Resources for adults who grew up with a mentally ill parent?
December 1, 2018 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm approaching my 30s and impact of growing up with a parent who had a mental illness (schizophrenia) is really starting to be come apparent to me. I feel tons of shame and embarrassment towards this parent and as I get older, it's... oddly... getting worse? I'm looking for resources such as books, articles, etc. that will make me feel a bit less "alone" about being in this situation.

I am in therapy with a great therapist.

I want to hear about other people who grew up with a mentally ill parent, because I think it has been a very isolating experience for me. From the age of 12 to, uh, now, I'm always pretending that my parent is normal OR if I reveal that they have a mental illness... it's just not really understood? Close family aren't particularly helpful (and never were helpful growing up) and my feelings towards my parent have always been diminished by family members who just didn't "get it," I was told that every family has their troubles/no family is perfect or odd things like "just give your parent more hugs!!!" I feel so envious of people who have (seemingly) competent parents, who can have relationships with them!

Growing up with your feelings constantly being diminished does quite a number on you. I'm getting to a point where I would just love to hear "you grew up with a schizophrenic mother? that must have been hard" where people STOP there OR "my parent was also mentally ill, I know that it's hard." I can't find a support group in my area, but I would love to read any books, articles, podcasts, hell... even movies, that would just make me feel a little bit less isolated and understand that other people went through this/are going through this, too.

For example, I recently read this article written about being a new mother with a mentally ill mother and, even though I don't have kids, reading it made me not feel alone. So if there are any things out there that are similar to that article, that's kind of the gist of what I am hoping to find.

Lots of resources I find online are for people who have narcissistic parents OR are for children who are currently being parented by a mentally ill child, that's not what I'm looking for.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Hannah Hart (of "My Drunk Kitchen" youtube fame) grew up with a schizophrenic mom (and her mom's illness wasn't well-managed) and she talks about it a lot in her recent(ish) book Buffering.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:37 AM on December 1, 2018

Cary Tennis used to write an advice columnist at Salon. Here's a letter from someone with a schizophrenic mom:

He compiled this letter and others into a book:

(Sorry on phone can't link)
posted by foxjacket at 11:50 AM on December 1, 2018

I think you might have more luck finding a group for something specific your parent did or didn’t do... like alanon or children who experienced neglect. There are tons and tons of us who experienced something like you’ve experienced but it might have come out in different ways.
posted by catspajammies at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2018

Two memoirs may be of interest: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn and Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. Both were extremely well written and even entertaining but difficult to read. Both have also been made into movies but I have not seen either.
posted by headnsouth at 11:57 AM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know you said you couldn't find a support group near you, but since I don't know if you already tried this specific route: If you are in the U.S., reach out to your nearest chapter of NAMI. I found their Family-to-Family course immensely helpful, and they also have monthly support groups for children and siblings of persons with mental illness. Whether you can make it to their classes & groups or not, they should be able to point you to other resources including recommended readings.

There is a(n apparently active) discussion group on for Family and Caregivers.

There is a podcast episode that I just found but haven't listened to myself: Sickboy – My Mom Has Schizophrenia

And here are a few internet readings that I came across:
Me, My Mom and Schizophrenia by Antoine Jackson for CNN
The Hell of Living With a Schizophrenic by Teri Doe on Salon
Growing up with a Schizophrenic Mother by Jordan Llewellyn on Medium
I Grew Up With A Schizophrenic Mother: Here's The Truth About Living With Mental Illness by Kamaria G. Powell on mindbodygreen

Also, feel free to MeMail me if you just want to talk.
posted by D.Billy at 12:02 PM on December 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

I wonder if the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) and Other Dysfunctional Families would be of any help to you. Don’t be deterred by the “Alcoholic” part; I’ve seen many people helped by the ACOA program who had no alcoholism in their family. I would suggest checking out the laundry list traits here, the solution here, and if any of it resonates with you, maybe check out a local ACOA meeting. I’ve found it to be the most healing thing for recovering from a tough childhood.
posted by lagreen at 12:09 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Torey Hayden's(who has written several books of nonfiction about her work with mentally ill kids) novel The Sunflower Forest is about a young woman whose mentally ill mother had been part of the Nazi Lebensborn program
posted by brujita at 12:26 PM on December 1, 2018

You're anonymous, so I can't just send you a memail, but I just wanted to say that my dad is schizophrenic and it was very hard growing up. I had to do a lot of "adulting" for him before I was probably ready for it. I never knew anything else, but yeah, it sucked. If you want to talk, feel free to send me memail.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

It is really hard. My mum has paranoid schizophrenia with a dash of psychotic depression. It was very hard. Echoing the person above, Al-Anon whilst not about the exact experience of illness, families of alcoholics shares many of the feelings and dynamics of families of the extremely mentally ill.

