I was 12 when my mom stopped taking her medication. Until then, I had only known that she was a bit different from the other moms, with the religion and the hypochondria. But then one day, God started talking to her.
There are still things I don’t know about schizophrenia. Now imagine a 12-year-old trying to wrap her brain around it. And this was the 1990s—the early 1990s. There was no internet. We didn’t even own a computer. Most of my information came from family, and what I remember best is my grandmother saying: “Tell no one.”
So I didn’t. I didn’t talk to anyone at school for fear of what I might say. The other kids thought I was disturbed. When I wasn’t ignored, I was bullied. I had no friends. I was alone.
Everyday that year I went home and sobbed in my room, for hours. In retrospect, I believe I suffered from social anxiety and depression. My mother couldn’t handle me. She would take my brother and leave the house while I cried.
It was my father who managed to calm me, when he got home, using humor. I think it was his presence, knowing he was there for me, that helped the most. Even though I knew I’d have to repeat the whole cycle the next day, the next week, I was supported. I was loved and cared for.
School got better for me the next year, although, unfortunately, despite being back on meds, my mother’s mental health seemed to continue slowly to deteriorate. While the hallucinations stopped, the paranoia and delusions, common symptoms of schizophrenia, remained. Or possibly, my new awareness of her mental fragility just made these more obvious to me. Maybe she had always suffered from paranoia and delusions, and I had just been too young to understand.
One thing is certain: she was never the same after that first episode. Neither was I.