Me, My Mom, and Her Mental Illness
Editor’s note: This essay is part of our two-week blog series, featuring eight autoethnographies from students at Brooklyn College. Read the introduction to the series here, written by Professors Jeanne Theoharis, Joseph Entin, and Dominick Braswell. Follow this link to read all the essays in the series.
My mom has had Schizophrenia my whole life and got it while serving in the army. I am an only child. My parents divorced when I was young. We’re estranged from our other family members because there is a lot of stigma around my mom having a mental illness. Furthermore, my mom doesn’t have a partner and she’s very anti-social so I’m her main source of social interaction.
Life Before the Pandemic
I’m 10 in the 5th grade. We’ve been staying with my grandma for 2 weeks. She lives in an independent housing development for senior citizens. We’re not supposed to be living there but we’re homeless again. My mom has to do a storage run and I enjoy long car rides so I join her. I have to get my textbooks for school. It’s the only thing I’ve ever had any control over, grades. School, my paradise away from home where I can blend into the background. I’ve never had a lot of friends but my teachers always liked me. My mom is having an episode. She’s screaming and cursing in her made-up language that sounds like a mixture of German and gibberish. She wants me to put the textbooks into storage. I tell her I need them and she tells me we’ll come back. But my mother is unpredictable and not very reliable so I put no trust into her words and cling to the books, my arms wrapped around their spines. My mother becomes frustrated and gets in the car, I go to open my side and it’s locked. I yell for my mom to open the door but she starts to drive. I run beside the car, clawing at the door handle but she’s going too fast and I’m out of breath. I watch the car peel off until it’s no longer in sight and start to cry. “How could she leave me?” replayed in my head as I started to walk down the highway. Tears streamed my face. I didn’t know my way back to my grandmas but I knew I couldn’t stay at the storage facility. A Hispanic lady pulls her car over and asks me if I need help. I see the rosary beads wrapped around her rearview mirror and nod yes. Me and my mom have hitchhiked with strangers several times before so I hop in her car. She’s very kind and soft spoken, nothing like my mother. She’s asking me questions but all I can give her is my grandmother’s address. We make it. I thank Jehovah for sending me one of his angels and proceed to tell my grandmother what happened. She freaks out. Long story short, my mother had a change of heart and went back for me but I was gone so she called the police. They ended up coming to my grandma’s and taking my mom to a mental hospital because she clearly was not taking her medication. She was there for a month. I missed my mother but it was also a relief to have a break from her.
I’m 16 and homeless. Me and my mom had been living out of her car and showering at the YMCA. It’s autumn in New York and slightly chilly outside. Me and my grandma got into an argument and she called my high school and told them I was homeless to spite me. They set me up at “A Friends House”-a short term shelter for homeless or runaway youths. None of the parents here care about their children. None of them try. My mom didn’t try. 2 months later I was freed from my “youth support” prison and moved into a basement studio apartment with my mom.
I’m 20, visiting my mom at a different mental hospital. She’s been there for about 2 weeks. I give her a hug because I miss her so much. They have her on really strong tranquilizers. Her cheeks are sunken in and her eyes glazed over. She gives me a weak smile and tells me she’s happy to see me. She’s talking really slow. The medication is really strong. I smile and hold back tears. It’s extremely painful for me to see my mother in this state, in this place, again. I sit with her for an hour as she struggles to keep her eyes open. Before I leave, I stop at the bathroom. Lock the door and cry. Breathing heavy through sobs. I don’t know what to do or how to help her.
Fast forward to the pandemic
Poem 1: Everything was the same
I chuckled at the world as my everyday reality bled into the lives of the middle class. Food pantries have never been foreign to me. Government assistance lines where acquiring section 8 felt like the lottery. Can I trade you some food stamps for money, because the products with the red label are sold out again. People are starving in the streets, sleeping on the concrete but this has never been foreign so why should I worry about you when you never cared about me? Welcome to my cookie cutter piece of poverty, I hope you enjoy your stay here, until the government sets you free. Until life returns to normal and the memories of your misfortune are a bad dream. Me and the rest of the forgotten will be waiting for the people to pull back the curtain exposing the rotted roots of our societal tree.
