You can call me Burgers (he/him).
Hey all found this place via this interview:
[Interview with Dr. Margaret Brown - Psychologist & author of Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother — Sandra Lau]
Dr. Brown mentioned this site and today here in September 2023 I have the courage and strength to check it out. I used to be terrified to even read the word schizophrenia much less search for it online.
It’s hard to find other sons who talk about growing up with a schizophrenic parent. Hoping to find some here. Glad to have found one (just one in recent days).
I do solo therapy, childhood trauma group therapy, have tried the 12 Step program Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families. In both my group therapy and 12 Step I’m often the only guy (but not always). But always the only one with a schizophrenic parent. Others have parents who suffer from substance abuse, narcissism, religious abuse, and other horrible abuses.
While I can relate to these folks quite deeply but… it’s only to a point. I find I’m missing connection on the details of my growing up that are particular to having a SZ mother. And also missing understanding on being a guy.
I’m estranged from my mother. But she lives in the same state. Her siblings take care of her.
I’m trying to get my first job in software development. It’s hard changing careers. It’s hard… getting Adult Me going to take care of life things.
For now my godmother, my biological maternal aunt essentially pays for rent and therapy and groceries. I feel guilty about this privilege I have. But I wanna get better to help others who are in my shoes.
Please I’d love to hear from other children. How are you working on healing from your childhood?
I wrote about growing up with mom in 2014. I’ve pasted it below. I haven’t really read it since I made it. And below that I’ll share links to things that have been helpful to me.
BEFORE YOU READ
I like sharing. Both the good and the difficult and icky (I grew up with a mentally ill mother that I violently shoved out of my life). So I make this public. I want everyone from the Prime Minister of Canada to a vegan foodie in Colorado to an eleven-year-old girl living in Taiwan to be able to read this piece.
I want 2014 to start different to be my Year of InsideOut. And to make a difference, something a little drastic has to happen. So no more keeping secret things inside about my growing up.
I hope my friends feel safe in asking me about these things, I hope it means I can ask family members who were around back then what my childhood looked like from the outside, I hope it means kids out there in similar situations can know they’re not alone in being so isolated and scared, I hope others who grew up with a mentally ill parent like me will reach out. I just want this to mean something to anyone even if they don’t know who I am.
I grew up carrying a lot of responsibility. I was the protector of the household from my mother’s literally psychotic outbursts and schizophrenia-borne paranoia. My mother has a brain disease but was and is in denial of it. People in the family just thought she was high-strung, but not sick.
So I grew up watching as she and her mind slowly slipped away over the years. And I couldn’t help but think it was all my fault. I am so afraid my mind might slip away too.
After Dad left us, I grew up thinking everything had to be done perfectly or Mom would have a bad reaction. As it turns out, Mom would sometimes react negatively no matter what I did, no matter the situation. There is no inherent logic in the mind of someone who suffers from schizophrenia. How could 9 year old me have figured that out?
My biggest concern was my younger sister. I had to play the distractor at times to move her attention elsewhere while Mom fought against the voices in her head in the grocery or muttered about some “agenda” to the waiter (who was supposedly in on the conspiracy).
MANAGING MOM’S BRAIN:
Mom would depend on me for a lot in everyday life. As the oldest, I had to be the one to help her shop and approve brands of bread and what food to get at a restaurant. This means I had to be wise enough to choose the items the whispers in her head didn’t want. If I chose wrong, I’d be on the side of the voices and would be betraying her.
Being out in public with Mom was always terrifying. The paranoia could come at any time. She would mutter something or swear at the the cashier under her breath and I would have to put on a smiling face. In those moments I wanted to desperately show that I was definitely not like my weird, angry, anxious, ‘not mentally ill’ mother.
I learned how to make myself look normal, how to defuse situations with a calm voice, how to use empathy to connect with other people, how to plug my ears and hide in a closet when my mother and father would start fighting, how to tune out Mom telling Dad over the phone that the FBI opened up a file on him and instead focus on watching Nickelodeon with my sister.
REFUGE AT SCHOOL SOMEWHAT:
Not a lot of learning happened at school. School was just where I could let go of constantly having my shields up. I could put my bags down and just be me because the adults there had the ability to call the shots competently. I wouldn’t have to manage things for the time I was there. But I knew I would be Managing Mom again when the school-day ended.
I’ve never been focused on academics really. I was focused on getting attention from adults who weren’t breaking down all the time. That meant doing well for teachers not for learning’s sake but to be seen by a healthy adult. One that didn’t need me to discern between the CIA-marked sodas and the ones we could buy.
I HATE THE HOLIDAYS:
None of these tactics really worked during the holidays with Mom’s side of the family. They were also at a loss of what to do. Mental illness is unseen but that only means it fucking hurts more. It makes my aunts and uncles and cousins and my sister and me cry into our Thanksgiving Dinners. It makes us lock ourselves in a side room and bawl our eyes out while Mom, all riled-up and manic gets taken away from the house by her brothers.
One holiday incident, when Mom was being violent and aggressive and manic again, my sister and I locked ourselves in a bathroom to stay safe. And in there, I made this promise to my sister, “Mom’s not gonna take care of us, Dad’s not gonna take care of us. I’m gonna take care of us.”
