HOLDING IT TOGETHER - Excerpt from My Memoir

September 13, 2013

This afternoon, a new woman joins our Family Mental Illness support group. She's in tears telling us about her son and daughter. They both have schizophrenia.

When she was 47 -- she's now 73 -- Helena left her native country, Czechoslovakia, and came to the US "to escape communist oppression and to escape my husband, who also has schizophrenia."

When she first asked permission to emigrate to the US, Helena was denied because she didn't speak English and didn't appear to be employable. "But I persisted and, at last, we were allowed to come here. I came with my two young children, our few clothes, and not a penny of my own."

In time, Helena learned English and procured employment in an assisted living facility. Now, her daughter has returned to Europe and her son lives in the Bay Area in low-income housing. "My son's been with me for the last week," she says, "and sometimes I'm afraid of him. He's struck me in the past. But I have to let him come. I'm all he has and, because I was raised in an orphanage, I know how it feels to have no door open to you. I can't close my door to him."

Helena refuses to call the police when her son becomes violent because "in my old country, police made irrational arrests of innocent people."

Helena thinks she has enough money to stay in her rented townhouse for a couple more years. "I may have to move and find a two-bedroom apartment for my son and me to live in. I may have to look for a job. I could hostess in a restaurant. I love my son and there's no help for people with illnesses like his. I'm angry and frustrated. I've been trying to hold it together for a long time. I can't do it anymore."

Photo Credit: Sachin Sharmapurikar Flickr.com   

Photo Credit: Sachin Sharmapurikar