Joann: Being Jacob's Mother

With Jacob’s first hospitalization, Joann experienced a crisis as she thought about her responsibilities as a mother.

I went from being in a really good place to when he was hospitalized going, oh my God, what did I do wrong? Why can’t I fix this? Taking that journey to finding out that it’s not my fault. And at some level you know it’s not. It’s not your fault. But no, I want to fix this. I’m mom—this is my job. I need to make things better. That is my sole purpose to make my babies better. I really took that to heart.

For six weeks after Jacob’s first hospitalization, Joann sobbed uncontrollably. She felt she had failed. At the same time, her mother was declining from Alzheimer’s disease. To meet her need for support, she joined a class offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Note: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a mental health advocacy organization at national and state levels that offers a multitude of informational material, classes, and support groups.

You learn that you’re not alone and how other people have coped and done things along the way. I have really good resources. I have really good support. I can say I’m in a way better place now than I had been six months after Jacob’s first hospitalization. It has made me a stronger person. . . I feel like I’m not as judgmental as I probably used to be. I feel like I’ve taken that to heart and it makes me a better person. . . I’m surrounded by people in my groups that really understand the situation and you don’t get judged for what you share, for what you’re going through or if you have a blowout with your child. Nobody’s going to say why did you do that? They get it. You’re surrounded by people that get it.

Initially, after Jacob’s first hospitalization, Joann put aside her other responsibilities. As she invested all of her time in Jacob and her mother, she realized she was not taking care of herself. She tried to control and manage her emotions and believed she could fix the problem. Eventually, she realized she could not fix the problem. Fortunately, during this time Joann received support from a sister and cousin who both encouraged her to get regular exercise and take time away from chaotic family life.

As Joann’s children were growing into their young adult roles, redefining her parental role became complicated by Jacob’s bipolar illness.

As a parent you feel like your kids are my world. But to give myself permission and as they’re getting older, it’s harder to let go. I think overall I was in this huge transition. My kids are all turning into young adults. . . I’m going through my own crisis probably. As a mom, what is my job? But then I’m also guilty that I’m trying to find things for myself. Over time I have found the benefit to really taking that time for myself and the people who continue to support me.

Joann wondered if Jacob will always have to live with problems brought about by his symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Is he ever going to be able to stop his excessive spending or impulsivity so that he can actually maintain an apartment and really be stable long enough and not have that worry? You want your adult children to be able to move on, move forward, and do things that are productive. . . I’m still in this process of letting go. You find that you do want the house back and you don’t want to clean up after adults. I feel selfish but I also feel like that’s kind of what every parent wants eventually. Are those dreams ever coming into fruition? It’s probably not going to happen. I have to go through this grieving process where you wonder will you find the new successes and take joy in those.

More of the Story: There are Good Times