Personal Stories

Mother’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Month

May is the time of Mother’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Month. For my mother and father and I, these are inextricably linked. My mother was salutatorian of her Iowa high school class and a cheerleader. She loved going to all the dances in the neighboring towns. She excelled at school and had a college scholarship, which went unused.

My mother has courageously lived with schizophrenia since her twenties. In 1960, at the age of 27, she was taken by the Jones County deputy sheriff to the Iowa State Mental Hospital in Independence, Iowa. The hospital is still in operation, and I toured it in 2017. The room where shock treatment was done has remained untouched since the 1960s. One floor of the building is a museum dedicated to the hospital’s long history.

Despite her illness, my mother worked as a bookkeeper. She and my father married and both worked for Collins Radio when I was born. Dad worked the day shift and mom worked the night shift and then tried to stay awake with me while dad was at work.

When I was eight years old, I watched the Linn County sheriff put her in the car to take her to the hospital psych ward. This is how many in our country, then and now, are forced to deal with mental illness.

The side effects from the medication that my mother has been on for over 50 years cause heartaches and embarrassments of their own, not to mention permanent effects similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease. The stigma of mental illness has isolated those struggling with it and their families for far too long. This is why I share our story.

A friend who worked in counseling once told me that my mother is lucky. She has had some semblance of a normal life. Her strength of will, determination and immense love have allowed her to raise a daughter and live 88 years so far.

On Mother’s Day, I picked her up at the care center to bring her to our house for brunch. She had a worried look on her face, “I have lost my mind. I am so glad you came to get me. I didn’t know how I was going to get home.” She still managed to comb her hair and tottered over to her closet to hang up her nightgown. But her smile was weak.

Watching her sliding into dementia in addition to her schizophrenia is almost too much to bear. But she looks me in the eyes and says, “I love you.” Which she repeats again a half hour later. And again. And again.