When people ask me if I have a mom or about my mother, the truthful answer is that I lost my mother a long time ago when I was very young to a stupid disease. But that’s misleading. She’s alive somewhere, just trapped in her head. And the shame and guilt of shoving her away haunts me.
I haven’t seen my mother in years. And have avoided updates about her. We took out a restraining order on her when she would keep coming to the house and stand outside the door and not leave for hours. The last time I saw her I slammed a door repeatedly on her fingers and told her to get out. We called the police and they made her leave. After the incident she called a locksmith that same day to fix any damage done to the door because she felt bad. Because of that incident, I see myself as a monster and won’t forgive myself.
It’s hard for me to trust my Dad. So I generally don’t. I hate him because he left us there in that house with Mom incorrectly thinking that because she loved us, we’d be okay. She was just high-strung after all, not sick.
And while he didn’t mean to, I still hold it against him. And even when he got custody and we went to live with him, it was not until we started family therapy last year that my sister and I shared what it was like to live with Mom and how scary it was.
It is unfair to my father how much I hate him given how much he tried in family therapy this past year. But I still do. I have trouble letting all this anger go.
POSITIVITY + PERSPECTIVE:
People say I’m smiley and cheery. It’s a skill. I needed this skill to gloss over the anger and sadness I didn’t even know I was feeling. I’d smile and be friendly to my relatives and in school and out in public. I’d yell and grab peoples attention by being a ham because I’d gotten good at keeping others’ attention away from Mom’s breakdowns and back onto me.
In 2013 I learned what real cheeriness, real happiness is and my smiling face isn’t just a ‘put-on’ anymore. I just know what it’s like to live in fear and sadness and hatred every day and can now appreciate when I’m really feeling good.
It was not until this past July that I learned exactly how scared and how sad I was growing up. How I was made to carry adult-sized responsibilities for too long too young. A small boy cannot be in-charge of an undiagnosed woman that is descending into madness.
But through learning meditation and going to family therapy together and learning about schizophrenia and the years of individual therapy, I now really understand how depressed I was (and still get sometimes). But that just makes feeling happy so much better when it does happen. Understanding the depth of the fear and being aware of the sadness just complements my happiness.
In 2013 I’ve learned that real happiness comes with understanding.
It doesn’t come from having a car. Not from a new gadget. Not from eating steaks. Not from masturbating. Not from getting high.
You don’t get it from having a six-pack. It doesn’t come from getting laid. Or from kissing a pretty girl. Not from a bachelors degree. And definitely not from getting drunk.
You can buy those things but you have to do the work to get real understanding and find out what it is that makes you happy.
WHAT I WANT:
I want to spend 2014 bringing people together.
I want to use the skills I had to learn growing up and make a life out of them. A big goal is to earn $1,000 this year through voice acting gigs. I’ve got 51 weeks left to do it. I’m scared to fail.
Not for 2014, but for the future, I want to find a lady who can take of herself. I’m done with carrying all of someone else’s anxieties. Give me someone who is confident that they have their literal and figurative shit together and who understands themselves.
I want a family that knows and understands what my sister and I went through. I selfishly want credit for the hard work I did protecting and raising us.
And lastly, I want to not be scared to end my part of the restraining order on Mom and go see her, wherever she is, before she dies. I want to say, “I’m sorry for letting you down, Mom.”
If you’ve come this far to the end, I thank you. Thank you for peeking at the darkest parts of me here at the start of my 25th year. This wasn’t easy to write and I can imagine it’s hard to take in too.
Happy New Year, let’s make a change. I love ya.
As a brand new user I’m not allowed to post more than two links so I’ll just keep the titles for most of the links.
Finding a childhood trauma therapist:
How To Find A Childhood Trauma Therapist - 5 Questions to Ask (Patrick Teahan LICSW)
Childhood Trauma Group work:
[Amanda Curtin LICSW - Childhood Trauma Group Therapist - Relationship Recovery Program (RRP) (Patrick Teahan LICSW)]
Complex PTSD therapists in the US (not a comprehensive list):
[Complex Trauma Treatment Institute Affiliates]
Asian American therapists:
[Yellow Chair Collective]
Interview with daughters who wrote about growing up with a schizophrenic mother:
- Interview with Alexandra Hewett - Shimmer A Memoir Part 1 (I Hear You - Sandra Lau)
- [Interview with Mira Bartok - The Memory Palace Part 1 (I Hear You - Sandra Lau)]
- [Interview with Dr. Margaret Brown - Psychologist & author of Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother (I Hear You - Sandra Lau)]
Books written by the above daughters with a schizophrenic mother:
- [“Shimmer: A Memoir” by Alexandra Hewett] (it’s on the way)
- [“Swallow the Ocean” by Laura M Flynn] (am listening to the audiobook now)
- [“Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother” by Margaret J. Brown, Doris Parker Roberts] (haven’t started)
- [The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok] (haven’t started)
Book written by a son with a schizophrenic mother (not me, haven’t started reading it yet): [“A Childhood Madeup” by Brent Meersman]
Though this book is written for daughters of mothers, I still resonated with much of it:
[Mother Hunger: How Adult Daughters Can Understand and Heal from Lost Nurturance, Protection, and Guidance by Kelly McDaniel]
That’s all I’ve got right now. Please do reach out.