Sunday, May 12, 2013

Living with Mental Illness - A Mother's Perspective

In honor of Mother's Day, a post written by my mother.

Mental illness was always very far away—the homeless men and women on the streets of New York City, the movie stars who surprised us on E! (Kristy McNichol, Carrie Fisher, Margot Kidder), and the characters of plays and novels (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Beautiful Mind, and Girl, Interrupted). While growing up, I was never aware of being around anyone with mental illness. 

Today, mental illness has come closer. It is in my home. I’m not exactly sure how it got here, and it really doesn’t matter how, it’s here. It is here with me every day. Severe depression stole my daughter away from me almost four years ago. After a scary time in December last year, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II.

The diagnosis was difficult to hear. It’s crushing to hear a respected doctor say your child has a mental illness. What you hear is, “Your child is sick with a permanent, challenging condition which you must learn to accept and deal with on a daily basis for the rest of your lives.” And then deep down, you hope you have many, many days to deal with this.

Denial came and went for me fairly quickly.  Learning about the situation became my mission. Acceptance has taken time. I have found it difficult to say, “My daughter has bipolar disorder.” We do not have a home of despair or abuse—and I’m afraid people will assume we do. Or they will just wonder what is wrong with us. 

It stung when mental illness came into my house uninvited and took my daughter. I had absolutely NO CONTROL over it. I continue to try to do the right thing in every day life, and that is all I can do. I try to be supportive. I’ve seen glimpses of the old Jenna—the one with the sparkle in her eye as she tells a joke. She’s a beautiful, loving, wonderful young woman, and she’s still there. I just have to work harder to see her sometimes. I’m so glad I’m her mother. Mental illness can’t take that away.


If you are interested, the post on my brother's perspective is located here.