This post will conclude the first part of my series called A Day in the Life which I started at the beginning of the summer. Writing these stories about life growing up with a mom who had paranoid schizophrenia has been an enlightening experience for me and I will occasionally write additional posts throughout the upcoming year. Next summer when I have more free time, I hope to go back to writing regular posts in the series.
As I’ve embarked on this expedition, unraveling my memories, trying to connect the parts that make sense with the parts that have become fuzzy and obscure over the past few decades, I have gained a profusion of insight into myself, our family dynamics, and most importantly, a better understanding of the woman who inspired these stories, my mother.
Despite my tumultuous relationship with my mom, I have never been able to hang onto any bit of anger towards her. How could I be angry at someone who dealt with such an intrusive illness; one that impacted every aspect of her life even as she tried to manage a household and raise four children? How could I be angry at someone who had to spend months of her life in an institution that was little more than a glorified prison, when what she really deserved was good medical care?
I am angry though. I am very angry at the way people who have serious mental illnesses have been treated over the years and continue to be treated even now. Although people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of crime than they are to commit violent crimes, still the media latches onto stereotypes that paint them as dangerous individuals, and as one of my earlier posts illustrates, fear of individuals with mental illness abounds. Still, there are large numbers of people with mental illnesses who are homeless or in prisons for committing minor crimes. Many have been harmed by law enforcement officials who lack the knowledge or skills to deal with a crisis.
Here are two great posts by Rebecca at A Journey With You that illustrate these points quite well:
Public policies about mental health care are negatively impacted by false perceptions, and are still greatly lacking. Rather than getting the treatment they deserve, mentally ill individuals are often left isolated, ostracized, and too ashamed to seek help. When they do find the courage to seek help, they may be turned away or forced to wait for much-needed treatment. Can you imagine having to wait that long for treatment for diabetes or congestive heart failure? A mental health crisis is just as serious and can just as easily lead to the unnecessary loss of life.
On a more basic level, there is still a huge stigma that goes along with admitting one’s mental illness. I was too afraid to even tell anyone about my mom, for fear that I too would be stigmatized. Indeed, on those occasions when I did tell people, I often wished I hadn’t because of insensitive remarks.
I was fortunate to grow up in a middle class home with a father who was able to provide for his family and take care of my mom despite the many obstacles that were thrown our way. Many others are much less fortunate and forced to live on the fringes of society, all because they have an illness. This has to change.