August 13, 2014 — 294 Comments

Mental-Illness 2



When you have a kid who’s “challenging” (euphemism for “major pain in the ass”), receiving a phone call from his preschool teacher at 8:30 at night is NOT a good thing. You know she’s not calling you at that hour to gush over what a little darling he is.

At 3, my son was defiant, intense, uber-intelligent, willful and aggressive. Hence the phone call from his preschool teacher, asking,

“Is there a problem in your family?”

Mrs. Katz-  in your vast experience educating 3-year-olds, have you never encountered this type of kid? Even the best 3-year-olds make you want to drink in the daytime.

I’m sure it’s hard to be an underpaid, overworked preschool teacher with Little Dude in the room, making his weird-ass noises and destroying furniture and what not. But, lady – this is your JOB.

Did she really think I was going to sigh with relief, and say, “Oh,  YES” and then have a heart to heart with her?

I’d explained, in detail, to the the director of the school that my son had already been diagnosed with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. So, please don’t give me shit about “is there a problem in my family?” We’re FINE.

Or are we?


In 1990, I lost my eldest brother, who raised me. My Protector.


He was the funniest, kindest, gentlest man anyone ever knew, and when he died, I curled up into a little ball and died with him.

I stopped eating and sleeping and when it became apparent I would need hospitalization, my uncle took me to a psychiatrist who treated me for severe depression.

The psychiatrist spent 18 months looking for the right psychotropic cocktail; one that would give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

He also articulated for me a childhood of abuse and abandonment that I filled with overachievement and a quest for constant approval. A deep abyss of sadness that I covered with a comic facade and a sharp wit.

Is there a problem in my family?

I have 4 other brothers.

One of them lives in Florida with my mother. He is a brilliant patent attorney who graduated first in his class from NYU Law School. He was the poster child for “the best and the brightest” but somewhere along the way, the delicately constructed wiring inside his brain short-circuited.

He suffers from bipolar disorder which he treats successfully with strong chemical concoctions.

10 years ago, when he decided he no longer needed his medication, he suffered a frightening psychotic break.

He changed personas daily, eventually becoming convinced that he was being persecuted in an elaborate government conspiracy. He decided every member of our family was part of the conspiracy. He threatened us in extended, hostile, middle-of-the-night telephone messages.

Fleeing faceless demons, he drove up and down I-95 at 130 miles per hour, burning out his transmission and enough brain cells to land him in two different psych wards.

His doctors were finally able to help him chemically wrangle his illness into submission. He remembers nothing of his psychotic fracture.

He only remembers that he spent a year afterwards in his bathrobe, watching “The View.”

Is there a problem in my family?

My third oldest brother has a relaxed, likable personality. He laughs easily and makes a fabulous uncle/playmate to my kid.

He is retired military. He was in the army over 20 years and was deployed to Somalia.

He NEVER discusses it. If pressed, he will shrug it off.

When he visits, he pretends to sleep on the fold out couch in my den, but only dozes.

Wakes up. Has a cigarette. A soda. Watches some TV. Dozes again. I hear him downstairs, moving around all night.

The sound of the patio door sliding open, then closing; the refrigerator door opening, the swoosh! of the soda can opening. The sigh when he settles back on the couch. The TV channels changing, changing, changing.

He has been diagnosed with PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – which is a convenient way for the government to say, “We sent you to war, you saw unspeakable things, and now you’re completely fucked up.”

He toughs it out without meds or therapy.

He’s never been the same.

He has an impenetrable shell of nonchalant behavior, acting normal when nothing is normal.

The man has not slept in 15 years.

Is there a problem in my family?

My youngest brother is a lung cancer survivor. He works too hard, plays too hard, and even after losing a lung, still smokes.

He’s a frustrated musician masquerading as a Vice President at JP Morgan Chase. He’s a confirmed bachelor because he cannot deal with intimacy or relationships.

He has bottled up rage against every single member of my family. His grudges date back to events that transpired over 30 years ago, events no one else remembers.

He’s brilliant, erratic, emotional, fiercely loving, and astonishingly gifted. He can listen to a guitar solo ONCE and duplicate it, note for note. 

