The Crooked House

The Challenges of Adult Children with a Mentally Ill Parent




Jen from Florida


A family legacy  

Category bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, genes

My mom was Bipolar all my life. She suffered and so did everyone around her. She is still Bipolar. She still suffers. So does everyone around her. At least, now, she takes medications, but they have never fully helpd her. My mom, when I was a kid was paranoid, and angry all the time, or was immature and behaving like a giddy, manic child who wanted to do nothing but have fun. In her depressed times, she just didn't get out of bed. She would say abusive things to me, such as, "I'm going to kill you", "I hate you", or "I wish I had an abortion with you". She would hit me sometimes, or throw things at me, in her rages, and not because of any logical reason (not that there is ever a logical reason for such behavior). She was really hard to live with.

As we got older she kicked me out of her house, then my brother, and finally my sister eventually left to go to college. After she was living alone, she let her house get into a deplorable condition where it was all destroyed and she never got anything repaired. My mom has been a nurse for about 22 years, and has never kept most of her jobs for more than two-three months. She has probably had 30 jobs as a nurse, maybe 40 or even more. I don't keep count. She can't get along with people. I think that, besides the Bipolar she also has a personality disorder that is why she has such trouble getting along with others. She gets paranoid in every workplace, and believes people are against her, so she eventually lashes out in them in anger and then either quits or gets fired. She always hates her jobs, no matter where she works. She always says later, that she shouldn't have quit that last job because the next one is always worse. She is always broke and borrowing money. She makes three times as much money as me, and doesn't have as many bills as I do, but she will still call me and say, "can I borrow twenty bucs, or fifty? just till next Friday?" - because she always spends more money than she can afford to spend. She goes shopping all the time, no matter how broke she may be.
The legacy was passe on to me. I lived with depression from my early adolescent years, and then became acutely psychotic in my twenties. I was eventually diagnosed, after many hospitalizations, and numerous suicide attempts, with Schizoaffective Disorder. Mental illness obviously runs in my family. My sister has also been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Several of my family members are alcoholics, including my mom, who is in recovery. She is very responsible about her recovery from drinking. She is less responsible about taking care of her mental health problems.

I now am an advocate with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Florida, where I live, and I do public speaking engagements about my own illness, telling people about my years of psychosis which led to poverty and homelessness, and many bad situations. I am doing much better now, with the help of medications that really do work well for me. I have gone back to college, in my thirties, and earned an A.A. degree, while I am still working on my B.A. degree. I have come a long way from the days when I was hallucinating and delusional. I know a lot about mental illness, and I try to share that information with others to help educate them. My goal, once I get out of college, is to do social work with people who have mental illnesses. I am starting an internship soon at a local crisis care unit where I was once a patient myself.
I wish I could say my mom had recovered more than she has, but she still battles with the world, and her mind every day.

Date 2011-09-06 23:37:28 (Timezone: America/Denver)

Stefania from Italy


A Slow Homecoming

I am now 30 years old and I only recently started my journey towards accepting and understanding my past, a life with a bipolar mother. Since a few months I am working for my new life and soon I'll be moving away from my mother to build my own family in another town, fighting against my fears of leaving her alone.

Mine is a slow homecoming, as many scars are in my soul and I still have difficulties in going back with my thoughts and put my story into words. I can say that before my mother was diagnosed and treated for the first time, my father and I had to live a real nightmare. Everything started after my mum's mother death. The loss and the grief ended up in a non-diagnosed depression, after that she had what I only many years after could recognise as a manic episode. She heard voices, she got furious against my father and asked for divorce, her facial expression and look changed terribly, she could wake up in the night to scream to the neighbours until the veins nearly came out of her neck. It was scary to be in house alone with her in my 15s, she refused to see doctors, she only thought my father was to blame for her state. I had to go away and she crashed down and was hospitalized. After that she took meds for a while, then she stopped and got into hospital again.

My father belief was that people shouldn't know about the mental illness, so for many years only a few knew about that, also because with meds my mum looks ok and noone notices. The last crisis was the one that made me at first dive into the abyss of desperation, but then strongly pushed me towards the surface, in search for light again. I had to make sure my mum got back into therapy and this time I did everything I could to try to make her aware of the illness she never accepted, it was a complete taboo. While she was in hospital I managed to talk to her openly. She got angry at first, but I talked again and so the day after, on and on and on... When she got home I made her read a book about bipolar disorder.

