I find myself having an emotional response as I recall some of the memories of my childhood. Although it is sad to think about the impact of my mom’s illness (paranoid schizophrenia) on her and our family, I feel it is an important story to tell. If things had been different during those days, perhaps it would have been easier for her to get the help she needed and our family to get the support we needed. Instead, we lived in bewilderment and fear, not knowing what to do or what was going to happen.
Because I feel it is so important to be a mental health advocate, I want to write at least 2 posts a week in my “Day in the Life” series as a way to address misconceptions and increase the understanding of mental illness as a serious health problem.
Watching my mom after she had my baby sister was like seeing her for the first time. I became a student of hers, watching her every move with increasing curiosity and admiration. I watched as she read the newspaper each day, clipping out articles that she felt were important. I watched as she circled the word of the day in the Reader’s digest and memorized the definition. I watched her read books to my baby sister and sing to her when she was breast-feeding. I watched her waif-like body strolling across the yard as she picked up sticks. I watched her scrubbing potatoes at the sink when she prepared dinner. I watched her put on her make-up each day, bare-breasted, squinting into the mirror. I watched her intently and didn’t mind that sometimes I seemed to be invisible to her.
One summer day when my sister was about 8 months old, I was sitting on a blanket in the back yard with my mom and the baby. We laughed playfully as my sister put a piece of grass in her mouth and then made a face and spit it out. We stretched out on our backs and watched as a patch of gray clouds began to cast a shadow on us.
“Do you see those particles?” My mom asked, looking up at the sky. “Those are atoms swirling around, can you see them?”
I looked into the blank sky and squinted and strained, but I could not see the atoms she was talking about. I could only feel the shifting winds blowing, leaving me with a cold chill.
As she picked up my sister and walked back into the house, I noticed a strange look on her face. It was a look I would come to know well.