In my many years’ long and determined search to find a cure, locate a fix and try to control my dear daughter’s recovery from her mental illness, I experienced a kind of blindness. She has been recovering during this time and I simply didn’t see it clearly, and sometimes not at all. In my searching and thinking about how to bring her back to me I missed her being with me all along.
But how could this be? Although I could write for hours about this, here is my understanding in a nutshell – (still quite a big nutshell).
I had a seemingly well seventeen-year-old daughter, notwithstanding some of the common disputes that are associated with parents and their teenage children, who disappeared overnight, into a traumatic and frightening experience of a psychotic breakdown leading to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
For a long time after she first became ‘ill’ I blamed myself for having been a negligent, incompetent, selfish and useless mother. Other mothers managed to raise healthy, successful, well-balanced and successful children – I had many friends and colleagues who I could see doing just that. It didn’t seem to count that I had three other thriving children. It didn’t stop me from blaming others either.
Through the years I nurtured a deep belief that she would get better, that she would stop hearing voices, believing bizarre thoughts and acting on them. I didn’t find any support for my belief within the medical professional and yet it persisted.
The good news is that what I had was a true sense of her innate wellbeing, resilience and inner mental health – seeing all the rest as an overlay of dense, speeded up, unregulated and random thinking, which she could not differentiate.
The bad news is that I had a rigid idea of what recovery would be, what it would look like and how soon it needed to be achieved. So the picture in my head and the accompanying story of ‘her’ – of who she really was and who she could become again – was entirely my own creation I took to be truth. I assumed that she had just lost sight of this same picture and this same story, and undoubtedly she wanted the same for herself as I wanted for her.
So there I was – I had a goal and an underlying faith in her own potential for wellbeing, alongside no idea how divisive and destructive the former would prove to be or how little I would pay attention to the latter. I had no idea how I myself would be creating every moment of my experience, as I embarked in fear on what I saw as a nightmare journey.
What I now see, close to fourteen years on, is that my own story, crafted from my own thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ego is all that really came between me and the possibility of going through the circumstances and situations that occurred, with the loving grace that comes from a quiet mind. I thought her mind was the problem to fix and unknowingly I used my own confused and troubled one to try to do the fixing – great solution!!
She hasn’t been in crisis for several years and she lives happily and independently with her partner of 17 years, having weathered the earlier storms of their relationship. She takes medication, is restricted by her symptoms and limited by her avoidance of any situation she thinks causes her to feel disturbed and uncomfortable. Looks like wisdom is working very well.
These are still some of the consequences and ongoing features that she lives with that can still trouble me, but I no longer feel the need to burden her with my negative feelings and behaviours. I know how I feel is an exact reflection of my own troubled thinking and not caused by who she is or what she says or does. This understanding frees me up to let my feelings pass. Thus we spend more time with each other living in the present moment where she can rely on me to stay in my wellbeing, to not judge or criticize her, find her failing, or try to sneak in a new ‘fix’. I hope you can imagine how different this must feel.
I have enormous respect for this child of mine, whose psychotic experiences have wreaked such havoc in her life. I am humbled by her non-judgement of me even as I behaved in very judgemental ways with her. I am grateful to her for her acceptance of me regardless of what I think I have been like – moody, withdrawn, awkward, critical and blind. And for her tolerance of my overt attempts to change her thinking, appearance and lifestyle and her complete lack of self-pity and complaint I am in awe.
In regaining this precious daughter who was always there I know she is gaining a far wiser, kinder and more loving mother who is no longer blinded by her own self-created story stuck in front of her eyes.