Until a few years ago, I was one of the many who regarded ‘mental illness’ as a temporary state of mind – that phase when you feel abysmal. But then…my whole world came crashing down, and I knew how real it was. My mother was suddenly acting ‘unnatural’. The diagnosis was to be – Acute Paranoid Psychosis, aka Schizophrenia.

Throwback to my yonder years that witnessed my mom working incessantly for her family for 30 years. She was always the silent kind, making adjustments for everybody who crossed her path so that they would be comfortable. All through those agonizing years of juggling work pressures, raising children, supporting a family and handling a legal land case on her own, she never backed off. She endured it all without a word; all the while, I and my sister were the helpless spectators, but we respected her immensely for keeping her cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that under this seemingly calm exterior, she was suffering…silently…all these years.

And then that day gave her a blow – the last one that she could take. The memories of that day are vivid, dark and haunting. They play reruns on my mind although they are a decade behind me now. An eviction notice from the land case, directing us to vacate the only place we knew as ‘our home’, cracked the threshold of my mother’s sanity. She was shocked and so were we. But nothing could prepare us for the days that followed…

A few days after the legal notice, I and my family realized that my mom was not being her normal self. Initially, we thought that the stress of building a new life all over again had taken a toll on her. Understandably so; my sister had tied the knot recently and I was in my final year of Engineering. Yesterday we had a house; today we had nowhere to go. Both my parents had retired from their service, so buying a house was a distant dream. It was a classic recipe for a mental breakdown. However, the gravity of the situation did not strike us till we started losing our mom to another world. Her imaginary world was far from our reality.

She started talking about people who were following her because she did not give up the land case – they were allegedly after her life. She saw people across the road, holding a gun in their hand, ready to shoot her when she would step out of the house. She could hear voices from the alarm clock that were plotting to kill her; apparently she thought the clock had a sound recording chip fitted inside by an ‘enemy’ who was spying on her. At first, we believed her. Of course we had to. She was the one who taught us to believe in the power of good and evil. And after all that had happened over the last couple of days, I and my family could only see and expect the worse in everything around us.

We called all our close relatives to comfort her, but none of our efforts were helping her see the world as we did. The world was closing in on her as she could see it. Gradually, the line between reality and illusion vanished. She was hallucinating. We couldn’t believe this was happening to us. My ever-so-loving mom was distancing herself from us. I can’t explain the void me and my sister felt when our mom stopped caring for us. One night she woke up and thought that we were trying to harm her. That was the brink of our agony.

For all those who aren’t aware how difficult it can get to seek medical help for people with acute stress-related disorders, let me tell you, it is a harrowing experience. You are trying to convince a person – who has absolutely no faith in you – to visit another person (Doctor) who is ‘hired’ to harm them. The doctor had advised us that she could get violent, harm herself or even us if anything goes against her ideas of right and wrong. So, we knew it was not going to be easy, but we were definitely not going to give up on her. We had to be a part of her imaginary world, plot and play our characters to make her believe us…to believe our story. Any slip at this point meant we would have lost her trust, and our only hope to bring her back to reality.

I still get goosebumps as I write about the day we had to play out the climax of our story, the day when we had to take her to the hospital to begin her therapy and treatment. I told her I had a bad headache and rested my head on her lap; I just wanted to feel her warmth before she left us for the next few days. I was aching for her gentle touch, but silently knew that she was beyond any emotions. But…I would only call it the unfailing love of my mom, when she rested her hand on my head, as if unknowingly reassuring me that everything was going to be alright. That day I cried like her little baby, hiding my head in her lap. Deep down, she was still with us and that instant I knew that we were going to have our mother back.

While she was recuperating at the hospital, all her schizophrenic memories had been wiped clean. We were relieved that she wouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath of those difficult moments later in her life, but being who she was, she was still troubled. She was upset because I had to face such difficult times during my university exams. Now that’s my mom; indifferent to what turmoil she had been through, only worrying about her loved ones!

Almost a month of hospital stay, counselling, medications and therapies later, she was home as herself! And I am glad that I could welcome her back with my results – I had topped my university exams, hoping that my mom would forgive herself for the guilt she did not deserve. Not one bit.

Love you mom…You’re a true inspiration for your daughters. You’re our HERO.

– By Swapna Naik Kamble