I'm still working on it

By Yingyan Lin

My mother has been suffering from mental illness for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand what it was. I just thought she was going through a bad time. The bad times were so constant that eventually it just became normal. The constant arguing in my household was normal to me. I eventually just tuned it out. But more recently it got to a point where I couldn’t tune it out anymore.

In 2005, my mother was diagnosed with depression and adjustment disorder. In 2007, my mother was hospitalized because of a psychotic break in which she experienced auditory and visual hallucinations. In that same year, someone called Youth Protection on our family, and due to a court order my mother, my brother, and I had to regularly consult with psychiatrists, social workers, and other professionals for about 2 years.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what the hell was going on back then. I just knew that something was wrong and that my mother needed help. My brother also suffered from mental health issues and was seeking help. I didn’t really know what mental illness was. I was kind of in denial too. The social worker came every 2 weeks (or every week? I don’t remember it was a long time ago) and would always ask me if I needed to talk to someone or if I needed help. I always said no, and told them I had friends to talk to about my problems. I was actually kind of annoyed. I felt like strangers were unnecessarily invading my life. At one point I missed Valentine’s Day festivities at my high school because of a mandatory family group therapy session with a psychiatrist. I was more upset about missing out than about the fact that I was a teenager regularly going to therapy. Clearly, I didn’t understand the severity of the situation.

After my brother turned 18, the Youth Protection services eventually stopped. The social worker I was regularly seeing scheduled our last meeting at a breakfast place near my house, a sort of goodbye thing. But that morning the social worker never showed up. I tried calling, but never got an answer. I never heard from her again. This was the first incident where I started to lose trust in mental health professionals and one of the reasons why it’s so hard for me to seek help even today.

My mother’s diagnosis changed from depression, to bipolar disorder, and eventually to paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve always noticed some paranoid/suspicious tendencies in my mother since I was very young, but it was only when I got older that I really started to understand what it really was. Things got really really bad after I graduated college and in my first semester of university (Winter 2013?). It got to the point where my mother would yell and scream at the neighbours through the walls every morning, every night, during the day, whenever she was home. She banged on the walls, or hit objects together to make loud noises. She kept insisting they were talking about her, plotting to ruin her life. She would open the door and scold the neighbour’s kids in the hallway, telling them to stop talking about her, to stop this “project” of trying to destroy her life. She blamed doctors, professors, coworkers, and even my brother and I and our respective friends. She constantly expressed paranoid delusions. It was always all she could talk about. Even in normal conversations it would always drift off to something about everyone and anyone talking about her and trying to ruin her life. In grocery stores, in the car, in restaurants. It never ended. All our conversations always ended up in arguments. Eventually, I stopped talking to my mother unless I had to. We became more and more distant.

On worse days, she would call the cops on our neighbours or the neighbours would call the cops on us for noise complaints. It got to the point where I would come home from school and see a police officer in my living room and I wouldn’t even think anything of it. I’d just awkwardly smile at the police officer, say hi, and then go upstairs to my room. It became so normalized. That’s pretty fucked up.

Police came to our townhouse so often that the officers from our district were familiar with our situation and knew us by name. I was even given a direct number to call them if ever something were to happen. I’ve received calls from the police officers to let me know my mother called the cops again. This all went on for months. I was told by all these professionals that nothing could be done unless either a) my mother accepted help or b) a crisis happened, i.e. my mother had to be an immediate danger to herself or others. No matter how many times police answered a call and came to my house, there was nothing they could do.

That year, my brother had already moved out and so it was just me, my grandmother and my mother who remained in the townhouse. Everyday my mother would argue with my grandmother. Things really started to freak me out when, after really bad arguments, my grandmother would secretly tell me that my mother was physically aggressive towards her and sometimes even threatened to kill her. I started to fear for her safety and mine. My brother and I decided to get a court order to involuntarily hospitalize my mother. It was the longest fucking process I’ve ever had to go through. We had to constantly consult police officers and social workers. We were told that essentially we had to wait until a crisis happened before they could do anything even with a request for a court order. To put it bluntly, if my mother wasn’t about to kill herself or someone else, there was nothing they could do. Even with what my grandmother told me, they still couldn’t do anything because I hadn’t seen it happen. So I waited. I waited until one night when I saw my mother forcefully grab my grandmother by the arms and then by the head and continued to scream at her. I waited until then to call the police.

