In 1995 my mother went into full blown psychosis as a result of a drastic change in the medication she was taking for schizo-affective disorder. She lured some of our friends and neighbors into our home and took the youngest, a toddler, into the basement bedroom. Once there, she slashed the child’s throat with a knife because of a voice telling her she had to. The toddler survived despite a massive loss of blood.
Mom had suffered from mental illness for most of her life in some form or another, and her new doctor at that time had reduced her antipsychotic medication without monitoring the effects. She had tried to take her own life after I was born, so afraid of being a bad mother that she thought it would be better if she exited, but I had no idea that she was managing life with depression that turned into bipolar disorder in my teens. She never harmed me. Quite the opposite — I was loved and supported by both my parents. But I do remember, and live with, the stigma that surrounds people with mental illness and everyone who loves them.
After the attack my mother was arrested, obliterated out of her mind. The media went wild, and she became the town monster. The magnitude of what she had done and the fear it elicited was everywhere. Others in the neighborhood began monitoring my family. They wanted to make sure the monster was put away for life. People I had known since I was a kid turned against us.
What followed was a textbook example of how not to deal with mental illness and its consequences — through ignorance, suspicion, incarceration and revenge instead of facing up to the shadow side of humanity with openness, love and understanding. …read more