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We always knew that there were members on both sides of our family, Gene's and mind with mental illness. We just never considered the possibility that this illness would affect our immediate family in any way. Aware of mentally ill extended members, gave stories which were different. Stories we could compare and find common ground with each other. Stories that were if not humorous, were anecdotal uniqueness of the differences in perception and reality.
For Gene, the most apparent factor of MI affecting him personally was growing up with a mentally ill mother. Years after the fact as searching for answers and history with David's diagnosis, we found out that she had a dual diagnosis of bipolar and schizophrenia. We always knew the bipolar diagnosis, and for this reason did not think of SZ being a factor from his family, in finding David's diagnosis. Gene's mother's illness resulted in his parent's divorce, 25 years after she was diagnosed. She did not comply with any one doctor's treatment, but we found after she committed suicide that she had multiple docs, all rx'g meds, and none knew of the others. She took whatever pill took her fancy when she wanted to... Scary.
His mother had tried to commit suicide over 10 times. He recalls her being hospitalized more than once as a child. When he was 14, he was cleaning his shotgun, he had gone hunting. His mother called the police and told them he was trying to kill her! His older sister was able to explain to the police. He ended up living with his brother and new sis-in-law for a couple teen years as he could not live with his mother's illness.
When I met his mother, she rarely did anything but sleep in a rocker, sedated from medication. She committed suicide the night after we had announced our wedding date. His sister found her the next morning.
His grandmother and her mother spent the last several years of their lives catatonic. The stories, they did noting but sit in a rocker for years, except to eat and sleep.
My paternal grandmother was classic paranoid schizophrenic. We just knew that she was different. That's all that was really said. My grandfather pretty much lived in his car for many years... Grandma hated, was terrified of men, so he did not sleep at home often. He always made sure she had food and what she needed, but she would never take medication. I remember that all Grandma would eat was Wonder white bread, Buddig beef, opened and spread out on a plate uncovered in the fridge to dry, and stars peppermint candies. She liked salami as well, but would always pick out the peppercorns as she was deathly afraid of anything black.
Grandma talked to people who were not there. I remember she had a 1950's calendar with pictured advertisements with women. These were Grandma Mary's friend. She had several names she used, usually adding "Blue white" as a middle name. She was very focused on cleanliness and whiteness, purity. She bathed her children, 4 boys, in bleach when they were young! My father ended up being raised by my mother's parents, unofficially as a teen. They were foster parents and he lived with them for a while. That and the minister of the small church they attended acted as surrogate parents in many ways.
I remember visiting my grandmother. She always talked about being afraid of the little black bugs. She used to band aid the cracks of the plaster walls so the house would not bleed. I remember she once asked my mother how she could stand to allow my brother around, wasn't she afraid he would kill her in the night? My brother was 6.
One summer, the temperature was about 105 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. Grandma had walked 5 miles to our house for some reason, to visit. She wore a rain coat, galoshes and carried an umbrella, because it looked like rain! We were just sitting down to lunch and my mother told us to say our prayers. Grandma said "Yes, be sure to pray to your mother, she feeds you every day."
When she was pregnant with my father, they did not know. She was given EC shock treatments then. Grandma dies when I was in college. Grandpa had to move a trailer onto their property, the house was condemned. Grandma refused to move, and he finally had no choice but to admit her to a sanatorium. She refused to eat and died.
My father was dx'd as bipolar years ago, when I was in 6th grade, he was also told he had a very mild seizure like disorder, again for which he has refused treatment. I believe this is an accurate diagnosis, but he did not like the way Lithium made him feel. He also wanted nothing to do with anything that would liken him to his mother. He never took meds. He has classic highs an lows. He is extremely intelligent, always kept a job, but his grandiosity has often prevented career success in the past. He would work always, but he would sleep all winter when not working. when he gets something in his mind, he pursues it with obsessive, manic intensity. As the years have passed, he has leveled out a bit. Two of my uncles were alcoholic and have passed away. The other uncle would almost qualify as Asbergers, though never diagnosed. He is a very isolated personality. All the boys were dressed as girls until their fifth birthday. Grandma wanted a girl so badly... My grandfather got them a haircut and pants before they entered school in kindergarten...
I look back on these memories and stories and wonder... But this was just part of family, they were different... but they were our family...
In retrospect, it makes me wonder about David's future, but then again, it was awareness of these stories that allowed me to question and get correct diagnosis for Dalton after his adoption. It was Awareness of Dalton's issues that helped us to recognize David's illness. Being part of a family with our history, I know that there is no reason to fear these diagnoses, but that talking about the illness and acceptance of it as part of reality is part of accepting and loving all of our children and family.
My memories may be different, but I remember them with fondness.