When the police came, my mother refused to go. Legally, they had the right to forcefully remove her and bring her to the hospital to get a psychiatric evaluation. So that’s what they did. I watched as two paramedics and two police officers dragged my mother out into the hallway in the middle of the night screaming at the top of her lungs to let her go. I watched as each one of my neighbours opened their doors in their pyjamas to watch what was going on. I walked down the hallway and apologized to my neighbours as my mother was strapped to a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.

After that, my brother and I went to court. My mother was ordered to be hospitalized for no more than a month. We were told from the beginning that even if we managed to get her hospitalized, that she could get out and we’d have to start the whole process over again. She got out in less than a week. This process to get a court order, which took weeks, ended up amounting to nothing. After all that, we were told there was nothing they could do if my mother refused treatment. I consulted police officers, social workers, psychologists. They all told me there was nothing they could do unless we got another court order. I felt utterly helpless. It didn’t help that my mother refused treatment, it didn’t help that she got out, and it definitely didn’t help that my grandmother, despite being abused for so long, still sided with her daughter and supported my mother’s claim that “nothing was wrong with her.”

During that time my mental and physical health deteriorated drastically. I started to see a psychologist at school, but those sessions eventually stopped. When my mother came home from the hospital, she completely resented me and was extremely hostile. The environment was so toxic and the stress was unbearable. To make things worse, our landlords eventually decided to evict us due to multiple complaints from neighbours. That same year I also somehow managed to get bed bugs during final exams. Because of my mother’s paranoia, our landlords didn’t believe I even had bed bugs. My mother and grandmother thought I was overreacting. My psychologist refused to see me until the bed bug issue was resolved, which in retrospect is totally understandable, but at the time I felt abandoned. At a time when I needed people the most I felt completely alone.

I eventually moved out and didn’t go through with a second court order. Going through the process the first time was physically and emotionally exhausting. It’s even harder now that I don’t live at home with her. But I always think about how things might be different if I had gone through with it. At the time, I physically and mentally couldn’t do it again. I needed to focus on my health, on school, on my own life. I often wonder if I was being selfish. I often wonder how things could’ve been different if I tried. My mother now lives on her own as well and we still keep in contact. Her condition hasn’t worsened, but it hasn’t improved either. The paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations are still there. Sometimes she leaves me voicemails about how people are still out to get her. She still refuses to take medication. She still thinks that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her.  

I often wonder if I was a failure and if I could’ve done more. I feel like I can’t help her no matter what I do. I feel like she’ll never change (in part because she refuses to) and that her disease is taking over.

In my second year of university, I decided to switch my major to psychology. I wanted so desperately to help others, even if I couldn’t help my mother. They always tell us in school not to pursue higher education in psychology if we just want to “help people.” I don’t know, maybe I’m being naïve, but I disagree with that. After all, what is the end goal for all this research on diseases and causes and treatments? Are we not ultimately trying to help people?

Over the years I’ve developed depression and anxiety over everything in my life. Just today, I walked across a bridge and all I could think about was that I wanted to jump off. Everyday, all I can think about is how I don’t want to live anymore because of all these things I’m incapable of changing (I don’t think I would ever carry out these thoughts into actions, I’m way too scared). To this day, it’s still hard for me to reach out for help because I feel like I can’t trust anybody to help me. Like they’ll just abandon me again. People always ask me why I’m so stressed out and I guess this is the answer. I’m not quite sure why I’m even telling this story. Maybe it’ll inspire others to tell theirs, even if they don’t have happy endings. The road to recovery is long and hard as hell. I don’t think it ever really ends. I’m still trying to find my way. I’m still working on it.

About The Author:

My name is Yingyan and I'm in my third year at Concordia University with a double major in Creative Writing and Specialization in Psychology. I am also the Vice President of Jack.org Concordia. I like to write poetry and cuddle with my two cats when I'm sad. I spent half my life in Vancouver and the other half in Montreal (where I currently live). I miss the mountains in B.C. the most, but poutine is pretty great too. Rude people suck. Be nice to everyone you meet, because you never know what goes on behind closed doors.