Healing Begins When You See People As Complete
Traveling down the stairs in a single file line as the school day was ending, my 7-year-old body was nervous. I knew that my mother was waiting for me at the bottom of the staircase with the other parents and I didn't want my friends to see her. I loved her dearly, but I knew that she was different from the other mothers. Occasionally she talked and laughed to herself, having full conversations when no one was around, and I didn't want my friends making fun of me for having a "weird" mom. Handling that kind of ridicule was too much for my 7-year-old mind.
I wasn’t surprised at all to see that, when the class made it to the last landing before the parents retrieved us, my mother was standing in the corner absentmindedly laughing to herself. At that moment, I wished that my embarrassment would engulf me in an invisible shield. When my classmate asked me if that was my mom, instead of giving her the truth, I lied and said she was my mom's friend. I wanted to distance myself from the woman in the corner as best as I could.
That day foreshadowed the relationship with my mother's schizophrenia. The shame that I felt surrounding her illness stayed with me throughout my adolescent years. I hated God for giving me a sick mother. “It’s completely unfair!” I told myself. Being a youngster, I was ignorant to what schizophrenia does to the mind of a person, and my fear surrounding its medical mystery caused me to take a dismissive approach to our parent/child connection. I believed that my mother's frame of mind was a lost cause, and I saw her as a broken person instead of a whole one. This was far from the truth, and the space I created between myself and the woman who gave birth to me added to the daily stigma she faced.
Schizophrenia is a deterioration in perception that causes an individual to blur imagination with reality. The reasons for this breakdown are unknown, however, it is believed to be affected by genetics, environment, and traumatic experiences. Symptoms include but are not limited to hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, little or no emotional expression, and social withdrawal. Often occurring with other mental ailments such as anxiety and depression, schizophrenia can be hard to diagnose and treat. But despite popular misconceptions, it isn't necessarily a lifelong battle. Although schizophrenia can't be cured, studies show that 4 out of 5 schizophrenic people will see a decrease in symptoms or remission within five years of the first psychotic episode. What makes the difference is the treatment and environment that is employed. Learning this vital information was critical in shifting my view in regards to my mother.
The first thing that I aimed to do was provide a structured environment for her to thrive. Due to my mom's age and other health ailments she was facing, I was able to seek health services through Medicaid that assisted me with her wellness. We were able to find a long-term care management company that partnered with Medicaid and they provided us with an aide to help her. This was a great help to my family. Looking more into this service, I learned that care management is funded on the state level but is nationally available to everyone if needed, despite income. What surprised me most was how little families used this resource. Unfortunately, individuals with schizophrenia tend to be ignored or marginalized, and often do not know the options that are available to them. The care the aide provided ensured that my mother was able to stay in her home and not a facility, giving her the comfort and independence she desired. Something as small as this is very important because when a schizophrenic person is experiencing an episode, having a daily or weekly routine keeps them grounded. Finding out this tool changed the course of my mother's treatment for the better.
Caring for someone with a mental ailment can take a toll on the caregiver, so having assistance a couple of days a week made a difference in my sense of well being too. It gave me peace of mind knowing that if an episode occurred, there was someone there in case I wasn't available. Now that I had some space to care for myself and someone to help me shoulder the burden of caring for my mother, I could step back and look at transforming the way I related to my mother. I resolved to connect with her and not to avoid the embarrassment and pain of confronting her illness.
I began to speak to her in earnest. I found that having daily high vibrational conversations with her kept her coherent with reality. Doing what I coined as my "love sessions," in which I squeezed her with hugs and gave her the biggest kiss was imperative. It is important for individuals to have that one on one relationship with another person, and because schizophrenia creates discourse in mind, forming reciprocities with others is of little interest. It wasn't unusual to see my mom sitting in the dark all day, unmotivated, exhausted, and depressed. Getting her to take a walk or sit outside to feel the air was a chore. I decided to stop forcing her to step into my comfort zone, and I moved into her space, meeting her in her current state with love.
Every day I engaged my mother in conversations that uplifted her. I spoke about her achievements and what gives her joy on a daily basis. I took note of the things that interested her and began to incorporate it into our daily talks. It was incredible how much this helped her stay focus. When a flare-up did occur, I was able to gain insight into the juxtaposition of her mind. I saw how much a person who battles this illness struggles between reality and imagination. She confessed to me that the role play she does as a doctor is her way of avoiding the voices she hears. Sometimes she is aware that the noises she detects aren't real people, but she has no way of silencing them. Listening to her conflict breaks my heart, but I have hope that her consciousness is pushing her forward.
Over time, I realized that our talks were not only beneficial to her, but they help me as well. I was able to witness the pain that my mother felt when she realized that her episodes were not reality. In my mom's fantasy, she was the doctor she always wanted to be, she was the mother of the children lost through miscarriages, and the loved wife in her failed marriage. The traumas that trapped her in her body had an outlet, and through our communication, I learned to be gentle with her as she experienced them.
It is important to see beyond a person's illness and to recognize the soul of an individual. Despite all the efforts I put forth in helping my mother, no tool that I presented to her was of any use until I stopped viewing her as imperfect and began to see her as complete. Currently, I am still discovering how to serve my mom best and improve her wellness. I am assisting her in creating a positive environment with upbeat energy, motivating her to take care of her body through daily exercising and healthy eating. I've also incorporated alternative healing methods such as plant medicine into her routine. She is learning ways to calm the nervous system and decrease her stress. Overall the pleasure she still has for life is uplifting for me, and I am proud of where she and her treatment are going. Being the daughter of someone living with a mental disorder can be challenging at times, but I love my mother endlessly, and I can now say that would never change her for the world.