Anita: It is what it is

“I just kind of go one day at a time. There’s hope in that.”

Anita’s life revolves around nurturing her daughters, Serena and Nina, who both live with a mental illness. Her daughters, adopted as infants, are now ages 23 and 21 . When her older daughter Serena returned from her first year of college, she decided to stay home while the family went to their cabin. Anita shared the story of Serena's first episode.

She called me and said, “Mom, I know you’re dying. You’re dead.” We were like, what’s going on? This is craziness. I went home early to find her with some friends. I was teaching first grade at the time. Serena came to school with me one day. She hung out in my car and came in at lunch with the kids. At the end of the day, I brought the children to meet their parents for pick-up and left Serena in the classroom. There were costumes for the first graders in the room because we were practicing for a play. When I returned, she was completely naked. She was trying to put on a fairy outfit of one of the first graders. I looked at her. I still didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have a history of mental illness. I looked at her in disbelief. She said, “I shouldn’t be doing this, right?” I told her, “Oh no, you need to get dressed.”

That night, Anita and her husband, Luke, had Serena sleep in between them because she was going in and out of reality and acting scared. In the middle of the night, Anita and Luke awoke to a harrowing experience.

She wasn’t there. We called all her friends. We got in our cars and we split up. We were screaming for her. I drove down to the river, slowly and scanning, and I heard her voice down there. She had run down to the river in shorts and her bra. She had her phone, a dream catcher, and all these other things. She just threw them as she was running. Then she thought she could fly. She was in mania and she thought she could fly. She thought she was a fairy. Some kids found her on a cliff on the Mississippi River and they talked her away from it. I called my husband and he came and we took her to the hospital.

In the hospital, Serena was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and soon calmed down with medications. Initially, Anita did not accept the diagnosis, believing that it was a physical problem, possibly related to a concussion in Serena’s past.

Her younger daughter, Nina presented challenges in infancy. Anita revealed, I’ve always struggled with her ever since she was a baby. We had a hard time connecting. She was colicky and really loud and I’m a quiet person. I think sometimes with adoption this happens.” In school, Nina had difficulty making friends. Then during her sophomore year in high school, she became sexually provocative and would not talk with her parents. Anita saw a therapist and asked many questions about what could be contributing to Nina’s behavior. She asked herself, “Is it my parenting? Is it that she’s a teenager? Is it adoption? Is it identity in a transracial adoption? [Her daughters are black and Anita is white]. Is it the change in school? What is going on?”

The therapist concluded Nina likely had a mental illness, possibly anxiety. Anita enrolled Nina in a different school, but she did not do well, still did not make friends, and would sometimes get lost taking a city bus home after school. Accusing her mother of being a “bad mom,” Nina demanded that her mother sign her up for three different classes during the summer. However, Nina attended only a few sessions and then pretended to go to class. Anita remembers feeling confused and angry about Nina’s behavior.