All he’s ever wanted to do is play guitar, and somehow he ended up in a corner office, his essence rotting like moldy fruit.

He takes a cornucopia of anti-anxiety medications to cope with a life that crept up on him when he wasn’t looking.

I am certain that his lung cancer was caused not by cigarettes but by the fact that he’s an acutely lonely man who spends all his time alienating those who would love him.

A frustrated artist emotionally eroded by spending the last 22 years at a job that’s killing him.

Is there a problem in my family?


Did I bring a child destined to mental illness into this world?

Did I selfishly ignore the familial signs so I could give birth to a child who struggles with heightened emotions and diagnoses full of letters?

He is my child. He is my heart.

I want him to be HAPPY.


At night, we cuddle and talk over the day.
“What was your ‘sad’ today? Your ‘glad’ today?”

Our ritual for years. It’s his safe place to open up to me about his world.

But does he?


Dear God, I want to know,

Is there a problem in my family?

We walk home from school as he chatters happily about his day.

It’s hard for my 10 year old kid to sit still all day. I like him to blow off steam before he sits down to his homework.

Today, it’s out to the trampoline in my backyard. He loves that trampoline; his sensory issues assuaged by the movement, and all his bottled up energy released.


Today I want to talk.

Today, I am writing this, and I am troubled.

Today I need to know that he is having a having a happy childhood.

Today, I want to know,

Is there a problem in my family?

I go out back.

But he’s not talking.

He’s not saying a word.


He’s just jumping.



arms outstretched,


so high.

It looks like he’s touching the sky.

Yes. Like this.

Like this.


Do you have a child like this? Siblings like mine?
Talk to me. I’m listening.

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    CA Girl will brace herself for the unfollow at this comment but the exNewYorker will SAY it:

    “a feeling of abandonment that I filled with overachievement and a quest for constant perfection and approval. A deep abyss of sadness that I covered with a comic facade and a sharp wit.”

    Sounds like the makings of a promising blogger to me.

    Okay, more seriously: it is rare that I am left without words, and this is one such moment. A commenter, I believe Writing to Freedom, pointed out under my forgiveness post today that we all know pain but can choose to suffer. This is true to a point where we can distinguish pain from suffering. But of course they are often twins. You and your siblings obviously struggled to cope with many wounds. And yes, you nailed it in tracing the lung cancer back to emotional issues. I don’t want to say too much because I have learned that less is more in the face of heartache and desperation.

    As a former teacher in the schools, I do disagree that the onus falls entirely on the teacher to socialize children though yes, no one forced her to play Rogers.

    I’m glad you brought me to this page, allowing me to know your story better. You obviously have a signature in your writing. Keep up the great job in that dept. Let’s talk more.



    I remember my days at preschool. You almost had in the same boat with my mother. She used to be called and asked to go to school. I’m a teacher and some of my students are kids, I sometimes think of my naughty students a kind of problematic because of their behavior. It reflects on they behave naturally at home. hahahahahahahahaha


      Thank you for reading my blog,and commenting.


        no, not really. Although my parents are strict in their own different ways, I don’t find problems with them, instead, it’s my sister. My younger sister is a two year younger. We don’t actually get along in almost everything. She’s stubborn, and will usually talk you back whenever someone would scold her, either older or younger than her. But, I still love my sister. hehehe


    *it reflects on how they behave*


    Hang in there…Problems in families are normal, but the psychiatrists make it an issue. I have an adult disabled daughter, and my husband became paraphelegic…State took daughter…said I couldn’t take care of both. Now hubby passed on, and still trying to get daughter released from State custody.

    jennifermatkowsky March 12, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Mental health has effected more then we know. Great post.

    Check out my blog if you’re interested.
    ‘How sad it is to be the type of different we desire.’


    Wow. First of all, this is exceptionally written. Very deserving of it Freshly Pressed status.

    For everything else…I dont know what to say. You know I’ve got your back whenever you hit a rough patch.



