Sometimes the way you act, you forever regret! And then, there’s no repenting!
Schizophrenia affects approximately 1 percent of all adults, globally. My mother was among the 1% population, unfortunately!
My mother had been a schizophrenic ever since I was born. I am told that she got her first ever schizophrenic attack when right after I was born. In the 80’s when India still was uneducated about mental diseases, my father was struggling with my mother’s new found ailment and two young daughters!
Unlike in a patient with physical ailment, dealing with a patient of Schizophrenia requires a lot more patience and emotional strength.
Book definition of Schizophrenia is a ‘breakdown in the relation between thoughts, emotions, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation’. Voices in your head mislead you. Confusion frets you. Monster in your brain corrupts the reality. Delusion wins and creates a new reality for you!
The ordeal began with my mother imagining being poisoned by my grandmother and the nurse in the hospital where I was born. In the maternity ward, a nurse was slapped. Food and medicines were thrown away. A mother went unrecognized. A relative was deemed mother. The new born was forced to be taken away from its mother. Everyone was clueless! My mother’s side of the family believed it to be post-partum distress. But my father knew something was not right.
At the age when there wasn’t much awareness about mental diseases, my mother was suffering from schizophrenia. Multiple shock treatments, lifelong medicines, were her new companions. We were thankful that while me and my sister were growing up, she suffered a delusional attack only once.
I remember my mother threw away all our toys, hair bands, dresses that were black and red. Probably the demon in her head instructed her to do away with blacks and reds. My sister who was 10 then and me 6 never contemplated the situation. The next I remember, my mother slept for next entire week, heavily sedated!
The next distant memory of her attack was us watching TV. And suddenly we heard her chanting in basal voice. We peeped inside the kitchen. She was smearing the kitchen with Kumkum and haldi. I remember our young selves taking her by her hand into the bedroom, crying, and calling our father at work. At nights, me and my sister slept together in the drawing room and the door there would be fortified with obstacles for my father feared that my mother, in her state of mind, could do something that would harm us! Our relatives and friends started avoiding visits to our house.
Looking at her, any outsider could never tell she was schizophrenic. She was an excellent cook. She loved making different dishes. She enjoyed watching television. Laughed a lot. She even became a money lender to poor women and take interest in kind. My father would always encourage her to sing in the group get-together. We would celebrate everybody’s birthdays in the house with great frolic. This was all short lived. While we were in school.
With heavy doses of medications and multiple shock treatments that she received, her life boiled down to merely cooking food, eating and sleeping. There never were hugs! There never were mother-daughter chats! When normal, she was always suspicious of people, particularly women around my father.
My mother had always been obsessed for me. For her, I was a darling! Her next attack came when I was in the last year of College. My sister by then had taken a job and my father had taken up a project abroad where he was stay put for 5 years. We always got the signs of her attack from the manner she spoke. In all her attacks, she always perceived my father and my sister as a threat to her life! It was early February, and my final exams were fast approaching. As I sat studying in the drawing room, I caught a glimpse of something unusual in the bedroom. My mother had just returned from her bath and had tied her hair braid to the belt of her pyjama and staring straight at me! I was alone at home and scared for my life! I wouldn’t know what to do! I called up my father (who was 1000’s of miles away in Turkey) and started crying over the phone. I couldn’t dare to enter the bedroom and free her! He told me not fear her or hate her. He told me that she’s your mother and needs your help. I gathered courage to enter the room with a scissor and cut a braid to free her! By the time, I heard a knock on the door. It was my uncle, my mother’s brother! He immediately took charge and we started for the Psychiatric clinic where she was hospitalized for another couple of days. By the time, my father had returned home!
I remember my father touching her feet when she thought she was his mother. I remember my father cleaning her bed when she had lost her bodily controls. I remember my father being accused for my mother’s condition, yet only he remained a strong pillar for her!
In her sickness, she felt closer to me! She would ask me little things like should I go to the bathroom, can I take bath, should I comb my hair! I always thought that it was me and my mother (whom I had grown to dislike and had distanced away emotionally) against my sister and my father! I hated the situation. My personality had changed! I started hating everything around me. I barely passed my graduation!
There came a time when she got menopausal that her attacks grew violent. We had no option but to admit her to a rehab center. With her age, she could no longer be given shock treatment!
Doctors suggested us to admit her to a rehabilitation center. Admitting her was a task in itself. We managed to counsel her to come to the clinic. All of us went together. One by one doctor called us in and later called her. She was in the doctor’s room and we were told to silently go away!
When she realized she’d been tricked, she screamed and yelled for help to rescue her! At home, it felt like somebody had died. That was the first time ever that I saw my father crying!
Today my mother is no more! She lost her battle to pneumonia at the age of 58!
Thinking back, now I feel, I was many a times extremely rude to her when she was normal. I was forever angry at her for not being there for me. I always compared her to the mothers of my friends who always stood by their daughters like a best friends. I could never narrate a story of my angst against some friend or relative to her. I could never talk to her about my issues with in-laws and seek her advice. I could never just hug her and cry. I could never share my anxieties with her. Because the reactions would get extreme. Either I would be ignored, or the person I would talk about would get a nasty phone call.
I always thought my father did not deserve the treatment she gave him. Even today I hear my maternal uncles say that my father was the reason she suffered mental illness. Wish they could’ve realized how much the man had sacrificed for his wife. Even in her sickness, he stood by her like a rock for many long years! He’d been her man who told us ‘not to hate your mother because she does not know what she is speaking’!
In her late years, she had grown indolent, lifeless person. All she knew was eating and sleeping! I always wondered how she never cried! She never liked to mingle with people or attend functions! Even at her death, we mistook her hallucinations for Schizophrenic attack,little did we know that it was her depleted oxygen levels.
Sometimes I wonder, could we have done something differently? Was it our fault for the personality that she had become? Questions will forever remain without answers now that she is no more!
I not only lost my mother to schizophrenia, I believe I lost my father too! He grew bitter after her passing. Angry at, I don’t know what! He suffered 2 massive heart attacks after her passing. I wish I could ease the emotional pain. But guess I only remind him of her illness. Secretly, I wish I was never born! Probably, life would’ve been very different for my family!
The intention of my writing is not to malign anybody but this is my own coping mechanism of both feeling lost forever and for losing her. I also wish to create an awareness that something like this happens to those 1%’s families! They need your emotional support. Don’t attack the one’s who are already victims. Educate yourselves about mental illnesses.
This disease not only affects the patient, it also affects the immediate family. Pointing fingers do little to help, if we understand that it is the medical condition and work together to tackle the situation. Empathize with the caregivers. Understand that the process is traumatic even for the caregivers. Counseling should not be limited to the patient. Immediate family is in even more need of psychological counseling.