My hubby and I knew a young woman years ago that was dx'd in her late teens with Schizophrenia. She was the only person I knew that had a mental illness that didn't try to hide it or acted like she had any shame for it. I'm not sure if she actually felt that way but it looked that way. I asked her many questions over the years and witnessed a couple of breakdowns. My hubby was closer to her and dated her one Summer. She shared her fears and thoughts openly with him.
Without knowing it, she has had a huge impact on the way we feel about mental illness and how it affects our family. We teach our children they have nothing to be ashamed of. You don't need to whisper when you talk about it. It is no different than having Diabetes or any other chronic illness. The symptoms are much different but they are just that, symptoms. They require meds to keep it under control. They need family support to find the strength to keep trying. They are under a doctor's care to help guide them. It is nothing but an illness.
We lost touch with this friend over the years, as most of us do. We talked about her fondly. Her and I reconnected last Fall during our chaos and I had the opportunity to get her advice about the illness. She told me her dx had changed over the years and symptoms came and went with stress. She was very supportive and helpful. She felt we were on the right path about the shame and had some thoughts about that. Her paranoia about being watched was shared but she wasn't clear who was doing it and I didn't ask.
She shared she had married and has children. She is mostly stable and felt she was on top of things. She gave us hope. We saw that our children may have quirks and struggles but they could lead a "normal" life that could include a spouse and children. A hope that we desperately needed. She promised to bring her children to our big birthday carnival this year so we could catch up.
My husband woke me very early this morning by shoving his cell phone in my face. He was frantic. He couldn't read his FB on his phone without his contacts in and all he saw was a status update with her name in it. She had recently deleted her FB account and we had wondered numerous times what happened. We still aren't sure why she did that. The update was letting her friends know she had passed last night.
There was no going back to sleep after that. Worry set in. A selfish worry. One of the biggest concerns we have is the suicide rate for people with Schizophrenia. We are terrified one or both of our children will find life too hard and take their precious life. For a couple of hours I cried for her family and ours. Then I got a response from another of my hubby's ex girl friends telling me that wasn't the case for her. They think it was her heart.
Nothing can make her family feel better about the loss of their mother, sister, wife, and daughter but I wish they knew just how she helped our family cope with our life. The strength we found from our long ago friendship when we first heard the dx for our children. Knowing her and her struggles made the unknown with our kids seem possible.
I know in my brain that her life has no real connection to how my children live out their life. I know that. Her illness is different because every one's is. Yet, somehow, even her death has given me a tiny bit of hope for my children. She will never be forgotten. My children will continue to hear stories about the girl that taught their parents about mental illness and how to look past that illness and see the person. She made us better parents to our very special children. She taught us patience for people that seemed different. We are eternally grateful to have had the privilege of calling her our friend.