In this episode, a mother reflects back on her experience raising children with schizophrenia decades ago. She discusses the difficulty of coming to terms with the diagnosis of schizophrenia, how the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family program helped her and her children through this journey and the importance of self-care.
Topics discussed include schizophrenia, agoraphobia, NAMI, self-care,
Female Speaker: Welcome to the “Just Ask Mom” Podcast, where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness. “Just Ask Mom” is a Mother’s on the Frontline production. Today we will hear from a mother and active Mental Health Advocate. She has an adult son with early onset schizophrenia.
Tammy: So tell us about yourself?
Mother: Well I’m considered elderly now, not middle aged. [laughs] I have lived with severe mental illness in my family for close to 18 to 20 years now. I originally grew up in a small town in Iowa and was involved in everything that you could be involved in in high school. I got a college degree. Went to work for the federal government and raised through the ranks even though I was a woman. Because when I first started they didn’t want women in supervisory positions and I eventually got into them anyway.
Tammy: That’s awesome, thank you by the way from us women who come later, we appreciate all that you did to make the path.
Mother: Mostly, it was like two dollars and 40 cents an hour, that’s what I’ve initially worked. And at that time I was unmarried and had a son. The choice actually was being on welfare or going to work and it was the same amount of money per month. So. It was interesting.
Tammy: So pretend you’re talking to other parents who might not fully understand your experience. What would you want them to know?
Mother: Well, first of all, to take it easy on kids – especially the ones that have some special needs because they’re scared out of their wits by what’s happening to them. And they are always fearful that somehow you’re going to turn them away or make fun of them or be ashamed of them. I just found that he needed me to always have a smile on my face – that you have to make a concerted effort, not ever to be mean to them because that ruins the trust. The focus of a lot of advocacy work that I do is to keep families together. And not to blame anybody, because this is an illness without blame. It’s simply a medical illness and it’s hard to adjust to it. So we have to kind of give ourselves a break there too because I can remember being in denial for a long time and not wanting to accept it, not wanting to let go of my dreams for my kids. Finally its almost like somebody goes ‘whack’ on your face. “Wake up! This is going on and you need to do something about it!” I can remember the first time I tried to tell someone that my kids had schizophrenia. I couldn’t say the word. It took at least half a dozen tries before I could get the actual word out of my mouth. And then I started getting angry. You’ll get angry because you’ll run into a lot of people who simply don’t get it and somehow think your kids have turned into ‘its’, they’ve lost their intelligence, they’ve lost their emotions, they’re some kind of an oddity and you always have to try to turn their attitude on that. So I’m just interested in making sure that kids don’t have any more trauma than absolutely necessary if they have those special needs.
Tammy: So how are you doing right now? Do you think you feel like you’re swimming? Drowning? Treading water at this moment?
Mother: Depends on which topic. I think I’m swimming as far as things are going in our family. With what’s going on at the State Legislature and nationally and locally – I think we’re drowning because we are under assault on so many things. So once again, depends on the topic.
Tammy: Yeah. What is your sub-care routine or if more appropriate survival technique? What do you recommend for people to do when it gets really tough?
Mother:, I steered away from anything that was really serious. Like, if you were watching TV.
Mother: I would make it a point to watch Disney movies because I didn’t want anything more to really alarm me. Also because you’re so involved with your kids during the day. Once they’re asleep, you know, that’s when I felt I could kind of let my hair down and I could cry after they went to bed. Or if I really needed to get out of my life and into somebody else’s I would read a book. Thirty minutes or an hour of reading before I went to bed would help. I was divorced at the time that this all happened and so many people have turned away because they didn’t know what to say. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was really hungry for a tender touch so one of the first things that I decided to do was to go have my hair done. Because somebody else is washing my hair and it always feels good when somebody’s washing your hair and fiddling around with it. It really didn’t matter whether it turned out nice or not. It was just the fact that it felt good. I also went to full body massages. And I’m going to go back to that. That always made me feel really good too. Physically I had to have some touch that reassured me that I was — I was still here. Emotionally I had to get out of my life into something else. So that’s what I did.
Tammy: So, a lot of times if you’re not laughing, you’re crying or screaming, right? With all that you’ve been through, what is your most laughable moment that comes to mind?
Mother: Oh, the most laughable moment – I had just taken NAMI family to family and one of my kids almost agoraphobic where they didn’t want to go out because they had so many panic attacks. They were afraid that no matter where they went, people would remember them and make fun of them or all that kind of stuff. And I came home from work one day and my child was sitting in the chair and I said, “ I just do not feel like fixing anything for supper, Let’s just go out and eat.” I said “we can afford it, so let’s just go out.” My child looked at me and said, “Mom, you know that I can’t do that,” and I knew because of the Family-to-Family training that there was a certain way I should respond to that. So I said, “hold on just a minute.” I went out of the room and found my book.
Tammy: They say kids don’t come with manuals, they don’t know about NAMI, I love it! [laughs].
Mother: I looked it up [laughs] and I tried to be calm, As I walked back in I said, “I’m really sorry I didn’t acknowledge that you have a hard time doing that. Maybe we could just order something and have it here. And she looked, she dropped her book and she says, “Oh my God, you actually acknowledge my feelings.” And here all this time when I was going to these classes I knew she was looking at the book. She had been going to a lot of therapy and she knew just as much or more than I did about what I should be doing. I just laughed about that every time.
Tammy: That’s awesome, that’s so great. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I really appreciate it.
Tammy: Thank you.
Female Speaker: In today’s discussion, NAMI was mentioned. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and NAMI Family-to-Family is a free education program for family, significant others, and friends of people living with mental illness. You can find out more about NAMI and its programs at nami.org
Female Speaker: You have been listening to Just Ask Mom, recorded and copyrighted in March 2017 by Mothers on the Front Line. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is Olde English, written performed, and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcasts in this another series relating to Children’s Mental Health go to mothersonthefrontline.com