ways of seeing the world of mental illness.

Kali has been a powerful influence on mental health services in the way they approach CALD families, and Jill Parris has extended this work with her very warm insight into the Paxinos family themselves. Her portrayal of the family and the responses of individual members to mental illness serves as a wonderful model of coping in what Kali refers to as ‘collective cultures’, that is cultures where the family remain tightly connected and involved in supporting individual members.

In addition to family members, Jill Parris has interviewed the treating team, and it is heartening to see the way each is able to bring their own strengths to bear in a very collaborative way.

  1. Sandy Jeffs says that Jill Parris has written a book which celebrates a woman who went from blaming herself for her son’s schizophrenia to become an advocate for carers, teaching them how to navigate the mental health system, especially those from non-English speaking backgrounds, to sitting on committees and boards as a carer representative and becoming a sought after public speaker. Kali is a font of pure wisdom and its practical application, which ultimately helped Perri and his whole family deal with a disturbing illness. So much can be learned from this book because we are allowed into the heart and mind of this extraordinary woman whose love and deep compassion for her mentally ill son shows what is possible when there is a will to make a difference.
  1. Shirley Mill says Kali Paxinos is a legendary figure in Victoria, in her capacity as an advocate for carers, particularly those in the CALD community, through her work and her public speaking, where she can be relied upon to be the voice of courageous and compassionate reason.

Her story is fascinating.  It is inspiring to read of her journey within her own family,

of Greek origin, where they had to overcome the cultural beliefs which contributed to exacerbation of the immense problems which can be associated with ongoing major mental illness. She has also been prepared to challenge aspects of the mental health system, which made life harder for carers, e.g. The failure to give clear guidelines for the management at home (or out of hospital) of the person for whom they care.

Her approach to helping carers, which is just as applicable to those whose first language is English, is practical, achievable and sustainable, and always based in respect, compassion and appropriate inclusivity.  In particular, her approach to seeking optimum harmony within her own family whilst continuing to support their mentally ill brother is both instructive and impressive. Kali has been ahead of her time with her insight and her championing of those who do not have an adequate voice. Her willingness to continue her valuable work into her eighties is to be both admired and celebrated.   The title, Shedding the Black Coat, reflects the realistic optimism of this most interesting book.

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