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Welcome Brenda, please share a little about yourself:
I’m a 56 year old female. I work in the I.T. Dept. of a Horticultural business. I’ve been employed most of my life, taking 11 years off to raise my children. I enjoy crafts, renovating, creating things where I have an end product. I enjoy learning new things.
When did you find out about your daughter’s diagnosis?
What was this experience like for you?
Frustrating—when you don’t fully understand what they are experiencing you become frustrated because you can’t seem to help them and yet you don’t understand why they do the things they do.
You mention “them” in your response. Are you close to anyone else who has a mental illness?
Yes, I’ve been around it a good majority of my life. It can be very difficult at times – it seems one person is having a good day and the other isn’t. At times you feel like it’s endless.
Is it harder loving more than one person with a mental illness or does it make it easier since you have expereince?
It’s not harder – both are individuals with different needs and different illnesses. Luckily my daughter was aware of the illness and sought help. That wasn’t the case with my husband. It was many years before he’d admit that he had a problem and seek help. I don’t think his problem was as severe but at times it was hard to handle. He did work at a good job his entire life and supported us – we never really wanted for anything. Just the mood swings at times. You learn not to argue. I would refuse to argue – I would leave the room or remain silent. I didn’t want to go through my life fighting and arguing. That seemed to change things over the years. Medication seems to keep him level so as long as he takes it, things run smoothly.
Did your daughter’s diagnosis surprise you?
What was your daughter like as a child?
Very demanding—she was born prematurely and required a lot of extra care and attention from day 1. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the problems that she experiences today.
Did you see any symptoms when she was a child or teen?
I saw the problems as a teen—she required a lot of attention as a child but I didn’t see them as symptoms.
Did you see the illness develop as she grew into adulthood?
Yes, I was hoping that maturity would lessen the symptoms, but that isn’t the case.
What were the first symptoms you saw?
Depression, falling grades at school, becoming anti-social, changing the types of friends she hung around.
What are the symptoms you see today?
Unable to cope with stress and mood swings.
What is this experience like for you?
Frustrating—I don’t understand the illness maybe the way I should and I often times feel that she’s not trying as hard as she can to be functional.
What was it like for you when your daughter was hospitalized for the first time?
The first time was scary having to go into the “mental health” unit of the hospital not knowing what I’d encounter. Basically it was just a lot of people with similar problems. Sometimes she’d want us there, sometimes she didn’t. The doctors recommended that we not stay if she didn’t want to see us that day.
Were you involved in her being hospitalized?
On one occasion—not on all of them.
What did you do to help get her admitted?
We just pushed the doctors for a referral to a larger treatment center.
Why did you take this step? What did you see in your daughter that you thought required this treatment?
We felt that she needed to have the diagnosis re-evaluated and medication adjusted. She was extremely over medicated and didn’t know where she was half the time. It was time for a second opinion.
Did taking this step scare you?
No, it was almost a relief when we finally had her admitted–it was hope.
How did you cope during her stay?
I spoke to her as often as I could and we would go and visit a couple times a week. I was working full time and with the hospital being out of town, we couldn’t visit every day. I don’t think she wanted us there all the time anyways.
What did you think about this expereince after she was released?
It seemed to help for awhile—then the medication was slowly changed over time.
Your daughter shared with us that she had ECT. What was this experience like for you?
The thought of it was very scary. I made her call me as soon as she returned from the hospital. I think it was mainly from the fact that I didn’t know much about it and didn’t truly understand how it worked.
What did you think of the results?
It seems to have helped. There are still days with ups and downs, but overall things seem better.
What do you think helps your daughter stay stable?
She enjoys doing crafts—that helps relieve stress. Trying to keep stress levels low and being available when she needs you.
How has this illness affected your relationship with your daughter?
I feel we have a good relationship. I try to be a “friend” when she needs one and a “mother” when she needs a mother. I’m just sad to see that a lot of her dreams aren’t being fulfilled. I always hope that one day she will reach for the stars and give it all she’s got to fill some of those dreams—am I being unrealistic—I hope not.
How do you cope with everything?
What scares you the most about your daughter's illness?
I worry about the day that I will no longer be capable of helping her out—I need to see that she can survive without me in her life.
Being that your child is an adult, in what ways are you able to support her and help her?
I try to be available if she needs to talk or needs a shoulder to cry on—I also help her out financially when she needs it.
What challenges do you face in helping your adult daughter?
I become frustrated sometimes thinking that she should be able to find a job, go to work, and have all the things she dreamed of when she was younger. I’ve tried the supportive role, the “tough love” role with no change in the end result.
Can you share any mistakes you may have made?
I should have laid down more ground rules right from the beginning. Made her be responsible for herself at a much younger age. Whether it would have helped or not, I’m not sure.
Can you share any victories?
She did graduate from college. She is also living independently.
What have you learned through this expereince?
Society needs to view mental illness differently and take it more seriously. The help for anyone with mental illness is hard to find. They need more programs to teach people with mental illness how to become productive in society and live a relatively normal life. The doctors also over prescribe medication. That seems to be their answer.
What advice would you give other parents who are facing the same journey with their own children?
Do what you can to find help for your child. Be supportive but also lay down ground rules. People with mental illness can be demanding and manipulative. You need to figure out the fine line between helping and being taken advantage of.
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Thank you so much Brenda for sharing your experience with us. I appreciate your honesty and the wisdom you have to share with us.