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Mental Illness: A Mother’s Story

By October 1, 2018 No Comments

Looking back, I realized my adult child had mental illness approximately 20 years ago. However, it wasn’t until about 14 years ago that it became a focus of our lives. My daughter had a sometimes difficult childhood. I divorced her father she was six years old. In high school, she began to manifest a rebellious streak and had difficulties. She hung out with kids who used alcohol and other drugs, and didn’t seem to enjoy school. I found it difficult to discipline her. She had her own mind and sense of independence. Nonetheless, she graduated 6 months earlier than her peers.

Then, at the age of 17, we experienced a tragic loss. Her 13-year-old brother was killed while riding his bike. This was difficult for all of us. We all struggled with losing him. I took on heavy guilt for not handling a faulty bicycle in time. My daughter also felt responsible, being the older sister. My struggles with her continued.

After that, I wanted to change my job and move away from the small town we lived in. Her father lived in a town nearby and she went to live with him for a while, but had issues with her stepmother. She eventually ended up living in a trailer and working for a gardener, helping manage plants grown on the property.  At that time, she was drinking alcohol regularly.

Eventually, she made her way to Santa Cruz with a friend and enrolled in junior college. Her father and I were able to support her once she showed us she was serious about her grades. She transferred to a state college and in her last year there. It was at that time that I noticed the first signs of real paranoia in her. She was renting a room with others and mentioned she was concerned the manager of the house was he was conspiring to get her evicted. She also struggled with finding a job she could handle and getting enough sleep.

Later on, she moved in with me for 6-month period. She accused me of deliberately making noises in the kitchen to wake her up. When I finally had to ask her to leave she went peacefully and ended up checking into the mental health ward at a hospital in another town. They were able to help her find a room to rent.

Eventually she moved back to the town I lived in, and rented a room for 2 years. She was able to get a Section 8 voucher and moved to an apartment in a nearby town. This allowed her to pursue art classes and music. It was a very creative period for her.

After several years her paranoia had become intense. She was feeling it all the time. She also suffered from depression. When I asked her whether she felt suicidal she said yes. She had gone about a month with very little sleep, trying to hold on to a job. I told her to come stay with me.

Eventually, she said she wanted to be admitted to the mental health ward at the hospital, and was soon discharged with new medications. She was reluctant to return home and eventually asked me to shut down her apartment. She withdrew into listening to music in the backyard. At that time, she began to manifest symptoms of physical pain. She developed an uncomfortable feeling in her chest. Then it moved to many parts of her body and became unbearable. She was readmitted to the hospital many times. She was ultimately placed on conservatorship and spent several months in a treatment facility. Eventually, she was connected to services with the Monterey County Behavioral Health Bureau. From there, they were able to admit her to Interim’s Manzanita House, a crisis residential treatment facility, and then Shelter Cove, once of Interim’s transitional housing programs. She is presently in permanent housing in an Interim managed apartment, pursuing her art, taking classes, and doing well.

It was a long, hard period of years for her and for me. I had been to family support meetings for about 15 years and it helped me see that limits had to be set for her good and mine. She has maintained her sobriety and continued to pursue her art and music. Through the Interim experience she has gained trust in the services she is receiving. She has regained optimism and knows there are ways to move forward with her life. She has come to accept that she has mental “vulnerabilities.” Sometimes we discuss them. I don’t refer to her as mentally ill. She works well with a County psychiatrist she trusts. I don’t pry or try to manage her medications. I can now see her future is brighter. She gained this through her own strength, honesty, and willingness to participate in Interim’s programs.

Her dad and stepsister plan regular activities. She has reached out to old friends from high school and reconnected with artists she met and interacted with in nearby cities. We now get together weekly to share TV, movies, trips to art shows, and lunches or dinners. We laugh a lot. I have never felt closer to her. I don’t feel responsible for her. I know she is in a system that can work with her, support her, help her grow wiser, explore her creativity, and have continued good connections with many people in her life.