Open Book - Mental Illness: Mental Misinformation and the child

A culture of misinformation
I did not know what mental illness really was until I was close to twenty. Before, I thought mental illness was something which resulted from a deficiency at birth and was genetic. This thought scared me as I grew up knowing my mother, grand mother and great grandmother were ‘mad’, as we were told from a tender age.
My mother was the first of five children and my grandmother was one of more than five, and my great grandmother was also from a large family. No one told us about mental illness or what caused it or why it happened. I simply thought it was an unfortunate curse on at least one member of the family, and prayed to never 'get it'! 
Some of the 'folklore facts' I grew up with were;  
  1. If you kept your problems to yourself you would ‘overload’ and go crazy.
  2. If you fell too much in love you would go crazy.
  3. If you had too many bills you would go crazy.
  4. If you had no friends you would go crazy.
  5. If you were too ‘bright’ in schoolwork you would go crazy.
  6. If you hated anything too much you would go crazy.
  7. If you were alone in a house by yourself you would go crazy.
  8. Crazy people were not liked by the community.
  9. Crazy people ended up homeless and living like vagrants.
  10. Crazy people were murderers.
  11. There was one type of crazy but different levels of ‘madness’.
  12. The world of humans hated being around crazy people, so being crazy was not an option.

There are many more ‘misinformed facts’ we were bombarded with as children and it was difficult to stay close to ‘crazy mad folks’. However, I loved my family and always tried to not ‘get’ any of those 12 things associated with madness! Children understand fear, safety and survival, and can adapt when necessary. I became an excellent storyteller, and enjoyed the royal lineage from that ‘duke’ who was my grandfather’s uncle!
Everyone wants to be accepted by their peers and those they interact with, however this was a challenge for us. The stigma associated with mental illness can be quite cruel and unkind to little children. If you said a bad word (aka answering back), someone would say it should be expected because of your ‘mad parent’. If you got upset because someone hit you, or you were being bullied and cried, they would tell you to control your crying, because it was not ‘a big thing’. If you continued crying then the adult would pull out the ‘shadow of fear’ and advise you would become ‘mad’ like your parent if you did not stop crying.
We were not allowed to feel 'free enough' to defend ourselves, or to express, or to be regular 'normal' children. No, we were marked as broken and had to work towards being acceptable by society.
Finding 'normal' in a broken society
It took many years before I realized, the child I was, never needed to change. The society we lived in was broken and needed information and action to change and repair its dysfunctions. Looking back, I realize people were afraid of us being hurt by what they did not understand. Even my mom did not understand why she went ‘off’ ( another word for crazy). Eventually we thought it was because she fell too much in love with our dad.
My mother lived an almost ‘normal’ working life until she was in her forties and had her third nervous breakdown. She is one of the most articulate, intelligent and innovative women I know. She fought for as long as she could to raise and support her four daughters on her own. She is a published author and continues to live with mental illness.
It is my hope that in sharing some of the stories from my past, it will influence the way others treat the children and family members of mentally diagnosed people.
Thank you for joining the discussion on mental illness!
First published on Thrive Global 10/04/2017 as "Mental Misinformation and the child who did not understand"

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© Donna-Luisa Eversley and D-WORDSLAYER, 2019. All Rights Reserved

Open Book: Mental Illness and the phone rings

A Frantic Call

"Please help me. She just stood at the door with a knife in hand. I can't live with her anymore." Panic and fear sounded through the phone. Its 2:30 am. (After a lot of drama, she returned to house, as though that call was never made)!

There was a lot of uncertainty when that call was received. Did it really happen, or was my mother  creating a situation because she did not get what she wanted from my elder sister? Was it a hallucination - it happens a lot more with her aging. Trying to figure out truth from fiction with mentally ill people can be hard.  In this case, it was a variation of the truth. My sister claims she thought someone was outside, and armed herself, while questioning mom about a scholarship she never received. As for my mother, she ran out of the house into the darkness afraid for her life, as my sister followed - afraid for her. Does this make sense? No it does not, but it happened just over a year ago.

