Reliving deeply- ingrained childhood memories of Unworthiness, loneliness, and hopelessness. Print E-mail
Written by Jeanette   

"My first memory of her was of us drawing pictures together. I was 4 years old, not even in kindergarten, and I can clearly recall the feeling of distrust I had as she showed me how to draw a man in a hat. The feeling that I must be on guard, and that things are not safe."

An Only Child of a Schizophrenic Mother

Yesterday, I was reminded of the past. I live one state away from my parents, in a nicely-furnished apartment bordering on woodlands. I just successfully completed my first year of law school, and am in love with the subject. My life is rich: I have a small, but strong, group of wonderful friends, and have, for several years, dated a man who makes me believe in the word "soul-mate." Further, I am happy, overall: I revel in good books, and am inspired by nature, music, the good individuals I've met. Life is full of possibilities.

These things stand in stark contrast to what was. Yesterday, my parents visited and my mother was showing schizophrenic symptoms again. Getting her out of the hotel room was a chore for my father: she'd run back in and sit on the bed with melodramatic grunts. Once we got out, she had little interest in the historical sights or gardens we saw, and was full of eerie, insane observations. She soon started shadowing me, following around her only daughter without leaving the normal amount of space. And then she'd stare at me, unblinking, nonstop. My patience vanished, replaced by memories of life in their house. I'd snap at her, and she'd scurry away for a bit, looking back angrily and reproachfully, with no coherence in her gaze.

Familiar feelings of self-contempt welled up. I should be more patient; she's just ill and she cares about me in her own sick way. I suddenly felt heavy and tired, effectively reliving deeply-ingrained childhood memories of unworthiness, loneliness, and hopelessness. One such: I felt that since I didn't love my own mother, I wouldn't - and shouldn't - be able to be a part of the normal world or to have friends. Her illness was mine, and failing to keep control or to make things right meant I was tainted in the darkest way, spiritually and socially. Or another: there was a feeling of corrosion every time she came near. Like others who have posted, as a child I often thought of her as an It. Proximity was - and is - gruesome to me.

In all honesty, I don't love my mother. It was only in my middle twenties I could use the word "mother" at all: she was always "my father's wife" or a creature. My first memory of her was of us drawing pictures together. I was 4 years old, not even in kindergarten, and I can clearly recall the feeling of distrust I had as she showed me how to draw a man in a hat. The feeling that I must be on guard, and that things are not safe.

Until fourth grade, she'd have normal periods: my parents would have craft-group meetings and go square-dancing, and every once and a while, my mother would show me or my friends an interesting craft. I knew something was terribly wrong and that I was different, but there was an unspoken mandate of silence over the house. Though I did learn early on that she had schizophrenia, I knew I wasn't "allowed" to talk about it with anyone outside the family. I found solace in books and in science, declaring myself a rational Atheist at the age of seven.

By fourth grade, she had a very pronounced episode, tearing down my childhood works of art from the walls (I was a very good artist for my age) and trying to throw them away. After a joyful reprieve of having the house to just me and my father, she returned and was consistently ill afterwards. As her only daughter, she was of course obsessed by me and whatever I was doing. I was hounded often. Sometimes, she'd leave me alone and I could spend time thinking or reading, but other times, she'd drift over constantly, staring at me with her mad gaze and ordering me about, as her unhealthy whims dictated. I felt more and more trapped, and like there was no boundary between her and me: we were intertwined people, and I felt sickened and alone. Just getting out of the house was an effort. Everything was unpredictable, and I hated the constant fear, and the way I'd loose control and shout at her. Something told me that I must be calm always, and not show emotion. When I grew older, I realized that fear of the disease made me fear emotion... anything that was not based on pure reason was suspect, most of all within myself.

An analogy came to me as a child (and I've now seen it echoed on this website): having a schizophrenic parent is like a constant funeral, where you're never allowed to bury the body.

No help came from the outside world. My mother's psychiatrist was - and is - an arrogant, highly-religious man who hates to be questioned. He only spoke with me once one-on-one, when I was in sixth grade. Calling me into his office and shutting the door, he proceeded to berate me for not believing in God, saying that my lack of religion was making my mother worse. I started crying eventually, after trying to defend my own beliefs, and my father came in. The doctor didn't tell him why I was crying, and I couldn't form the words to explain it. My father was, above all, naive. He trusted the authorities unconditionally, and never tried to get another doctor. I think he was - and is - depressed himself. Another parent might have done more to defend and encourage their child, but I had little positive feedback, and was left to figure things out on my own. Still, I idolized him for a long time, for he was the only sane parent I had. The only other family members were a grandmother and uncle who lived in another state. Neither had much presence in my life, and I didn't feel any real connection with them.

My father stuck by her, and still does. He will probably be with her until one of them dies. Hopefully her, I'm no longer ashamed to wish, both to give him some rest and to make elder care easier for me.

I enjoyed school and did well in it, so I got through childhood only by clinging to the hope of university. My biggest fear in high school was that my father would die first, leaving me with my schizophrenic mother, and that I would not be able to go to college. Once I got out and started my B.A., I was paralyzed by the apprehension that my father would die and that the authorities would make me go back home and take care of my mother. It took me many years to realize that no one could, in actuality, make me go back. I was also terrified of getting the disease, and indeed - as a child - I often supposed I must be sick myself, to be where I was. These fears faded and then vanished with age: my mother had her first episode in early college, and was verifiably schizophrenic by her early twenties. Once I passed these markers, I felt like I was clear.

After a first, brief marriage to the wrong person, I saw a cognitive therapist for a while. Only someone else from the same background can imagine how difficult this was: my mental associations with therapists were all bad ones. However, I was lucky, and found a good person to work with. But in the end, most of my healing came from getting away from the situation and building my own life. In college, I'd come back and stay with my parents for the summer, a huge mistake in retrospect that served only to make me repeatedly miserable. Some part of me always thought that I had grown enough to "handle it" and that I had "failed" if I went back and still felt anything other than perfect love and calmness towards my mother. Now I realize that I can't build on something that wasn't there: while I've managed to have a few good chats with my mother when she's somewhat stable, it has more of the character of a distant, dutiful friendship then. But when she's in her episodes, I quickly feel, as I did growing up, that she's at best a contemptible younger sibling.

I've also found a good deal of healing in dreams and in Jungian philosophy. The mythic imagery in both have helped me better understand the past, and to integrate my emotions and cut-off parts of myself back into the whole. I feel healthy and happy, though - in retrospect - I was very depressed in high school and college (and indeed considered suicide quite a few times back then). The other key for me has been unabashed honesty, in direct opposition to that deep childhood fear that "my secret" - having a schizophrenic mother - would be exposed. Secrecy, I think, is a horrible burden and us children of the mentally ill must shake it off as quickly as possible. Society, I'm sure, would rather pretend that it didn't abandon us and that even families with mentally-ill parents are mostly full of Kodak moments: this is a lie and it needs to be fought. By sharing our stories, I think we each are taking a very positive step in that direction.

East Coast, USA


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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