My sister and sat in a dark theatre waiting for the movie Silver Linings Playbook to begin. I knew from watching the previews that the movie was about mental illness, but that’s all I knew. I found myself squirming: How would this movie impact my sister and I?
Silver Linings Playbook is the story of a man who, during a chaotic period of his life, spends time in a mental institution. In one of the scenes, Pat’s therapist reminds him that at the time of his breakdown he had “undiagnosed bipolar.” Those words sent chills down my body. Like Pat, my mom and others with bipolar disorder struggle with staying on their medications or having the wrong medication prescribed to them. It is a fine dance between what medications will work for each individual.
Before we knew it, the credits rolled. In the silence of the theatre, my sister and I sat for a few minutes before we ventured out to my car. once inside, I turned and asked my sister what she thought about the movie. I wasn’t sure how she would respond. When she stayed silent, I asked if she was glad that Hollywood tackled mental illness. She simply nodded.
My sister and I know all too well the reality of living as daughters of a mentally-ill woman. Shortly after my younger sister was born, our mom had a nervous breakdown. Growing up, Mom was in the hospital at least once a year or more. Being the oldest, I grew up much faster than I should have. When Mom was sick and dad was farming, I took care of my sister and myself.
When mom was healthy, our family was full of love and laughter. But the minute mom was diagnosed with manic depression and bipolar disorder after the nervous breakdown, things quickly shifted.
The toll of this illness quickly became apparent to all of us. I will never forget the day my sister and I came home from school to find our Dad standing there, tears streaming down his face.
He said, “I am getting a divorce. It’s not that I don’t love your mom. It’s just that I cannot handle this illness anymore.” My sister and I knew that things would drastically change in the coming days, months, and even years.
After the divorce, my sister and I routinely moved back and forth between Mom’s and Dad’s houses. In the midst of our broken story, there were very few that knew what was really happening. My sister and I kept this part of our story locked deep in our hearts. It took me eighteen years to tell anyone our story. We were afraid of how others would react and we often saw the stigma that was associated with this illness. Every time there was a school shooting, the media always seemed to focus on how the shooter suffered from a mental illness.
Then one summer day, after my senior year of high school, I went to work at a local Bible camp. During one day of staff training, I received a message that my sister had called. When I called her back on the pay phone, she told me that Mom was in the hospital again. Tears began pouring down my face. At that moment, several of my new camp counselor friends walked by. I turned away from them, trying to avoid eye contact. I didn’t want them to see me cry.
I hung up the phone and found my way back to our dorm room. A few minutes later, the camp director knocked, came in, and asked me what was wrong. Little did I know that my new friends had gone to get him when they saw me crying.
Before I knew it, my mom’s history spilled out of me. For the first time, I felt a sense of peace and strong freedom about my family’s story. I finally unlocked this piece of my heart.
It took a really long time to tell our story. Now I can’t go a day without sharing some of it with those struggling with the reality of mental illness. In telling our story, I help to shatter some of the stigma that comes with the illness. I also share a huge piece of who I am. I am the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness.