My recovery wasn’t all of one piece, cut from whole cloth. It happened in moments of sorrow and joy, turmoil and ease. In my 20s, I had a rocky time. I was displaced, working in business. It took a decade—from 1987 to 1997—to reclaim my true self and find my life’s purpose.
Along the way, my mother was my biggest ally. She saw me at my worst, and loved and accepted me anyway. It is because of her that I am alive today.
When I was a kid, she didn’t understand my need to retreat into solitude, where I’d read the dictionary, fascinated with big words, or paint moody images that reflected my pain, all a retreat from the outside world—and the other teens’ hurtful ridicule pelted at me like rocks and garbage.
I got sick when I was 22, interrupted at the music of my life. Mom knew something was wrong, and took action, driving me to the ER within 24 hours of my breakdown. She didn’t care how it looked; she knew she had to get help. I tell this story often, to everyone, about how my mother’s love healed me.
Ten years after my breakdown, in the fall of 1997, I went back to school for a Masters in library and information science. I knew education was the key to my having a successful recovery. I returned home so I could afford to live, and Mom welcomed me back with open arms.
Throughout my life, my mother always had higher expectations of me. She knew I was smart ever since I was 3 years old, and was determined to send me to college. Mom dropped out of high school, and when I was 12, she attended night classes to get her GED. When I obtained my MLS, she took over the payments on my student loan.
My mother is a warrior—a wise fighter whose battles didn’t harden her, but made her more compassionate to what I was going through. At a speech I gave, she got up at the end during the Q&A, and told the public school counselors in the audience, “Every word she said is true, about the cruelty of the other kids. When she was in college, it seemed to be going fine, and then she graduated. I thought, this is it, finally, she’s going to move on, get a job and have a life. That’s when the illness struck.”
She didn’t abandon me. I used to wonder if she’d feel differently about me if I didn’t recover; now I know she would’ve only loved me more, because that is what mothers do.
Today is her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom! In here, I’ll note the lessons I learned from her. One day I asked my mother, “What is it that makes some people persist, and keep on going, even though the light is dim?” She told me, simply, “The alternative is no option.”
She had a hard life. At the time I went off the meds and relapsed, she had to care for her own mother, who had Alzheimer’s. She also dealt with another pain no mother should ever have to go through, and she could’ve come undone, but didn’t let it get to her. Mom survived this trio of tragedies because she had to. We depended on her to be our rock.
When I was growing up, we had a strained relationship. Mom is a Traditional, focused on family and what each member brings to the table. I’ve always been a Classic, because I’m career-driven. Early on, I was never one to dust the furniture when I could be doing my writing.
Years later, I am my mother’s daughter. I send thank you notes, and call someone on the phone to thank the person if a birthday card came in the mail. She taught me courtesy: to always RSVP, even if you couldn’t attend. To hold the door open for other people. Even today, I look in back of me before exiting a building.
In the query letter I wrote to send to literary agents to pitch them my memoir, I wrote that I obtained the MLS because I wanted to do my mother proud. This I realized in retrospect. I understand now that I never want to go off the meds again, or do anything counterproductive to my recovery, because there are people who love me and whose lives would be affected by my actions.
Indeed, I feel I have a covenant with God to stay healthy so that I can achieve my mission: to uplift and inspire others that a full, productive life is possible for someone living with schizophrenia. The world is cruel, and having this illness, you take a lot of knocks that other people don’t get. From my mother, I learned the ultimate lesson: to act with love towards myself, because who else can I count on to do this?
Mom gave me the greatest gift: the ability to treat myself, and others, with dignity.
Published On: May 07, 2007