In the latest in our series of articles looking at life from other people’s perspectives, a woman recounts her family’s struggle with her mom’s mental illness and how it ultimately strengthened their bond.
I was 12 years old and my sister was seven when our mother had a nervous breakdown. Looking back on those days now, it’s easy to see the signs but hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time, we had just moved house and I was just starting my new secondary school. Our parents had separated years before, but still maintained an incredibly close relationship. There was never any bitterness or resentment between them and we always knew how loved we were. At the time, our Dad wasn’t living in Ireland but we always knew that he was there for us no matter what.
The stress and strain of moving house and all that was involved in that had started to take its toll on our mother. We had moved into a rental property in the meantime while our house was being sold and while we were in the process of buying our new one. As it was such a huge change for me in that particular time in my life, I suppose I didn’t pay attention to what was happening to her. She wasn’t sleeping much and always seemed to be pre-occupied with her mind constantly on other things, until one day, everything just fell apart.
My sister and I left for school that morning oblivious to what would happen that day. I remember being collected from school by a cousin of ours. I thought that it was strange but didn’t ask many questions. He drove us to our grandmother’s house, where we spent a lot of time anyway as we are a very close family. I asked where mom was and I don’t remember being given a definitive answer. As a pre-teen, I remember being very angry at the fact that no one would tell me what was wrong with her. I now know that it was as hard for my relatives as it was for us. They probably didn’t even know what had happened to her. All that we knew at that point was that she was in a psychiatric unit in hospital.
I felt worry, anger, shame, confusion and extreme sadness, especially for my little sister who was lost without mom. Eventually we were allowed into the hospital to see her. I just couldn’t understand why mom was in there, what had actually happened to her or if she would ever be able to come home again.
During this time, Dad, who is a psychiatric nurse himself, came straight home to Ireland and immediately sprung into action. He explained to my sister and I that mom had suffered a nervous breakdown, mostly caused by stress and lack of sleep and assured us that she would be home again. It took eight months and a lot of set-backs but she managed to get herself through it.
I think back to those days when mom told me that if she won the Lotto she would give it all away to be able to walk ten steps outside the hospital door without suffering an anxiety attack. Mental illness is something that is still surrounded by a certain amount of stigma. And most of us don’t realise the terrible battles that sufferers have to face every day.
Our mother is now in perfect health and is a beacon of positivity and happiness. She is always the first person that everyone turns to for support and strength. As a family we stuck together, listened to each other, supported each other and I truly believe going through this, as bad as it was, has made us the people we are today.