    God, mental illness is such a friggin bitch. It breaks my heart to hear your brothers suffer so much. But that little boy with his arms outstretched and reaching so beautifully toward the sky looks perfectly content, and he has a mom who wants to fix his sads, and although you can’t fix all of the letters in his diagnosis, the fact that you want to and that you try…I think it’s enough, and what a lucky little boy to have a mom so dedicated to his glads.


      We have that in common – mental illness in the family. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?

      I suppose, it’s all part of life. The good with the bad. I have memories of my brothers, before all of this happened to them, and I like to think of them that way. It makes me happy.

      My son is my life. I’m not ashamed to admit it. He makes me want to shoot myself some days, hahahaha, but he’s a rock star.


    Siblings, no. Family… yes.
    You’ve read a little about my dad and the delusional world he lives in. His brother is a sociopath who stole money from his kids’ college fund, works in the oil industry, and switches jobs every few years so people don’t realize he’s a crook. Guess that shit runs on my dad’s side. My grandpa (dad’s dad) had a psychotic break in my dad’s childhood. His wife, unbeknownst to us, was also on antipsychotics for 20-30 years.
    My mom is depressed. One of her sisters tried to commit suicide when I was 5 or 6 years old. Her other sister is stuck in a marriage she hates and is also depressed. Her son is depressed. My great-grandma on my mom’s side was schizophrenic.
    In other words… what a lovely little closet full of skeletons I have. I constantly analyze myself to see if I need meds. I’m currently unmedicated, but deeply considering medication within the next month; my depression has been wicked lately.


      I could not have survived the death of my brother without the medication I eventually went on. I barely did, as it is.

      Some days, I don’t feel like I have at all. I’m going to write that post soon.

      I’m surprised you have never needed anything to take the edge off, considering the trauma you’ve endured.

      I hate hearing how bad your depression is. I had a terrible bout this winter. I blogged about it. It was awful. I sunk really low. If I can ever help; if you ever want to chat or email, let me know, okay?


    I have heard stories over the year about family members, gone now, with mental illness. Myself, I am an addict and an alcoholic (recovering) and unfortunately I have one child already fighting that battle. I am nowhere near a perfect parent and worry daily that the genetics or my actions as a flawed human will affect the rest of my kids. I try to break the chain my speaking up, being honest with them. Honestly, sometimes, there is no breaking the chain. We are each our own person and dealt our own hand and that hand may be out of our control. I love the honesty of this post. Putting all of this out there like this makes it seem less daunting for others who struggle and are silent because they are afraid of the stigma. Keep telling your stories and make it less daunting, even if it isn’t less frightening. More than anything, people just want to know they are not alone. You are doing an amazing thing here.


      Thank you so much, Sandy.

      I guess this post did touch a lot of people. The comments just were – incredible. And yes, I felt like I in some small way, made people feel like they could relate and understand.

      I had the same experience when I read your post about that day in the motel. Like, we can help one another and gain support.

      Thank you for taking the time to get to know me. I’m so grateful for that, Sandy.


    This deserved to be FP’d. I could go through and list the disorders in my family and I am convinced a family without is RARE. I look at my daughter and I see the inheritance and the legacy she will and has started to cope with and I will do EVERYTHING to teach her what I know. None of us are perfect and some of us have a rough road of maintaining balance. You are a good mom and good moms learn what they need to learn to help our kids live happy, successful, and constructive lives 🙂


    This is where we met. And it’s still so relevant. Always relevant. Loving our family despite, or perhaps because of, the soupy mix that is our predisposition, our twinkling brains, our souls.


      Oh my gosh, you remember!! I do too, but I thought that was just me.

      Jen your comments are like perfect mini blog posts. Yes, a soupy mix it is.

      Thank you for sticking around all these months.


    I would just like to say that I think you write really really (REALLY) well. I just read this and these posts can often turn ragey or whiny and this reads actually with humour even though the things being said are serious and indeed need to be taken seriously they are written in a style that although you acknowledge the seriousness there is a humour there… that is clever stuff and I just wanted to say that.


      I think we always have to maintain our sense of humor no matter what. I have a lot of stress in my life, but I laugh more than anyone I know. I also cry more than anyone I know!
      Thanks for you compliments. They mean the world to me.


