May 10, 2013

When someone wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day they have no idea what it means to me; if you have an adult child with mental illness perhaps you can understand. Before I could have a happy Mother’s Day, I needed to recreate the mother I was and become the mother I needed to be.

When a woman becomes a mother everything changes as we take on the mantle of motherhood. Since there is no job description for mother, we tend to combine different experiences and expectations to create a rosy notion of motherhood. But nothing prepares you for being the mother of someone who develops a mental illness.

As my son began to experience the symptoms of mental illness, I believed as his mother that we could overcome anything, even schizophrenia. I was wrong. I was unprepared. I was doing more harm than good. He was slipping away, and as I stood in the kitchen and looked at the screaming, irrational stranger my son had become, it quickly became obvious that he needed a very different type of mother. Everything changed. My sense of loss was profound. My ability to protect and nurture my child was limited by my lack of knowledge and understanding. I needed to grieve and get my bearings, but mental illness demands action. I didn’t know what questions to ask, what people to see, and where to go. I didn’t know much, but I knew just enough to reach out to NAMI.
Using a nationwide network of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and a large Web presence, NAMI is ready to help you find information, gain insight and get support when mental illness strikes. NAMI was created by and for people like you and me, and today tens of thousands of volunteers offer themselves to help individuals and their loved ones find recovery and build better lives.

Being the mother of an adult with mental illness required me to become an expert on community mental health support services, psychiatric medications and psychosocial treatments. I learned a whole new vocabulary for a confusing, disjointed system that was adequate at best and harmful at its worst. I graduated from the NAMI Family-to-Family education program, plugged in to a NAMI Family Support Group, added the NAMI HelpLine to my speed dial (1 (800) 950-6264) and learned the art of patience and persistence.

It has been over 10 years since my son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and everything has changed, including me. Today I am strong and assertive in advocating for my son. My boundaries are clear and defined. I respect him and expect respect. Treatment and medication are non-negotiable. I don’t indulge any illusions about what living with a mental illness means. My son and I have been through some very bad times and traveled through many dark places.

I’ve also learned that my son is not a burden that I must carry through life. His life is his own. Life’s lessons are best learned through natural consequences, both good and bad, resulting from our choices. And, I’ve learned that my son desperately needs me to walk alongside him offering love, support and guidance, as he finds his place in life. I love him dearly. He is doing well. I am very happy to be his mother.

This Mother’s Day if I could send every mother who has a child living with mental illness a Happy Mother’s Day card it would have this message taken from NAMI’s Family-to-Family education program.

Sometimes Love Means Let Go…

  • To let go does not mean to stop caring. It means I can’t do it for someone else.
  • To let go is not to cut myself off. It’s the realization I can’t control another.
  • To let go is to allow someone to learn from natural consequences.
  • To let go is to recognize when the outcome is not in my hands.
  • To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
  • To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
  • To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
  • To let go is not to expect miracles, but to take each day as it comes, and cherish myself in it.
  • To let go is not to criticize or regulate anybody, but to try to become what I dream I can be.
  • To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future. To let go is to fear less and love more

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NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).