 According to Google, "Schizophrenia is a long term mental disorder which involves the breakdown between thoughts, emotions and behaviors. This leads to faulty perceptions, inappropriate actions and feelings; fantasy, delusions and fragmented reality". My mother was diagnosed with this and depression more than forty years ago. It was difficult living with her as she could be quite cruel while showing love and caring to myself and my siblings. I was always happy that I was not the favorite - the favorite child was physically punished the most. It was hard to be in the presence of this, and thus could not use that methodology to correct my children.

The care-giver 

My elder sister believed she could take care of our mother. She felt it was her duty to sacrifice her own happiness for the wishes of our mother. Schizophrenics are great manipulators, and do not like to conform to authority of others, from my experience. She did not stand a chance, and everyone around thought life was okay for my mother and sister - until it was not.

"Your sister is missing. You have to find her." This call was real after verification. Then the calls kept coming, and my sister was lost within her mental bipolar disorder.

For the family member who gets the calls from the loved ones, friends, public, it can be like standing on a cliff with an imminent drop at any moment. In Trinidad & Tobago, our social services for mental health support are limited. However, you can contact a mental health officer for assistance through district mental health facilities. All major health centers have a corresponding mental health section, with trained staff willing to assist when approached.

Do you have a friend or loved one with mental illness? Have you reached out for help? Don't be afraid to ask questions from trained medical professionals. Do not believe everything a mentally ill person shares as their reality may be different from your own!

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© Donna-Luisa Eversley and D-WORDSLAYER, 2019. All Rights Reserved

Open Book and Mental Illness

You are invited to look closer

My friends I'm sharing a series of blogs called "Open Book - Mental Illness" from tomorrow. It's a heavy topic but is a serious social issue in the Caribbean and the world. 

There are many families with loved ones who have some form of mental illness. My friend Lisa Fraser Gallagher has shared on her personal experiences with mental illness and she is an excellent resource on this topic. 

In my family one of my sisters and my mother are mentally ill. Like any other disease if you are unaware of the symptoms, left untreated it gets worse. There is no cure for mental illness. It can be managed, however not many people are willing to accept their loved ones are mentally ill.

In Trinidad & Tobago there is societal acceptance of mentally ill behavior once no one is physically hurt. Hence, we have many street dwellers and vagrants living a homeless life by choice because of their mental illness. 

To offer help to mentally ill persons can be challenging as many times family members are too ashamed to accept that its not okay to let your loved ones roam the street. Its also not okay to leave mentally ill persons to handle life on their own. What is freedom if a loved one is in harm's way based on their mental illness?

In the past 15 months the struggle to keep my sister and mother safe proved to be an emotional journey that no one should go through. The choice of allowing one's mother to be free to live as a vagrant or street dweller was real ( I cannot accept this); or to use the services of caring professionals at a private assisted living facility recommended by doctors seemed a lifeline. Not everyone in the family will agree, and even when they do, the pressure to 'not have your mother or sister in a home' can bring out irrational behaviors in some folks.

The reality is, mental illness is real and socially it is very taboo to admit family members have this disease. For some religious beliefs supersede medical facts, for others if you're not close you won't get the 'calls'.

Its important to understand mental illness so it is not normalized. Over the next few weeks I will share some insights from my experiences with mentally ill family members, and hope it will help others with similar challenges.

An 'open book on mental illness' is needed, maybe this will be a place to start.

Let me begin by saying my mother has been mentally ill for over 40 years and was retired medically unfit to work in the teaching service. My eldest sister is has been diagnosed as bipolar and has had 3 major breakdowns in 18 years. My 'open book' begins tomorrow.

Let's discuss!

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© Donna-Luisa Eversley and D-WORDSLAYER, 2019. All Rights Reserved

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