    I’m just…at a loss of words. I can’t even imagine how you can deal with all that you have and be as brilliant, confident and funny as you are.
    I didn’t know ADHD meant this. I thought this was something classified as schizophrenic behaviour. So your post told me that I really need to stop being ignorant and read more about such things.
    It must be tough. It must have been so hard. Hard doesn’t even cover it.

    All I can say is I truly admire you for being brave enough to actually admit and tell everyone about it.

    I love you. I really do! *hugs*
    And you’re child is the best! He’s adorable 🙂

    P.s STAY strong!


      Hi Zareen-
      ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s very difficult to raise a child with this. But it’s even more difficult to BE a child with this.

      I love you too. It’s not too soon for love!

      And my kid IS the best. Thank you for saying that! You’re the best, too!


    I believe my bi-polar disorder come from my dad’s side of the family. But I am the only member doing anything about it.

    I think mental health has caused a lot of the problems in my life and me addressing it head on since 2006 has solved a lot of problems in my life.


      Lance there’s probably no other way to address it except head on. And I give you a lot of credit for being such an amazing person despite an illness that completely took my brother out of the game of life.

      And it was really hard to accept the diagnosis for my son. I just wanted him to be “normal” if there is such a thing. I started a post about that, actually. I guess I just want life to be as easy as possible for him. But he’ll be fine. He’s amazing.


    I’m not going to pretend I understand ADHD or depression. I know people who have both. I know it’s hard on them, because it’s hard on me. I realize I have the better end of the deal. There has to be a light, a hope somewhere. I have to belief this for myself and fear to fall under the same disease.


    You need to be commended not only for the subject you chose but for the quality of the presentation. This was a really eloquent and deft bit of writing. I come from a family that is riddled with mental illness and I’ve had struggles battling my own mind. Some of this I still can’t really talk about but I have spent a lifetime of really hard work to be able to function normally. I’m happy I found this blog. And please do not feel obligated to respond to this comment. You’ll likely have a million more to respond to and I will understand.


      There’s no WAY I’m not going to respond to your comment.

      And I doubt I’ll get a million comments. Since January, many of my readers have visited this post. But thank you. For always supporting me.

      I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I feel like an alien trying to masquerade as a human. I just hope my son doesn’t struggle the way I do. I think he’s off to a much better start. His childhood is already a million times better than mine, even with my divorce situation.


        And really, that’s about all you can do. Having a mom like you can only make whatever struggles he has a little bit easier and a little less daunting. 🙂


        Thank you.
        Yes. I wish I had a mom like me. Not to toot my own horn or anything. but things would have been different for me.
        ah, well. we all have our baggage.


    The very idea of the question just blurted out of the blue made me feel sick! Yes, it is her job but teaching some people basic humanity and decency is quite an uphill battle, isn’t it?!
    I cannot imagine what it must be like for you and your family to see your brothers hurting in their different ways. The Robin Williams episode has really blown up the debate around mental illnesses again in front of the public eye – I just wish that something concrete and positive comes out of it!


    What a powerful post, Samara. As parents, we will do anything to ensure that our children are happy, able and at peace. I think this desire stays with us always no matter how old we get and how old our children are. My mother suffers with intense worry about us four siblings, on a daily basis. Once a mother, always a mother.

    I have a familial lineage not too different than yours. Bi-Polar, Depression, ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, etc. My 20 year old son has struggled with ADHD and anxiety since he was little and boy did I have arguments with his teachers! They frustrated me because they had no schooling on how to teach boys with ADHD. Very frustrating.

    He is a Junior in college and although the reality is that his ADHD makes him have to work harder, he has improved tremendously. Maturity does help!! There is hope, Samara. He has learned to work around his limitations and to ask for help when needed. It’s been tough but he learning to accept what is and now realizes that he can still be successful in spite of his “condition”.

    Continue to be the awesome mother you seem to be! xo


      Oh, Maria thank you so much! We do have to advocate like hell for our kids, don’t we? Although I do think that a lot has changed in the last 10 years, even, in terms of how to deal with ADHD.

