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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  1. I had an second cousin who was Schizophrenic. Her symptoms sounded much like that of your moms. She was much older than me and my mom was close with her. My cousin's symptoms did not rear until she was in her 40's. I think trauma caused her symptoms to become apparent. She was highly suspicious of everyone, even her own children. Like your mom, she felt people were out to harm her. She was diagnosed in the 70's and I don't think they had the programs or medications to manage it properly. One evening her parents got a call that from my cousin's neighbors. I guess she felt someone was trying to kill them and ran off with her kids (in their pajamas) during a rain storm. The neighbors saw her and tried to get her to come in but she wouldn't, so they called her parents. The parents called the Sheriff and she was picked up with her children. The kids went to my great Aunts home and my cousin was sent to a Mental Institute (not sure which one back then). My mom ended up taking in her cousin's children for 2 months one summer and when my cousin was released she had to live with her parents (along with the kids) for 6 months. She did better after that stay, but never fully recovered. Her oldest daughter moved far away when she was 17 and got married very young. She was a highly intelligent girl and I would have never pictured that her life would take a turn like that. At some point, she got put on a medication regime that seemed to work for some time. She got her RN, worked full time and seemed to be doing better. But, I could always "see it in her eyes," it was still there, lingering. She was always suspicious of me and maybe that's because she could sense what I sensed? Sadly, when she seemed to finally be doing the best she had been in years she developed ALS. Her children took care of her with love, she died about 2 yrs after her diagnosis. It sounds like healthcare for Mental Health is lagging behind in Trinidad? Although, it's also known that Schizophrenics are very hard to treat. Many homeless people are Schizophrenics in the USA. So many mental illnesses that our Medical Profession still does not have the means to treat - it's a guessing game since different medications work differently for each person. We still have a long way to go with knowing more about the brain and it's functioning. I feel your pain after watching what my cousins went through for so long. I must admit, she scared me.

    1. Lisa, Thank you for sharing this. I don't think people are aware of the different dimensions of mental illness and that treatment is different per person. It is hard to see my family go through this, but i think it is important to get folks involved in the narrative. You have certainly helped in getting the online community to understand more over the years. Thanks


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