My daughter Amber has schizophrenia and I’m glad I’m her mom.
“She’s lucky to have you for parents.” “She’s doing well because of you.”
I’ve heard this often. I usually answer them, “I’m glad I’m her mom.”
Schizophrenia tried to steal Amber from the life she envisioned for herself. Her brain disorder bombarded her with symptoms after she graduated from college and headed into the world to follow her dreams. Paranoia, delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, distorted thinking, and confusion crippled her for many harrowing months. As she spiraled out of the reality I knew into a one that made no sense, I thought I lost my only daughter forever. The relationship I envisioned for us slipped away as the whirlpool of mental illness sucked her away.
Through treatment, things changed. She entered the recovery stage and manages her symptoms through medication and self-care. She works full-time, lives on her own, manages her own affairs, and leads a social life that makes me tired.
Thirteen years later, I have my daughter back. My husband, Roy and I have an amazing daughter. And I feel that I gained a confidant and friend. As Mother’s Day approaches, I look back and see how our relationship evolved from mother/daughter through caregiver/patient, back to mother/daughter and now – friend.
Amber and I call each other almost daily. We talk about our day, the latest book we’ve read or movie that we’ve watched. We share our thoughts about faith, situations around us and giggle over silly stories. I ask her for advice and vice versa. But beyond my conversation partner, I look at where we’ve been and I am grateful.
I would not have chosen this off-road course of life for her, or for our family. But life throws things at us that we can’t avoid. In spite of the struggles, the stress, and the heartache we had, I found joy. I leaned on my faith to help me cope until I saw a glimmer of hope again. I feel I became a better person because of her illness and the things I learned. Things I wish I knew years ago:
- Treat it like every other illness. Mental Illness is a biological illness. Scientists and researchers proved this. Molecular changes take place in the brain that are visible through brain imaging. So why did I feel embarrassed when Amber first became sick with the symptoms of schizophrenia? Would have I reacted this way to cancer or diabetes? Would I deny her illness? I think not.
- Accept the illness. “It’s not your fault” became part of my daily phrases I said to Amber. She didn’t choose this for herself. She didn’t understand why her world turned against her. I repeated “I love you, I’m here for you,” often. Once I accepted her brain disorder, I moved forward. I became her advocate, caregiver, and support.
- Early Treatment. Once I realized that Amber’s brain was in trauma, Roy and I took action. Early treatment made a huge difference in how her brain reacted to treatment. Once the doctors found the right medication, she began to heal. I learned that schizophrenia alters the brain by destroying the gray matter. Now, thirteen years later, she understands her illness and wants to stay in recovery.
- Support can help a loved one succeed. In our family, we moved Amber home during her recovery. After a lengthy hospital stay, I treated her as if she came home from a cancer treatment. I let her choose the level of activity she could handle. I didn’t ask for her help with household chores. I helped manage her medications and appointments. As she healed, she regained the stamina and wanted to do things for herself. With this came confidence in her abilities.
- Support for the family whose loved one faces mental illness makes a huge difference. Often time when tragedy strikes a family, the surrounding community reacts with compassion, support and financial help. But what happens to the family who deals with the tragedy of a serious brain disorder? Who steps in to hold them up? In our case, our families and friends did. They sent cards, letters, small gifts and visited Amber in the hospital. We received the same treatment, a friend even delivered a casserole! Now, support to other families ranks high on my list of priorities.
- Educate yourself. Education played a key role for me understanding mental illness. I learned what Amber faced by reading books on the subject. I also attended the Family to Family class through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) where I learned about the brain, symptoms, treatments and how to care for myself. I gained the tools I needed to cope.
- Be open. Once I shared my experience with others, I felt empowered and no longer isolated. My honesty allowed people to share their own journeys with me and we could support each other.
- Fight for them. I turned into a mama bear for her. I stood up for her when she couldn’t stand for herself. Roy and I sought the best treatment for her, switching providers if necessary. I filled out paperwork for her until she could do it for herself. Now, I get to stand to the side and root for her as she lives her life in a way that is similar to other women her age.
- Pray. I prayed daily for her and for me. For her to understand her illness. For the doctors to find the correct medicine to help her. And wisdom and strength for me to do the right things to help her recover.
Yes, I’m grateful Amber is my daughter. I understand schizophrenia is often relentless and vicious. And that not everyone wins the battle. But I’m grateful that if Amber is one out of one hundred people to have it, that she was born into our family. I’m glad we found the help she needed and that she recaptured a life of independence packed with work, friends, faith and family.
Happy Mother’s Day to me and to every mom who loves someone with a mental illness. We do the best we can!