My mother was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her family found it very hard to accept “why her” and most importantly, what had she or they done to deserve it. She went to good Catholic schools just like her sisters, had never used drugs, and came from a white middle class family; these things were not meant to happen in their family. Despite my Mum's illness (or maybe because of it) she is the kindest and most compassionate person I have ever known. To this day, many of Mum' family still do not understand that it’s not her fault and she can't pull herself out of it when sick. Her family do however love her and have always stuck by her.
She married my biological father at 21. She was a little too naive to understand at the time that he was an alcoholic, although her family had discovered this by the time they were engaged. Their life together was hard, all that much harder because he never wanted to give up drinking.
My mother went to Grow (a large peer support group) which helped her immensely in coping with daily life (she attended well over twenty years both before and after my birth).
At 29 she decided it was time to have a baby. Here I enter the story. In 1981, another beautiful baby girl was born. My parents’ marriage didn't last much longer and they were divorced by the time I was old enough to remember. This was a good thing. I had no real attachment to a father I had little involvement with and can't remember.
My Mum, who was still quite unwell, raised me on her own but she had lots of support from her parents and sisters in particular. I had my Mum, my Granddad, my Grandma (who we would go and stay with for a few days at a time although mostly we did live in our own house especially after I started school), my Aunty Lynn and my Uncle Neil. She would sing to me all the time as a baby and our song remains “You are my sunshine”. I was the luckiest child in the world, for I never doubted how much I was loved; it made me feel secure and safe (many children never experience this). My early childhood was not only good but blessed and joyful.
Obviously, as a young child I never realised at the time how had my Mum struggled financially to pay a mortgage on the pension (I never behaved in childcare or after school programs I sat by the door waiting for my Mum ripping my stockings and often taking the financial incentive to work away because of the cost of my school tights). I hated school probably because I had spent most of my childhood with adults and didn't really know how to relate to the other children. I was bullied and picked on for 11 years. I didn't want to tell my parents because I thought it would upset them and after a while I internalised the abuse, believing I was stupid and ugly. If I understood how strong my mother is, I would have told her and Dad with the confidence that they would have it sorted out before the week was over, but children think differently.
When I was 6, Mum and I had a miracle happen: we met my (step) Dad. He completed our family and never tried to get between the bond I share with my Mum. I love him very much too. They were married when I was 8. Mum struggled with her voices for years on medication that was mostly ineffectual, but I knew I was loved and like any family, things were not always easy. One time, she believed people were cooking the cat in the oven. We kept showing her the empty oven and Dad ran around the street in his underwear trying to find our cat to prove no one was cooking her. Mum was sick enough to be hospitalised when I was 12 old and again when I was 14 after her father (my Granddad) died. When I was 14 they put her on Clozapine and although it did not cure her illness the voices went away and she was more well than she had ever been, but she still has problems with her short term memory and concentration especially as she has gotten older.
I am so happy I was a leader for some of the first Young Carers Camps because when I was young there was no support for children of people with mental illnesses. Now there is ARAFMI and COPMI and Carers NSW giving support to children who are being raised by a parent with a mental illness, because the only sad part to me was the isolation of not having a friend who I could tell or that might have some idea what it was to go through the things that I was.
Unexpectedly when I turned 22 years old disaster struck and I ended up in a psychiatric hospital myself where after 7 weeks I was diagnosed with bipolar (I haven't got the room to fully go into my story here but at first I was misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia because my Mum has it) . My mother, due to her experiences, knew how to handle the mental health system and once I came home, how to love me back to health. I was mainly well for 6 years, primarily off medications but unfortunately in 2011, due to a lot of stressors I have had a relapse of bipolar, but we are tackling this again as a family and I am making a fast recovery. Right now I am still living with my parents, and hope to find work this year. I will not allow my illness to stop me raising a family as my mother has taught me anything is possible, and mothers teach their daughters about strength by facing their own adversities.
I do not have any words to articulate how good a mother my Mum is or how much I love her. All I can say is that I've never met any human being I think could make a better Mum than mine and despite her illness I never wanted anyone else to be my Mum, nor do I think I could cope with my bipolar without her.
By Kristy Mounsey