My story is one of vulnerability, empathy, love and loss. It is a story that needs to be told, a story about mental illness.
1980’s Mental Health Services in Lincoln, NE
Lincoln, NE in the 1980’s was not a good place to be if you had a mental illness. Community mental health resources were scarce at best, with a heavy reliance on the psychiatric hospital and community mental health center. Even the county has recognized mental health services were not adequate to meet the needs of the community.
If there had been Pathway to Hope and National Alliance for Mental Illness support programs for families, we would have been able to heal and repair our relationships much faster. My mother’s mental illness often prevented her from being the mother she wanted to be and the mother we deserved.
FAMILY SUPPORT & COPING SKILLS
My mother received a cocktail of mental health diagnoses during my child and teen years: Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar with Psychotic Features, Paranoid Schizophrenia beginning when I was a year old.
After every hospital stay she so wanted to be emotionally healthy, often going to Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Programs. Yet, it was so hard for her to stay motivated. Her therapists did not challenge her or take the time to build a relationship. Albeit, she was a difficult client, often questioning the need for medication. As such, they rarely helped her break unhealthy behavioral patterns. Medication was her one and only true line of defense. When that failed, she was no longer able to function, resulting in another hospitalization. At the age of 10, I knew, within 30 seconds of talking with her, if she had taken her medication. She did not have the luxury of forgetting to take her meds.
She had an amazing laugh, a twinkle in her eye and a beautiful singing voice. She taught me how to play Chinese checkers, a Connect Four queen, bought me my first journal and inspired my love of poetry. She was also anxious, worried about all the things that might go wrong instead of enjoying the beauty of the moment. Bad days often involved loud voices, withdrawing affection and constant phone calls at all hours.
As an adult she gave me the gift of asking for my forgiveness, acknowledging the awful moments and reveling in the good ones. My mother, through the help of a talented, experienced therapist, the right medications and family support overcame guilt and shame she felt for many years. She even became Vice President and President of the Residence Council in the nursing home she lived in for many years.
ADHD and ME
In 2008, at the urging of my supervisor, I was evaluated for ADHD. My psychiatrist, at our first appointment, told me I had classic textbook Adult ADHD. He shared professionals had only recently started to believe adults could also have ADHD/ADD, though many do not outgrow symptoms when they reach adulthood. I had most of the symptoms: impulsivity, distractibility, difficulty completing tasks requiring sustained mental effort and concentration, restlessness, disorganization, difficulty remembering where I put things.
Since then, I’ve experienced the stigma of mental illness. Many have either denied ADHD exists, claiming everyone forgets their keys sometimes, or shown a lack of understanding about how this condition can affect daily life. My aunt told me it was “just an excuse for not keeping track of my stuff.”
I share my story, hoping others will have the courage to share theirs and we can help others understand our struggles and working together to support and understand each other. My mother inspires me every day, to have compassion and empathy for others, while holding them accountable for making lasting changes in their lives.
I continue to embrace the vulnerable part of myself, for that is where empathy, compassion, playfulness and joy for life exist.
Pathway to Hope programs and services matter, for they provide support, education and connection for families with a mentally ill loved one. They teach families healthy ways to respond to their loved ones and a safe place to share their feelings, feelings they may not be able to tell their loved ones. It also provides techniques, resources and steps to take when there is a crisis.
Mental health is a family, community and systems issue and requires neighborhoods and cities to work together to support each other and create a safe environment to talk about mental health, instead of avoiding the topic.
My hope is no family should feel alone or at a loss of how to help their loved ones.
Sara Minges is a Certified Play Therapist, Owner of Playful Awareness, a play therapy counseling practice helping others find their happy place, and a Wellness Advocate for Doterra. She helps divorcing and blended families with issues of grief, attachment, forgiveness and “embracing your inner Wonder Woman.” She has appeared on Better Kansas City, KC Live, 41 Action News and Fox 4 News.