How Mental Illness Affects Relationships: Depression Community Member Question
We are doing something a little different today. One of our members, Donna-1, has written to me to ask that I attempt to answer some questions she has about mental illness and relationships based upon my personal life experiences. I will do my best to try to answer. Donna was comfortable with posting this publicly so that we can get some community discussion going on this topic.
“Did your mother have much depression along with her schizophrenia? How do these illnesses affect her ability to relate to you? Is she often “in her own world?” What has she done that hurt you most? I am convinced that depression and sz are making all of my relationships more difficult…but no one I relate to understands this. It is so tempting to withdraw, even from the people I love. Moving is challenging in part because I thrive on consistency…everything being much the same from day to day. I am thrown into mental disarray, anxiety, insomnia. Last night I never slept a wink – was up all night. Is this a harbinger of things to come?”
A little background:
My mother, who is now in her seventies, has had paranoid schizophrenia for decades. I wrote about my experience as a daughter of a mom who has this mental illness on our schizophrenia site some years ago.
**Donna asks if my mother had/has depression in addition to her schizophrenia. ** Although I don’t know of any formal diagnosis I would say a definite yes. One of the problems, as I see it, when you have a major diagnosis of something like schizophrenia or autism is that mood disorders take a back seat. The original diagnosis seems to color everything that person does so something like depression tends to get ignored.
I definitely saw depresssion symptoms in my mother that may have been both biological and situational. She had an extremely difficult life. She suffered from domestic abuse from her first husband. She had little to no family support. My father died when I was four and so she had to raise me on her own in poverty. Her stressors were enormous. And then you add schizophrenia. Yes…she was definitely depressed at times, so much so that she didn’t want to get out of bed. But on other days she was very happy, dancing to music, laughing and singing.
How did my mother’s mental illness affect her ability to relate to me?
I would say it affected every aspect of connecting with me and anyone else she came into contact with. When she was stable she was a great mother, baking cookies, going to school, working, was sociable and happy. But unfortunately there would always be the great crash when she would become more fearful, paranoid, and even violent. I always had to be on guard for which mother I was dealing with on any given day…one who was stable and one who was not.
Was my mother in her own world?
Yes, when my mother’s mental illness became severe she would barely recognize my existence. She would talk to herself, chain smoke, and lose her connection to me and others. It was as though she lost awareness of the real world and turned inward.
What has my mother done to hurt me the most?
This is a good question and a deeply personal one. I don’t mind answering it but I do want to stress that my mother never hurt me on purpose. She and I were victims of her mental illness. When the stress became too great her symptoms would appear in full force. Neglect and violence certainly colored my childhood. But these things were never malicious…she was just reacting to her world with fear. What hurts me the most after all these years was that she lost so much of her life…so many opportunities due to her schizophrenia. I just recently found her high school year book on-line. She was beautiful, a talented artist, smart, and had aspirations greater than many of the young women of her time. That is what hurts and the fact that I missed out on having any semblance of a normal childhood. I had to be a minature adult to survive.
Addressing your experience:
Donna I have said this many times but I think you are one amazing person on many levels. Schizophrenia is a heavy hitter. You get down on yourself but you have to realize that this is a mental illness that…to be frank…can be fatal for some people. If you look at the literature and research on this schizophrenia is associated with depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Another scary statistic is that 20% of individuals with schizophrenia are homeless. In my mother’s day institutionalization was not unheard of. This is an extremely difficult mental disease to live with. In my humble opinion I think you are doing really well with all that you have on your plate.
Despite your schizophrenia and your depression and anxiety…anybody would feel some trepidation and nervousness over moving in with their elderly parent to take care of them. This is normal Donna. Caretakers have enormous stress. It could be that the thought of this impending stress is making your symptoms of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia worse. That is how these things work…stress is the catalyst which triggers most mental illness.
This is something you definitely want to talk to your therapist about and you know that I am not a therapist. But as a peer…I think you need to think about ways to cope with this upcoming change so that you do not unravel. Can you set some boundaries and rules before living with your mom? Will you have your own space for example so that you can get a break? We have talked about finding supportive care before. Is this an option?
There is that rule about the oxygen masks on airplanes…you need to get air first…so that you can be up to the challenge of helping your mom. You may need some help with this. I am worried for you that you are taking this on all by yourself. You will need support.
I am not sure how much your mental illness may impact on what is going on…we can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that your anxiety over this upcoming change is a normal response.
Let me know if this helps or if you need more information or support…we are here for you.
I am hoping our members also chime in. I know you are feeling bad right now but you are stronger than you realize and you are a survivor. You are going to get through this. But you are going to need some help. Anyone of us would.
Thanks for sharing and reaching out here. Hope this helps.