Hello, I am 19 years old, and my mother has been suffering from schizophrenia since I was 2 years old. She was initially diagnosed as schizo-effective, and for most of my life it has stayed that way, up until about 4-5 years ago she was fully diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. It breaks my heart to see my mother slipping away from reality. She never leaves the house, is terrified of the “conspiracies” in her head, and has verbally violent conversations with the voices in her head. She is nothing like the person she used to be, and it’s devastating. Another hard factor is that I am the baby of the family, and she is very attached to me since I am the only child she has been a stay-at-home mom with (she was able to work before I was born), and my biggest concern is never being able to leave the house and live on my own because I don’t want her to feel even more scared and alone than she already does. My father is very loving and understanding towards her, and they’ve been married for 29 years, but he works a lot, leaving my mom home alone most of the day, every day, and I’m afraid that when I get out on my own she is going to lose it. How can I lead a normal healthy life without feeling guilty and worrying about if my mom is alright at home by herself. She has a history of being suicidal, and being alone all day seems to increase her paranoia symptoms, hallucinations, and delusions, and I don’t want her to suffer even more than she already is. I feel stuck here and that I have to take care of her and miss out on my own life, and I feel selfish feeling that way, because I should take care of my mother, I just always thought it wouldn’t be until she was in her 80’s and I already had raised a family of my own. How can I cope with this and keep my mother at ease as well?
Your mother is fortunate to have a loving family who cares so much about her well-being. Many people with schizophrenia have “burned bridges” with their families, often to the point where their families have had to part ways. In some cases, families have no choice. In the book “Angelhead,” for instance, Greg Bottoms writes about his brother Michael. Michael staunchly believed that his father was the source of all of his problems. He believed that the only way to stop his father was to burn him alive “before the demons completely overtook his soul.” In an effort to “save” his family, Michael lit the house on fire, convinced that killing his family meant that he was setting them free.
That example was meant to illustrate circumstances in which some families are forced to separate from their loved one with schizophrenia, for their own safety. Fortunately, that is not the case with your mother.
It is not selfish to want to live your own life. It is both normal and healthy. The desire to do what is normal and healthy should not produce feelings of guilt. Love often involves sacrifice, but you cannot sacrifice your entire life, chance of happiness and your future for the sake of your mother. You have the right and the obligation to care for yourself.
I would encourage you and your family to explore what social programs are available for your mother. There may be programs, staffed by mental health care workers, that could help care for your mother. Many counties have such programs and they may be free to your mother, depending on her health insurance. She may be eligible for intensive case management or a program in which doctors and nurses visit the home every day (if needed) to assist with medication management or to assess (and to subsequently attempt to improve upon) her daily mental health status.
What about medication? You mentioned that she is experiencing many psychiatric symptoms. The fact that she is experiencing significant psychiatric symptoms means that her quality of life is being compromised. Does her medication need to be adjusted? Check with her doctor about a possible medication change. Medication typically does not eliminate all symptoms but one can expect a significant reduction in symptoms.
You love your mother. That is clear but love cannot cure mental illness nor is it enough for her or for your family to have a high quality of life. Outside professional help is likely necessary in this situation and it may help to resolve this problem. You’d feel much better if you knew that, in your absence, your mother was being appropriately cared for by trained mental health professionals. It would also make you feel good to know that you helped to facilitate that care.
Check with your mother’s doctor, her treatment team or the local community mental health center to assess what programs or services are available. You should also contact the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They may suggest programs that could assist your family. Please don’t hesitate to write again if you have additional questions. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle