My Mom was Schizophrenic

That got your attention. It is not a “buried memory”. It is also not something I often revisit. Actually it’s not something I think about much at all. So…I suppose you’re wondering what compelled me to do a Post on it. No? Indulge me anyway.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet you’re probably well acqainted with Internet Wormholes (also called Rabbit Holes). “An Internet wormhole is a search into a topic that continues and continues and continues because you never reach the end or find a definitive answer.” Sometimes these searches take you to other topics, which take you to other topics, and so on. This can be taxing but sometimes – just sometimes – you stumble upon something significant.

That’s what happened to me. I was doing some research for another Post I’m working on which will cover spontaneous creative imagery – seeing with the mind’s eye (aka mind-pops) – when I stumbled across an article published in The Atlantic titled “Secrets of the Creative Brain“. This article was written in 2014 by Nancy C. Andreasen, a “leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity”.

…exceptionally creative people are more likely than control subjects
to have one or more first-degree relatives with schizophrenia.”

While I wouldn’t describe myself as “exceptionally creative” I admit that I have a overwhelming need to put my own spin on just about everything I do. In fact, this trait is the single most important facet of my psyche. It is what drives me. (Which is probably why I felt compelled to do this Post.) I also have spurts of intense creative surges.

Now that I’ve dispensed with the Stream of Consciousness from which this surfaced, allow me to give you a Reader’s Digest version of how this relates to my formative years.

I am an only child. Growing-up I spent a lot of time with my Dad. I always accompanied him on errands to the store and whatnot and he took me to the Zoo, the circus, etc. My Dad also read to me. All the time. (When I began reading aloud along with him my folks initially thought I was a prodigy. They soon realized I was not READING at an early age, I had simply MEMORIZED the content of the books and knew just where one page left off and the next began. Ha!)

Although both my parents were artistic my Mom had a talent for painting and even sold several of her works! She loved to play the piano and studied hard to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). She was the one who nursed me when I was sick and took me to my doctor/dentist appointments. My Mom also experienced something which I’m sure deeply wounded her psyche:  She saw her sister burn to death.

As a young child, I remember us taking the bus downtown to see HER doctor. The psychiatrist’s offices were in an old multi-storied building that had a huge, sunny playroom filled with toys, games, crayons, and a large easel filled with drawing paper. I was happy spending time there during Mom’s sessions with her shrink.

I eventually learned that she suffered from a mild form of schizophrenia and that my Dad had tried to shelter me from it as much as he could while I was growing-up.

Indeed, I never knew anything was amiss until one day when I came home from school. (I was in High School at the time.) As I walked up to our house, I saw my Mom standing in our front yard in her nightgown. Slightly alarmed, I asked her why she was standing outside. Mom said our neighbor had told her to come outside and look at their house. I gently escorted my Mom back inside and that was that. Later that evening when I recounted everything to my Dad he admitted that he wasn’t entirely sure my Mom was imagining things (i.e., our neighbor “speaking” to her). He thought she had some psychic ability. (My Dad proved himself to be very open-minded and I loved him for that – among many things.) That was the only time I ever saw evidence of my Mom’s illness.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, one facet of her illness would shape my life:  We moved a lot. In fact, until I entered high school I remember living in a different house in a new neighborhood every year or so. While these transitions mostly occurred within the same school district, many times the move meant transferring to a different school. It was difficult for me to develop long-term friendships so I learned to entertain myself and became quite the solitary creature.

My Dad eventually told me the reason we moved so much was that – no matter where we moved – Mom was convinced that the neighbors were deliberately doing things to annoy her.

According to Wikipedia “Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (often hearing voices), delusions (having beliefs not shared by others), and disorganized thinking…Childhood trauma (emphasis mine), death of a parent, and being bullied or abused increase the risk of psychosis.”

A quick look at this list of people with schizophrenia will reveal a group that includes individuals from all walks of life:  painters and writers, actors and musicians, gangsters and serial killers, scientists and mathematicians – with Nobel Prize-winning John Forbes Nash being a famous example. A Pulizer Prize-nominated biography, A Beautiful Mind, chronicled Forbes’ childhood, his years at Princeton and MIT, his work with the RAND Corporation, and his struggles with schizophrenia. A film inspired by the book was released in 2001.

In a controlled study, Ms. Andreasen uncovered a link between mental illness and creativity, and found the creative subjects (and their relatives) had a higher percentage of mental illness than the control group. She also noted that creativity tends to run in families.

After reading her article and a few others on schizophrenia it appears there may be up to an 80% chance of the illness being hereditary. For example, Albert Einstein had a son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, noted philosopher Bertrand Russell had several family members who suffered from it, and both writer James Joyce and his daughter were schizophrenic. While I am not having hallucinations and don’t hear voices, I wonder just how much of the way my creativity manifests itsefl is because of my Mom’s DNA, or if it’s the result of my experiences (both conscious and subconscious) and environment growing-up.

Perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

ℳ –

4 responses to “My Mom was Schizophrenic

  1. This is a powerful piece. The photos add a grounding sense of reality and nostalgia, despite me being merely a viewer from a different time. Thank you for sharing this fascinating glimpse into your life and thoughts about roots and future. I think it brings up a lot of timeless questions that are necessary to ponder about our own lives.

    • T:
      Thank you.
      Trying to bring a more personal perspective to some of my Posts. (I feel COMPELLED to do this. ;>)
      The “cheesecake” photo of my Mom is my hands-down favorite of her – those are bandanas, BTW. (She was one hot babe…)

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