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A Long and Arduous Journey

I was born in a small town in Florida during the late 1940s. My mother had undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia and my father was a man of some power within the community who was rarely home and whom I could never please. I had a brother who was five years older and was also rarely around.

I remember very little of my childhood until I was 12 years old – only two memories of my own remain.

My earliest memory is of finding my mother huddled on the floor in front of my bedroom with all the doors inside the house closed. She would be crying and shaking in fear from the demons that were after her. When I came home for lunch from school in 3rd grade this was an almost daily occurrence. I would fix a can of soup or a peanut butter sandwich and have to go back to school, knowing only fear, wondering what was wrong. I was certain I must have done something terribly bad and wrong in order for her to be like that.

The next memory I have is when my mother would keep me from school and force me to ride in the car with her. I would hide behind the passenger seat, on the floor of the backseat, while she sped, ran red lights, and cut in and out of traffic. I was so frightened. If the police stopped her they would call my father and tell him that she was out again.

When I was around 6 my father told me my mother was “weak” and it was my responsibility to “take care of her.” This command left me in a hopeless situation. I tried, I really tried, but I was unable to make her happy or to stop the demons from attacking her. Once, she locked herself in my bedroom with me and started stabbing in the air with a large, very sharp knife. I hid under the bed in terror of being killed.

Next door to us lived a boy who was a few years older than I was and he forced me to play “mother and father” with him. At the time I called it “poking.” I would go over to play the game Chutes and Ladders and we would end up on the bed, naked, with him on top of me. I did not know what to do. He told me I must not tell anyone what we were doing or I would get in trouble.

All of these things left me very depressed from an early age. Also, depression and mental problems ran through my mother’s family and I had several aunts and cousins who were considered “strange.” I have wanted to kill myself from the time I was around 5. I can remember wanting to die that far back. When I was around 10 I tried to cut my eyes out with a razor blade but the pain was too bad. I saw no way out of a life that was a living hell.

At some point during this time period, my brother started coming into my room in the afternoon or early evening to kiss and fondle me. He told me he was “practicing for when he had a girlfriend.” At about that same time period someone would come in after I was supposed to be asleep and fondle me. I was so afraid that I kept my eyes tightly closed and pretended to be asleep. I always felt so dirty and ashamed. I did not know what led people I loved to do things to me that did not feel good. These memories did not come to me until I had been in therapy for over a year. At one point I had asked my therapist about my lack of memories of my early childhood and he had advised me not to try to remember and he was right. The memories would have been better left forgotten. When I asked him who it was that came into my room he replied that it could have been any one of my family members – or all three of them at one time or another.

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When I was 12 my mother was first taken away to a mental hospital where they gave her electroshock therapy. She was there for several weeks and when she returned she was so heavily sedated she was non-emotive and there was just “no one home.” At this point I really had no parent and my brother did what he could to take me away from the house.

Over the years my mother would go on spurts when she would stop taking her medications and I was in fear for my life when I would go over to visit her and I would have to spend the night in her efficiency apartment with her. I would not sleep all night lest she think I was a demon and take a knife to me.

When I went away to college I started to drink heavily and to do drugs. During my first summer home my father stopped coming home and told my mother he wanted a divorce. She cried all day, every day, and I could not take it and moved out to live with a friend. More guilt piled up on me. While I was at college that first year I was given Librium by the medical office on campus for my depression and I took several psychological evaluations because of the state of my mental health.

I started therapy with my current therapist in 2004 when my mother had once again stopped taking her medications and had to be involuntarily committed. I went into a tailspin of anxiety and depression and was seriously contemplating suicide as a viable alternative. When I drove across the state to see her in the mental health ward it broke my heart to have her beg me to let her out but I had to tell her no. When she was released from that facility she was moved to a halfway house until the drugs could build up enough in her system. I spent a night there with her because, despite everything, I did love her. It was the worst night of my life. Her room had no lock on the door and I go into a panic if I am either locked in a room and can’t get out or in a room where I cannot lock anyone else out. My therapist was so wonderful – he called me as I drove down and again while I was down there.

A Long and Arduous Journey

Personal Story

A personal story contribution is a story told by someone who is living with mental illness, a caregiver or family member, or a professional who treats mental illness. We believe in the importance of the patient's voice, and those most impacted by the effects of mental illness. These stories are a vital part of the mosaic that makes up the complexity of living with mental health concerns.

APA Reference
Story, P. (2020). A Long and Arduous Journey. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.