Mental Patient’s Caregiver

Trauma Of A Mental Patient’s Caregiver

Mental Patient’s Caregiver

Sonali*, 30, recalls with horror the day her mother turned a complete stranger to her. Being the only caregiver to her mother, her young shoulders were burdened with the responsibilities of managing an entire household along with taking care of her younger brother.

Her story.  I am 30 now but I keep going back to the 13-year-old me, time and again. The girl who didn’t know what to make of the sudden changes in her mother’s behaviour. My doting mother had suddenly turned into a stranger. I desperately needed my father to make sense of the situation but he was away, fighting the country’s enemies at the border while I battled the invisible demons at home.

I didn’t know that my mother was suffering from schizophrenia. I blamed and doubted myself for my mother’s sudden anger issues. She had stopped taking care of the house and was least bothered about me and my younger brother. I wondered if she was unhappy with me or the new place we had shifted to. Confused and anguished, I trudged on with the household chores which included taking care of my brother, who was seven at that time.

I remember waking up with cold sweats in the middle of the night. There were days when I was worried that one day my mother would fail to recognize us. My father desperately tried to leave the army and get a regular job but to no avail. For three years, things were chaotic and I was left all alone, managing between school and home.

I have no memory of how I spent my life from age of 13 to 16, perhaps I have repressed those memories inside the deepest recesses of my being. If someone asks me how I managed school and home together, I just don’t remember. The only thing I remember very vividly is that for long stretches Maa wouldn’t let us go to school for fear of being alone (paranoia). The maximum we went without going to school was three months.

Not only did I have no one to talk to at home, even my friends at school were drifting away. This was the loneliest phase of my life. Besides the mental trauma, it was physically exhausting. I have a bad case of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and dysmenorrhea, which means I suffer immensely during my periods. It is so bad that many a times I have been hospitalised.

And it has been like this right when I first started menstruating. And throughout this my mother wasn’t there to comfort me and help me through the transitions that my body was undergoing. Our family came together, when my father was finally posted in Delhi. My father had no one to help him out and he too suffered the way I did. Things finally looked up for me, when I left home to live in a hostel in a far-off city to pursue my graduation.

My father would still sometimes be posted in remote locations, but my brother was now capable of looking after mom. I finally found people I could open up to. They were my best friends –my soul sisters, as I call them. Their company made up for the years I spent in loneliness. My nightmares finally stopped. It was during my hostel days, that I gathered all my courage and finally started living for myself.

By then my mother had been diagnosed and I finally stopped blaming myself for my mother’s behaviour. I realised that I could still share my emotion but it was Maa who had lost the capacity to love. This gave me a sense of closure. I completed my post-graduation. It was full of amazing experiences, which have today led me to a successful career in the marketing sector.

I also love being the fashionista that I had always dreamt of being since childhood. A girl needs her parents the most during adolescence, but I had nobody to talk to. I shared my story so that children of people, who suffer from mental illnesses can find the much-needed support.

I am still not aware of any support groups operating for caregivers of patients suffering from mental illnesses. But they are very much, the need of the hour. Also, if I can weave a beautiful life despite the initial hurdle and be the master of my own destiny, so can others. *(Name of the narrator was changed on request)  

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