She now still suffers when we talk about her illness and doesn't want anyone to know about it. But now that my father isn't on this earth anymore (he died from cancer soon after my mum got home from the clinic, last year), I like to think he's proud of me for what I've done for them both and for how I managed to keep the bond with my mother, something that one year ago seemed a real miracle to me. I only hope this will last and that my mother won't stop taking medicines again, I won't have the energy to cope with a new manic episode, it really ruined my whole life, work, friends, everything. I am still extremely tired, in both my body and soul. Now it's time for me to concentrate on my well being and think about my new start, a slow but powerful homecoming.

Date 2011-06-16 11:27:41 (Timezone: America/Denver)

Kelly from New York

I didn't know that my mom had paranoid schizophrenia until I was 19 years old. She became obsessed with the belief that we were being tortured by a satanic government cult. She believed that the cult was doing horrible things to us and then making us forget anything happened.

I thought this was all true until I was 19. She would force me to spend hours and hours trying to relive what they had done to me, using a breathwork technique that caused vivid hallucentations. She became consumed with the belief that we were victims of this cult and made our lives a living hell. When she divorced my father because she accussed him of being an alien and of sexually abusing my brother and I, it ripped my family apart forever.

How I became resiliant is to use everything that was happening to me to grow spiritually. During the techniques I was lead through, I truly believed that I was reliving abuse - I had to do it otherwise I would be terriably punished. From that, I have a deep sense of empathy and compassion to people who have been abused. I look at the positive attributes I have gained from going through that experience. I can handle people being in intense emotional states now. I can be a compassionate, calm, kind person to someone who is healing from abuse or experiencing intense suffering. I have gone deeply through every emotion so I am able to just be present with people who are going through difficult times and be a healing presence. I am grateful for that ability and I got it through my experience with my mom.

Date 2011-04-11 14:44:41 (Timezone: America/Denver)

Sarah from Canada

Light in the Darkness

After completing 3 UN Peace Keeping tours in war torn countries my father was diagnosed with PTSD. He refused help. For as long as I could remember my life centred around fear. My father was very unpredicable and irrational. Quite often he would talk to himself in incoherent sentences. He was a very scarey man to say the least. I grew up trying to live up to his unattainable standards. My younger brother gave up early on and rebelled. His rebellion was met with more rage and he soon became the object of my fathers terror. My brother never gave up fighting for us while I only faught for myself, trying to be perfect enough to avoid my fathers anger.

In both our fights, my bother and I were unsuccessful. Now, at 25 years old, I have been diagnosed with panic disorder. My 23 year old brother has severe anger issues. We both abuse alcohol, maybe in a vain attempt at happiness and normalcy. There is some light in all the darkness, we have both grown into very resiliant adults. If I survived 18+ years of hell, I can survive anything.

Since moving out of my parents house I now have very few fears and take on many challenges. I am also a very optimistic and positive person, more so then most people I know. I am not sure if this is the result of nature or nurture but it is wonderful. I am compassionate and understanding and forgiving. I look back on my childhood with sadness but in a way I am thankful. I am thankful my brother and I survived and have grown into resiliant, strong, optimistic people. I beleive survivors have an advantage over people who have grown up with "normal" parents. We fought for our survival and continue to fight to be the best we can be. Sure, I may not have developed panic disorder or alcohol issues had I grown up in a stable household, but that is not guaranteed. Those are issues that I can and will overcome in my quest for healing.

Date 2011-01-24 18:04:30 (Timezone: America/Denver)

Jillian from Bellflower


Your senior year of high school is supposed to be the best, but for me it I knew I was barely making it. My parents had just divorced when I turned 18 in February. My Mother was slowly losing her mind, I don't mean that in a bad way because now I understand the way mental illness works. She slowly threw everything away. If I was wearing Blue she would throw away everything blue, this could include furniture, pictures, clothing, medication...I was called a witch, who was putting voodoo on her and I worked for the Pastor whom she in her mind was having a secret relationship with because at the Sunday services he was only talking to her (in her mind).

