Anfal Muhammad Jenkins

anfalToday, this day, is important. So today, I wish to share about today, from today’s perspective.

After I describe today, I will attempt to fill in the spaces of the past and the possibilities of the future.

All things being equal, today is as good a day as any. Today I struggle, today I feel overwhelmed and outwitted by my circumstances, today I feel tired. Today is one of the days where I feel down about who I am, and what my life entails.

My mom was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, my dad was a successful entrepreneur, as well as a heroin addict, my 21 year old daughter has a diagnosis of bipolar schizo-affective disorder, and my 3 year old son is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The beginning of my experience with mental illness started when my mom was hospitalized. I was 12 when she tried to set our home on fire, along with many odd things she’d do that we, her children, didn’t understand.

Other than the bizarre things my mom did, she was a great mom. She was intelligent, gifted with many talents such as drawing, sewing and gardening. She was a very devoted mom and worked hard to expose her five children to all things that would help us become well rounded citizens. She took us to the beach, science centers, chess clubs, amusement parks, the World Trade Center, and swimming at the lake.We were the first family in our neighborhood to have a home computer.  She did a great job of caring for us, considering my dad absconded from our household when I was about seven years old and my baby brother was a toddler. She loved us, she tried to be the best for us. I know this for certain, even though the first time she hugged me was in my thirties. Affection was not the norm in our home, I didn’t even know it was a thing until I was around other families. When once I observed other families hugging and saying “I love you” I thought that’s nice, but so what.

When I was twelve, my mom was hospitalized. We were told nothing, after she was gone for months, we got teased by kids on the block, they said “Your mom is in the crazy house”. It was hurtful to hear those words. My mom wasn’t “crazy” she was just tired and couldn’t take care of us anymore.

For years that’s how I saw it, “My mom didn’t wanna take care of me.” Subconsciously, I suppose that belief I held caused me to have low self esteem and subsequently act out in various ways. I got into trouble and underperformed in school. Over the years my mom eventually became a high functioning  individual with very rare episodes when she would decide to stop taking her medicine because of side effects. I, as her adult child, never believed she had a mental illness, until I was about 35 years old, when she had her last episode. She was extremely aggressive and paranoid, she quit her job, and refused to associate with people. I, not understanding or accepting the reality of her illness, thought I could help, so I moved into her house. Much to my surprise and trauma, I could not help my mom. She was aggressive to me and even attacked me verbally and physically. I realized it was too much for me to deal with, while having a teenage daughter myself. So we moved out, and soon after my mom was placed in a long term institution. While she was in the state institution, I introduced her to my future husband. It was at this time in our lives is when I finally faced and accepted that my mother has had this mental illness called Schizophrenia. It was upsetting and at the same time, a relief, to finally understand  that she didn’t just abandon us, her children, she was really sick.

After a short time her medicine was adjusted and she was doing better again and everything was back to normal. It was only two years later that she died from a stroke. We still miss her dearly, and now,we all better understand what she went through.

The reality is that dealing with a loved one with mental illness is filled with challenges, that vary even from day to day. As I explained in the beginning, today my feelings are somber, melancholy but with the experience and education I’ve received from life and organizations like NAMI New Jersey I’ve gained a great understanding of mental illness and how to appropriately handle the stresses that come along with it.

I’ve taken NAMI New Jersey’s Family-to-Family classes to learn how to identify and respond to mental health challenges as well as crisis. I and my family are in a better place based on the knowledge and support I now have. In addition to the support we now have, I’m also in a position to educate and support others who face these same challenges. So it is still today, however I’m better, with growth, understanding and hopeful about the future. There are still struggles, and I suppose there will always be, but with support I can handle them.