When Amy Simpson was four years old, her mom would often lock herself into her bedroom for hours at a time. While that’s not an ideal situation at any time, the bigger issue is that this would happen while Amy’s dad was at work and her older siblings were at school. So that left Amy and her two-year-old sister on their own.
More than a decade would pass before Amy’s mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia, though she’d been showing symptoms—some quite concerning—since she was in her late teens. This was the 70s, after all, and mental illness carried much more of a stigma than it does today. And it was never discussed in the church, which was a major problem because Amy’s dad was a pastor.
Amy recalls that her mom didn’t have any friends. She knew plenty of people an interacted with them on a regular basis at church, but her mom socially struggled, and she was very withdrawn and disengaged. She often couldn’t explain her thoughts or emotions.
In many families that have a family member with a mental illness, it’s very similar to households where someone has an addiction. Everything centers around that person. Everyone does what they can to make adaptations to protect, avoid, or keep from upsetting that person. This is what happened with Amy’s family, without anyone acknowledging it. She also can’t remember a time when things felt “right” with her mom.
“From as far back as I can remember, I lived with the conviction that I was stronger than my mom.”
“She needed my help and protection. … That awareness was always with me, but it wasn’t something that I processed. The whole family functioned that way without talking about it.”