Growing up with a schizophrenic mother by Brown and Roberts

The podcast, the Mental Illness Happy Hour has stories from people in similar situations.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 2:34 PM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Unlisted is a documentary about this.
posted by bq at 3:47 PM on December 1, 2018

My mother had schizophrenia and I feel for you. I got some of the same reactions from family members, some of them even blamed me for "driving her crazy" when I was a teenager! I don't know how but I somehow had enough understanding and sense that I knew they were totally wrong.

I'm in my late sixties now, so this was all a long time ago, and my mother died thirty years ago, but I don't remember ever feeling shame or embarrassment, and you shouldn't either. You didn't choose to be born to this parent, and you didn't cause this parent's mental illness. If you're not comfortable being around her/him, you should not be guilt-tripped into spending time with her/him. I left home and stayed away, you might have to do that. I also found ways to forge family-like relationships with unrelated people. Sometimes it's still hard, especially when friends go on and on about their wonderful parents.

As someone mentioned above Adult Children of Alcoholics may be helpful. Children of alcoholics experience some of the same difficulties, the total unreliability and unpredictability of their parents, the embarrassment of their parents, etc.

Feel free to send me an email here if you need an older friend who gets it.
posted by mareli at 4:18 PM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

My parent is mentally ill and after I spent my childhood terrified of her, and my 20s and 30s mocking her as a coping mechanism, I realized I needed better coping tools. (Besides therapy, with which I have decades of experience.) Like you, my extended family (aka the adults I used to wish had saved me) knew/know something is “off” with her but don’t treat it as the illness it clearly is.

Nothing has helped me so much as NAMI’s Family to Family course, mentioned above. Not because the content itself is news, but because being in a group with fellow family members was empowering.

I mean literally empowering. I came to the course because of a conversation that came very close to spilling over into violence. By me. I knew my anger was a bigger risk—for me—than her illness. One night in class we went through a workshop for problem solving related to our ill family members. As a result of that exercise, and the discussion afterward, I felt I gained such clarity that I was able to change my perception of her behavior. I ultimately cut off contact completely as a result of that clarity. I’m not saying my solution should be your solution, but it has helped me immensely.

You are not alone. Many of us are also walking this path. This is so hard. And yes, very isolating. When I think back on my childhood and teen years I only remember how lonely and isolated I was. She liked it that way. Separated me from other family members, like grandparents, who could have helped me just by displaying normative behavior. Separated me from my friends. Pulled all sorts of ugly, manipulative bullshit.

She has gotten worse with age because she denies her diagnoses and refuses treatment, not to mention alienating all but one family member and one friend. I treat it like alcoholism: I’ve told her that unless she is receiving treatment I cannot have a relationship with her because she is slowly killing herself. And putting other people at physical risk with her behavior. And risking jail with her illegal behavior. She can’t help it that she has biological and environmental deficits causing her illness. But she could choose treatment. She just doesn’t.

My brother is also mentally ill. Treatment for him is mandatory. And he does it. And we get along ok. Mostly we are bound forever by the shared trauma of being parented by her.

A few books I’d recommend for you:
Toxic Parents
Drama of the Gifted Child
Glass Castle
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:45 AM on December 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

You mention your feelings have been diminished and I wonder (if you're not already doing it) if Dialectical Behavioral Therapy would be a fit since it is for people who have experienced "chronic invalidation."
Good luck to you.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 9:19 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi there. I'm a parent who is mentally ill. I don't have schizophrenia; my diagnoses include bipolar disorder and approximately 73 kinds of anxiety. I recently made this comment on a question about being able to have a family with someone with severe anxiety. The very next comment was from someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent who said my comment had helped them.

Feel free to stop by my memail. I obviously didn't have your parent's experience, but I'm more than willing to share whatever insights, opinions, or viewpoints I have. I hope you find some peace through this journey.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:05 PM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

This site has some amazing posts on all sorts of relationship challenges. Here's a link to ones that mention parents and schizophrenia and here's a more general one for parents and mental illness.

I'm so pleased you are getting some good help/support, and advocating for yourself by seeking out useful resources. Best wishes.
posted by dancing leaves at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2018

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