People frequently ask me what it was like growing up with a mom who had schizophrenia. I have shared some of my happy memories of my mom in a previous blog, and later I will share some of my memories of the more challenging times when her untreated illness was at its worst.
Now, I’ll share about my experience with people’s reactions when they would find out about my mom’s illness. My favorite was “Oh my God, that’s hereditary” and this was once followed by “oh well, maybe it will skip a generation” as I stood there with my two young daughters at my side. When I was in college I had been dating a guy for quite some time when I finally decided to confide in him about her. He grew quiet and shortly thereafter the date ended and he never asked me out again. Some people asked “How did you turn out so good?” Others would tell me to pray for her to be healed, leaving me to feel angry and guilty that I hadn’t prayed hard enough when I didn’t get the “answer” I wanted. One person even suggested that my mom may need an exorcist. Many wanted to know what could have happened in her childhood to cause her illness. My cousin, who was a product of the 60s and dropped a lot of acid, said she could always relate well to my mom. Needless to say, once I left home, it became much easier to avoid people’s comments by not telling anyone.
Looking back now, I realize I was fortunate enough to have the 4 “F’s” to help me through. My father, friends, family, and faith.
Father – For almost 40 years of marriage, until my mom died from lung cancer, my father stuck by her side and maintained the stability in our household. I remember having many conversations with him, as we all struggled to figure out what to do, and his message was always clear. “I married her in sickness and health, and I will not abandon her or you children.” It was very challenging for him, since she also had Anosognosia which means that she was not aware that she was ill and resisted taking medications. I am grateful for his strength and fortitude during those times. He didn’t always know how to handle things, but he was always there for her and was sensitive to her rights as a person.
Friends – There were many people I didn’t tell about my mom, but my true friends knew and provided tremendous support. I spent many hours of my childhood at my friend Kathy’s house, just hanging out after school, doing all the usual things young girls do. We have remained friends to this day, and she was like a part of my family as well. Over the years, I have been blessed with a good circle of amazing friends who have been supportive and in whom I can confide.
Family – I was also blessed to have a great family. Growing up, my brother and I were very close – since I was only 18 months younger than him. He was the person I turned to whenever things got rough, and no matter what, I always knew we had each other’s back. Although we were like any normal siblings who would fight, he was the first to stand up for me whenever things got rough. He moved away for college and didn’t come back after that (probably because of some painful memories), but the bond we had was never broken and we remained close even at a long distance.
Ten years after I was born, my mother became pregnant with my sister and less than 2 years later, my other sister was born. Oh what joy they’ve brought into my life! I was able to handle anything going on in my home environment knowing I had their bright little faces to come home to. It was like a new dimension had been added to our family’s life, and they were my inspiration for rising above the adversities that arose when I had difficulty coping. Even though I’ve always been in a different stage of life than them, we continue to grow even closer with time.
My husband has a way about him that is accepting and was the right balance for me when I was struggling to figure things out. He weathered the storm during the years when I was fraught with anxiety and fears about whether I would inherit my mom’s illness. He helped me to lighten up and live in each moment instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. At family gatherings, when we were all tuning out my mom’s ramblings about some strange topic, he was the one who sat and listened to her.
I was so afraid to become a parent, and my two daughters came into my life at the perfect times. I was unsure of my role as a mother, and the only thing I was really sure of was the depth of my love for them. Ultimately, they have been such a gift in my life. They are both incredibly loving, sensitive, and caring, and I’m grateful for their wonderful spirits as I learned how to be a parent. One of the things I wanted most was to know what it was like to have a close, loving mother/daughter relationship, and I am truly blessed to have this with both of them.
Faith – I believe that growing up with someone who had a chronic illness changed the way I view my faith. When I was younger, I thought of God as a sort of Santa Claus figure. I made my requests, and they might be answered or rejected, based on whether I had been good or bad. I continued with this concept until it became too stressful, and gradually life’s experiences led me to take a different view about faith and God.
Obviously we don’t live in a world that is free from diseases, wars, natural disasters, and tragedies. The only way I can bring about change is to start within myself, and that’s where my faith comes in – being open to what life teaches me, and learning from and sharing this with others. All of us have a place in this world. Sometimes we are the ones who can offer the solutions, and sometimes we are the ones who inspire someone else to find the solutions.