acitivist, adult child, advocacy, bipolar, caregivers, childhood, delusions, depression, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, parents, psychiatry, psychology, relationships, schizophrenia, severe mental illness
About six months ago I was one of ten winners in a memoir writing contest. Our memoirs were selected to be performed by actors on stage. Last week was the performance.
Mine was the second piece to be read. It was about living with schizophrenia and how I have a good life despite my illness.
The second to last piece was written by a woman whose mother had schizophrenia. I don’t know why, but every time I try to get out there with my story about how schizophrenia is not what people think it is, and bring my strengths and my success to the forefront, someone else has a story about how hard their life has been due to having a parent with schizophrenia. This has happened in all of my writing groups, and now it has happened on stage.
I have no doubt that people my age who had parents with schizophrenia had it tough, because when they were children, the treatments for schizophrenia were not what they are today. No doubt it was difficult to live with a parent with delusions, and hallucinations.
I feel like I am working in the opposite direction of most of the people who grew up with a parent who had schizophrenia though. I am trying to get people to understand the illness, to have empathy for the people who suffer from it, to see our humanity and our strengths, and to talk openly about our daily struggles. The people writing about their parents are trying to get support, understanding and empathy for their own experience, and their experience is often a painful one due to the illness of their parent.
I once said in a writer’s workshop, “I don’t know what kind of parent I would have been.” A woman with a mother who had schizophrenia said, “Well, you are about to find out.” She said it with such anger and force that I was taken back. Are any two mothers really alike? How did she know I would be like her mother? She was obviously projecting her anger at her mother on to me.
I have anger of my own. I get tired of being alongside people who want to say how tough it is to have a relative with schizophrenia. I want to shout, “What about the person who has/had the illness? Do you think they chose to have it? Do you think they would have traded a healthy mind for a mind with a disease? Do you think they had hallucinations and delusions on purpose?
I know this isn’t the right attitude for an artist or for an advocate of the mentally ill and their families.
As someone who loves to write, I want all people to be able to tell their stories, and I think everyone’s story is unique and important. I also know that mental illness is difficult on everyone it touches.
I need to remember that my story intersects with other stories. It intersects with the story my parents could tell. It intersects with the story my siblings could tell. It intersects with the story my husband could tell. Other people’s stories do the same – the parents of those adult children could write their story, and it would be very different than the one told by their adult child.
It is important for all of us tell our truth. I want the freedom to tell mine, and I need to accept that not everyone’s truth will fit neatly with mine. I need to accept that the reality of schizophrenia lies in all of the stories from every perspective. Each of our stories is like a piece of a quilt that doesn’t make a bed cover until they are all sewn together.
Stories can be hard to hear, but continue to write them, and I will continue to read them, because your colorful square of fabric is as necessary as mine.