& that was our thing
Whether it be
We always went
& we always
Had 2 plates
& that was our thing
That was our thing
I hadn’t seen my mom in a month because I didn’t want to spread any unwanted pathogens. Unfortunately, when you live in low-income housing it can be hard to social distance. Check the mail, germs. Do the laundry, germs. Use the elevator, germs. With so many shared facilities, how is she supposed to stay safe? The virus will spread the same way the bed bugs did.
My mom calls me, coughing violently. She can barely speak. My heart drops because all I can think about are the thousands of people who already lost their lives to the virus. If my mom died no one would know. No one would notice. I’m the only person who cares. Unless my neighbors’ noses give way to the smell of rotting flesh. I would be the one to find her body. I get off the phone and cry outside. The room I rent is tiny and I don’t want people to hear me. I ask my friends for a favor and they agree to drive me two hours north to my mother’s apartment. She refuses to go to the doctor so I come bearing gifts. Vitamin C pills, Tylenol, cough drops, oranges, vegetables, fruits, honey, lemon, ginger. I go straight to the kitchen and start making lentil soup. I will heal her from the inside. After a few days, my mom’s fever breaks, I’ve been closely monitoring her temperature. She has a bit of a lingering cough but I think she’s going to be okay.
Cold, wet down
Past my cheek
To my lips
My eyes must
And out of
Why I’m crying
I pressed my palms
Against my eye sockets
Until they were soaked
And my breathing
I just want these feelings to
2 weeks later (April 24th): moving day
I’m back in Brooklyn for three days and all I can think is what am I doing here? My landlady is a kind woman who understands I currently have no income. Normally, I’m a waitress but restaurants are shut and getting through to unemployment has been difficult. I’m on a rent freeze but my mother needs me. What am I doing here? I tell her I’m moving, we hug and say our goodbyes. She will be missed. My friends and I proceed on the journey two hours north once more but this time my life is piled in the trunk and backseat. I arrive at my destination. My mind at ease, this is where I need to be.
–People with mental illnesses have lifestyles that increase their risk for contracting the coronavirus.
–They have more underlying health conditions that raise their risk for developing more serious cases of COVID-19 if they contract the virus.
— Only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it.
—Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people.
–They are also at a higher risk of being homeless.
–Combined, all of these factors put Black people with severe mental illness at a much higher risk for contracting and dealing with COVID-19.permission.
Comments on “Me, My Mom, and Her Mental Illness”
This was very powerful reading this morning, so full of heart felt honesty. The truth about this forgotten population is so well described here. I felt every bit of this story and feel so much for the writer, her mother and all those whose story is similar.
Thank you. I remembered a sister I knew who was living with a mental illness and her son. I hadn’t thought about this woman for years now, but your essay pushed her name and face forward into my mind’s eye.
You touched a core by sharing your lived experience. As a mental health practitioner in England I understand the intricate triggers to mental illness and I see the huge gaps in psycho-social support for Mental well being. Whilst being there for your mum, just remember to take and make time for your own self care, rest and nurturing. The system needs you to be part of the change.
This is deeply touching, honest and raw. In a few minutes the author has given us a window into a life of struggle and unpredictability. She has shown us how ‘school’ is the safe space that gives so many students desperately needed normalcy. Such a bright and intelligent author. . . one who has reflected deeply about her experiences and has managed to come to terms with her life experiences. But most importantly we also see through this window she has provided us with, that this is a person who has taken the incredible pain that life has dealt her and is learning to channel it into something bigger and better.
Wow this this made me shed a few tears. I hope your mother and you are doing well! I’m sorry you have to go through all this, all I can say is that you are a strong resilient person and it shows. I admire the love you have for your mother.
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