      Yep, once a mother, always a mother. I’ll still be worrying about my son when he’s 50!


    I could have written this myself. Only mine are older relatives & one sibling.

    Your son has a better shot than most of us. My son too. They’re becoming more educated & aware of these things nowadays. We just have to keep being the mama lion & they’ll be okay. I’m sure of it.


    Did you know I had 7 siblings? I don’t talk to or about most of them anymore. Or my grandparents. Or my parents. Or my aunts, uncles, cousins. Those stories are there. And I know I will find the funny in them, and when I do I will share those stories. But I am not there yet.

    PS: This does not feel like having sex. This feels like something from the Sisterwives. It was lovely. I am not sure how I missed it. I thought I read everything you posted here.


      Hi sweetie –
      this is an old old post. I had only been blogging six weeks when I wrote this. I don’t think we knew each other yet.

      I love that you’ve read so many of my posts. You’re such a good, supportive blogger. I’m trying to get there. I hope to, eventually.



    I have a 2 year old daughter. I have Schizoaffective Disorder. My father, schizophrenia, my mother bipolar 1.. She is most definitely affected bt this.. People chalk it up to ‘terrible twos’.. Its far beyond that. But no one will listen.


    Jesus I think we r related . double dose schizophrenic bro/mom. suicide. rampant alcoholism . foster care. & parents who live in the highest degree of cyclical denial.
    faceless demons. I so get that.


      “highest degree of cyclical denial”
      that is such an intriguing sentence. I want to know you more.


        wow!! thank you! you are inspirational. loved the scary mommy piece too.
        every day. I question my purpose in writing (seriously? tortured artist much? ) so I appreciate the compliment more than you know xo

    Gretchen Kellaway November 24, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    I always wonder if we are a by-product of our environment or if perhaps it all comes down to genetics. I am the fourth of five children of a single mother. We each have anxiety disorders and I was diagnosed with severe depression and insomnia- on top of other things. My oldest brother was never diagnosed with anything more than ADHD and maniac mood swings. He was a force to be reckoned with till drugs landed him in jail and backs were turned on him changed his perspective on life. The one below him suffered from everything under the sun and began his trip into the world of alcoholism at the ripe old age of 13. It’s a constant battle he is still fighting at nearly 40. That and the bi-polar and the whatever else he blames the rest of us for. The girls got off a lot easier, we watched and saw what we knew we didn’t want. Sadly, there are days I watch my boys and worry. I see a shadow across the eyes, a troubled moment. Is there a problem? Can I fix it? What can I do to make sure it doesn’t grow into something worse? It’s a scary notion some days. Is my anxiety a part of my boys genetic makeup? Will they live their lives under a constant shadow of emotions? Is my 10 year Olds anger issues my fault? Does my 6 year Olds need to ignore the world come from something deeper?

    All we can do is watch.

    afternoonofsundries August 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    I’m super duper screwed up myself. My family of full of all sorts of evils and negligence. For a long time I wouldn’t admit I was mentally ill because She was, my mother, and I one true goal is to never be the monster She was. Honestly I am, I’ve got so many little messed up bits and I worry that they will leak out onto my precious, beautiful, clean boy. Its a lot dealing with these things.

    All I can say is we do our best don’t we? We hug those broken pieces to ourselves and we push the fuck through. Because personally it’s never really been about me, it’s always been someone else’s choices that changed my life until I became the person making choices to change his life. I’ll be damned straight to Hell if I don’t learn from my experiences and theirs.

    You sound like a pretty good mother to me. From your Facebook page Little Dude sounds like a pip! I think that teacher was outta line (being a teacher myself) and should have asked what she could have done to help him be successful (within reason). Ah well, the pat is the past.

    Thanks for sharing this, it is without a doubt something that our country needs to hear from many people until we all finally get it. Mental illiness is so complex and so different and it cannot be put into nice little boxes just to make everyone “comfortable.”

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    […] interested in what a struggle it is to have a child with special needs, or how mental illness wreaks havoc on a family; how September 11 tore a city apart or the brutal damage that being raped has on a woman’s […]

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