At about the age of 13 I found out my mother’s diagnosis, it was Schizophrenia. I was reading through some court papers, that I wasn’t supposed to have been reading, and saw it: “…… has been diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia”. I can’t recall exactly how I felt reading it, but I do know I was a bit relived. For the past 5-6 years I knew my mom wasn’t OK, but I didn’t know what was wrong with her. I didn’t know why she always heard voices, I didn’t know why she would get so angry when we told her we didn’t see the things that she saw. I didn’t know why my mother didn’t hug us or tell us that she loved us. I didn’t understand why she thought the breakfast we made for her on mother’s day, had poison or spit in it.
No one talked to us about why my mom was in and out of the hospital, every couple of years. No one in my family told me my mother had Schizophrenia, I read it in court papers. Whenever I had a chance , I would try to find out more information about the illness, but at my age I didn’t understand what I read, so I just stopped. I just accepted that is what my mother had, and to me, she was uncaring, unstable, irresponsible, and angry.
Despite my feelings, I was always grateful for the values she instilled in us at a young age. During the years, when her recovery periods were short, we were able to still take care of ourselves. We knew how to get ourselves off to school, cook for ourselves and do our school work to maintain good grades. I credit that not only to my mother, but also to my grandparents, and the grace of God. It would be almost two decades before I would be able to separate the symptoms of the illness from my mom. She was not the illness. She was just the opposite. During her periods of her recovery, she was a different woman, and I had to learn to remember the confident, hard-working, big-hearted, loving, smart, and somewhat stubborn woman she will always be.
A combination of therapy and learning about her illness helped me make the distinction between my mother and her illness. My therapist helped me to understand that while it was a shame that no one helped me to understand her illness when I was child, nothing was stopping me now. I researched books and “Surviving Schizophrenia” by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. gave me a much better understanding of Schizophrenia. This book not only gave me insight as to what it was like for my mother, but it educated me on what I can do to help support her. This was such a great resource me, that I bought one for my sister. is highly recommend, if you know someone who has a loved one affected by this illness tell them about this book or buy it for them (it would be a great way to show your support).
Surviving Schizophrenia by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. was first published in 1983, and is currently on it’s 6th edition. It has clear and simple language, and is often recommend to patients, families and mental health professionals.