So now I understand the power of the mind, it's scary and amazing at the same time. After three years of back and forth emergency mental hospital visits my Mom is somewhat stable. She has her moments when she looks at me and I can tell she is hearing those voices who are telling her that I am evil, but now she can zone them out. At 27 I just now realized that my Mother's illness effected me more than I thought. I still feel like I am greiving the loss of my real Mother, the lady who took care of herself, dressed nice and always had a postive smile. Now I see a woman who battles her mind daily and tries to make it work, I guess thats life. My biggest fear is that I will become my Mother, but through therapy and learning more on mental illness a fear is only a fear, not reality.

Date 2011-01-18 10:14:38 (Timezone: America/Denver)

Joan from Nashville

choose life

How I survived

I had two brothers, a father who was nuts, and a mother who suffered in silence. My family members didn't talk with each other, so I didn't find out until my younger brother committed suicide that my older brother had considered it, too. But he and I lived. So when I met psychiatrist Stephen Wolin in the 1980s and learned about his resiliency theory for how children in troubled families survive, I learned how I had survived by doing the following: I recognized there was something wrong with my family. I spent time away from home as much as possible. I identified surrogate healthy families and hung out with them. I developed a sense of humor. When, as an adult, I realized what my brother and I had done as children to keep ourselves together in the crazy world of our home, I was proud of us, but also cognizant that though our dad was crazy, "there but by the grace of God go I."

On the day my younger brother died, I stood over his body, then turned to embrace my older brother (for the first time that I could remember). I was 27. At that moment, these words broke in my chest: "Choose life." Years later, I discovered a Bible verse, "Choose life that you and your descendents may live." As an adult I have reached out to help other children in distress - another Dr. Wolin resiliency marker, helping others - and in their healing I find meaning for my own life. A friend of mine once said, "The bad times count, too." She was right. In time, the bad times have transformed into something that works for me as much as the good times. I never would have believed it when I left home for good at age 17, but now at age 63, I look back on a life of healing and adventure. Many times I have "mined" the bad times I experienced to connect with others in pain and help them through their own bad times. I still reflect on that message of long ago, "Choose life." I may never understand all its implications, but I know it is right.

Date 2010-11-11 20:42:27 (Timezone: America/Denver)

DC from Santa Fe

Slowly, like a diver returning to the surface from a great depth I woke up. I could hear the muffled screams and shouts. I could hear the low dull roar of the Austin-Healy’s exhaust beneath me and sound of the pavement inches below my seat. As I opened my eyes and looked to the side I saw the blood red dawn spreading across the barren plains of eastern Wyoming. The telephone poles flying past looking like some kind of blurred post-modern crucifixes in the eerie red and orange light.

Looking to the front were my mother and stepfather in the front seats, screaming and swearing at each other with an intensity that was deafening in the small cars interior. My sister and I just inches behind in the cramped jump seats of the tiny sports car. A space that is better suited to accommodate a grocery sack or two but not us. Innocent by-standers in a psychic war that raged around us without reprieve. Trapped and abandoned. As the tiny car careened down the deserted highway at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour I knew escape was impossible.

No one was going to come to our rescue. No one was going to greet us with loving kisses this morning. No warm words or a warm breakfast were waiting for us today. Only a rocket ride straight into the depths of hell that was my parents marriage. The only thing that was warm that morning were the tears that streamed down our cheeks as we cowered in our tiny hold.

Then as if in a dream I saw my stepfather open his door. He was going to jump! He was going to escape the insanity my mother tormented him with. How could he? How could he leave us here trapped with her to flip and roll through the desolate plains to a fiery death? I hated him for his cowardice and I hated her for driving him to it. Was this my fault? We were constantly reminded that if it weren’t for us her life would be better. Was this her way of removing us, the obstacle to her happiness. I had imagined his move before he had opened the door, was I responsible for this, having thought it before it materialized. Was it my escape therefore I brought it into being? Was this my way to escape this hell that was our life.

I turned to see the sun breaking over the horizon with its bright promise of another glorious day and retreated to the depths of my refuge, sound and sight blurring again as the surface of this reality retreated away from me like a deep and murky depth of solitude. I realized this was not an ordinary day, it was my birthday and I was 10. But there would be no party today or any other day.

Date 2010-10-08 16:02:21 (Timezone: America/Denver)


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