Personal Stories

Edith's Story




Eight years ago, I had only a vague understanding of mental illness. I knew very little about mental health and psychiatric hospitals, except for the famous Gregorio Pacheco hospital in Sucre, Bolivia, where I’m from, and J.T. Borda, the psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Of course, I was also familiar with the many popular jokes about people living with mental illness.

“For me, each class was a discovery of a world that isn’t spoken about publically and only seems to exist in the shadows.

I never imagined that I would come to learn about mental illness through a family member—my daughter. In 2005, after trying many times, my daughter was offered a job. We were very happy about this accomplishment, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our good friend.

My daughter’s job was to drive the children of a particular family to their various activities and bring them back home. Everything seemed to be going wonderfully! However, a few days after starting work, my friend called me very concerned about how my daughter was behaving. She told me that my daughter was acting strangely and all I could think was that she was confused and must have been mistaken. I thought she was probably talking about some other person. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening to my daughter.

As a result of my daughter’s odd behavior, the family fired my daughter and my good friend as well. To this day I still feel horrible that my friend lost her job due to this unfortunate situation. 

It was not long until my daughter’s strange behavior came back. We looked for help at various health centers. The first place we turned to was the county crisis center in our community. She would’ve been required to stay for a 72-hour evaluation, so my daughter and I decided against it because she wouldn’t have been allowed any visitors. She didn’t understand what was happening to her and, seeing that she was losing track of whom and where she was, I supported her decision to leave the center.

We tried to seek help from a primary care doctor after two psychiatric crises. The doctor concluded that her immune system was low and prescribed her antibiotics. As one might expect, the antibiotics didn’t help. Over the next two years, we went from one center to another, asking acquaintances, friends and different doctors, looking for answers for my daughter’s condition. Unfortunately, no one could explain the cycle of crises that my daughter was experiencing every three or four months. It wasn’t until she had an even more serious episode and went to the crisis center again that something changed. At the crisis center, the therapist informed me that it could be a mental health problem and recommended that I take her to a hospital near my house where she could receive proper treatment.

For the first time, after two long years, I heard the words mental illness. My daughter was admitted with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. It was hard to leave her, but after a week she had improved and was discharged with the recommendation to seek regular psychiatric treatment.

Six months after my daughter left the hospital, I received a call from the Spanish-language program coordinator from NAMI Montgomery County in Maryland. She invited me to participate in the NAMI Family-to-Family class and I accepted immediately. For me, each class was a discovery of a world that isn’t spoken about publically and only seems to exist in the shadows.

After completing the class, I immediately signed up as a volunteer to teach the next class and spread knowledge and understanding about mental illness. Since then, I have dedicated my time to educating parents and families about mental illness. Not too long ago I began working as the Spanish-language program coordinator at NAMI Montgomery County. While I see there is resistance within the Spanish-speaking community to accept the realities of mental illness, my family’s struggle pushes me to ensure that others receive the information they need to properly address mental illness in their life.

It's been six years since my daughter was admitted to the hospital. Her diagnosis is now bipolar disorder. It will be an ongoing journey but today she is doing well and continues treatment that keeps her healthy.