My mother first started showing symptoms of schizophrenia when she packed up some of my things, along with my brother's, and we left Boston. I was 8 years old then. My mother was experiencing paranoia and felt as though someone was trying to hurt us. We traveled to New York to stay with a family member, but that didn't last long.
After about a week, my mom was feeling suspicious of my aunts and we were off again, this time to Florida. We had nowhere to go and I remember walking the streets of Jacksonville for what seemed like an endless amount of time. That year I celebrated Christmas in a shelter.
As a child of a mother with a mental illness, the feelings of anger, shame, and guilt mixed with love was a toxic concoction I was made to drink daily. I hated the way she made me feel. As a teenager, I questioned my love for her because of all the bullshit I felt she put our family through. From the constant housing evictions due to her episodes when she destroyed property, to being called out by my name and the yelling. I could never forget the yelling and constant cursing to no one in particular.
When I got older, the only thing that got me through those rough times was my spirituality. Sometimes I went to church four times a week just to get out of my dysfunctional home. While I was there, I felt a sense of hope that seemed to carry me through the most difficult times, like a different life was waiting for me and it was only a dream away.
My mom had stopped going to church, and although I don't like to admit it, I was glad when she did. After all, she was a single woman with five children who was slowly losing it. That wasn't quite the model Christian woman the church wanted to embrace.
When I went off to college, the separation from my home life caused me to contemplate my mother's condition more deeply. I thought about what it was like for her to constantly hear voices attacking her. Gradually, the anger I felt for my mother transformed into respect combined with a bit of admiration.
Here was this woman who, despite her debilitating mental state, was able to work and care for five children on her own. I wondered how she could be so strong. It was this shift in perspective from seeing myself as a victim to trying to understand my mother that helped heal our relationship and allowed me to see the beauty in the pain of my upbringing.
Although dealing with my mother's mental illness wasn't always easy, the lessons that I have learned from her life extend far beyond the difficulty caused by her dysfunction. Because there were many times that I could not turn to my mother for comfort or advice, I learned to be self-reliant.
I learned to depend on the spiritual essence that resided within me and all around me. If my mother could not be a listening ear, then the trees or the stars listened. I developed a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth and now being in nature is a great comfort to me. Now I see my mother not as a person with an illness but as a valuable teacher who taught me the hard way. I still dream of what her recovery could look like, but I find peace in knowing that her journey was worthwhile because of what has been instilled in me.