In keeping with SAMHIN’s mission of greater dialogue on mental health in South Asians and highlight the important work of others in this area, we invited Fiza C to share her experience of living with serious mental illness in the family.

Do you ever wonder if you’re alone in having mental health problems within your family?

Let’s face it, it’s not something that is openly talked about in our community. That doesn’t eliminate the fact that mental illnesses of all kinds exist, and being Desi doesn’t make you immune, whether it’s something we talk about or not.

I am an American-born Pakistani, and my mom was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was just 13 years old.

I still remember being with my 8-year-old younger sister in the main office after school, waiting to be picked up and wondering why our mom hadn’t come yet. It must have been at least an hour after the school pick-up time, as everyone else had been picked up. When my mom finally came, I was expecting her to be apologetic and have a big explanation as to what happened – did the car possibly break down?

Instead, my mom seemed to be in a happy, relaxed mood. As we got in the car, I finally asked her, “Ammi, what happened? Why are you so late?” She smiled and nonchalantly said, “I had to do something special. The birds were talking to me today.” Confused and weirded out, I didn’t say anything else, and we sat quietly during the car ride home.

That was the beginning of many “strange” incidents. My loving, strong, confident mom, the rock of our family, started behaving differently. Sometimes we would hear her whispering to herself. Other times, we would notice her moving her hands in strange ways. We knew something was wrong with our mom, but we didn’t know what, and it wasn’t something we could ask anyone about, not even family members.

After my mom was let go from a job at the hospital that she was so proud of for over 15 years, a relative knew something was wrong. My mom eventually saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with Schizophrenia. Contrary to what mainstream movies portray, schizophrenia is not a split personality disorder. It’s a mental disorder that affects your ability to think clearly. You may have auditory or visual hallucinations. It makes it hard to differentiate reality from what is just in your head.

It’s been 22 years since the day my sister and I waited for our mom to pick us up from school. It’s been many years of ups and downs, of growing up without the support of a healthy mother, of switching the roles of caretaker. But I wouldn’t be who I am today without these challenges in life. Because of this life experience, I am a compassionate person, who knows that everyone has struggles and problems, many times the kind that they can’t share with the world. So, be extra kind when you see someone having a rough day and know that you are not alone when you have problems that feel too heavy to carry on your shoulders. You won’t just have bad days; joys are written in your future too.

Fiza CBy Fiza C
SAMHIN volunteer and graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology

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Feature image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay