This is a guest post written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular guest posts on my blog since February 2015. The purpose of her posts is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m also hoping the posts will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the posts I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the guest posts she’s shared on this blog, check out the mental health page. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.
It has been more than two months since my dad had his lung transplant. My parents have been staying in Minneapolis since the surgery. They usually live a few doors away from us. How has that time away from them been for me and my kids?
As you may know from previous posts, my parents are a major part of our support system. I have struggled, but I have also become the independent woman I know I am and can be. I’ve utilized my support system, accomplished tasks and handled situations I never thought possible. I have weeded people out of my life and have become closer to some. I continue to tell myself that I am a good mom, and continue to live my life in an honest and open way. I can’t honestly say that every day I am completely happy, but I am living with hope in my mind, body and soul. I have heard great feedback from the professionals I work with and family and friends about how I am doing while my parents are gone.
Everyone has stories to tell about the best days of their life. I really have not had typical experiences. The best days of my life have not been normal. Yes, my kids’ births were pretty spectacular, but there were complications that made those days a bit horrifying. I was a single mom both times. My daughter had a CCAM, which was a large growth in one of her lungs she had removed a couple days after she was born. My son was born via c-section.
The day after my dad’s lung transplant turned out to be one of the best days of my life. My dad was sick for about 16 years before his transplant. For years, I was full of both worry and hope that his life could turn around. Hope for more time and years to spend with me and the kids. Nobody knew what was going to happen with his health. He was at the end of his life if something wasn’t done. When my dad got the call that a lung was ready for him, I was full of hope and excitement. This is going to work out, I told myself. The same type of feeling I had when my daughter was just days old and had a large lobe of one of her lungs removed.
I was SO happy that my kids and I could be at the hospital in Minneapolis for the procedure and be there when he woke up. I was the first person in my dad’s hospital room when he woke up from the surgery. I sat there with him as he nodded his head with big eyes open and a breathing tube in his mouth. I held back the tears as we experienced an emotional moment. That day was one of the best days of my life. We were feeling together that the hope was still alive. Seeing the excitement in my dad’s eyes, knowing the lung transplant finally happened and at that moment, my dad was going to be okay.
My family prepared for the lung transplant for months, even years. My dad was staying optimistic, as he is, yet preparing for both the best and worst that could happen. My family wanted to prepare me and the kids for the time that my parents would be away. I’m not a cook, or at least I thought I wasn’t before my dad’s transplant. I have felt pride letting my parents know that I have been cooking for myself, the kids and sometimes friends, while they have been away. One of my favorite meals I’ve made while they have been gone was Hawaiian marinated pork chops, white rice and vegetables. I am experimenting with the food that we have available to us. I hope to experiment more during the remainder of the time they are away. I am going to cook for my parents when they get back home. The plan is for them to come back in about a month if my dad’s health is stable.
Since my parents have been away, I have occasionally been attending church and a group called Celebrate Recovery. We sing, learn and are able to talk in a group setting. We go when we can and if the kids are not too tired. I listen and isolate myself at times, and focus on the voices in my head. My psychiatrist said that isolation is a way to end up back in the hospital. I enjoy talking in the group setting with people who are also experiencing life. It’s nice to actually express my feeling and thoughts to real people. We are often told to talk less and listen more. One of my friends recently told me that she feels like she is in an interview session with me. I guess I just like to learn about peoples’ lives. It’s pretty awesome when I get to express myself too, and when questions are asked of me.
Overall, some consistency is coming into my family’s life. Kids seem to thrive on consistency.
Since my parents have been away, I have really felt the social stigma about mental illness. I can pretty much guarantee that a few people reading this are scared of the mentally ill, or they just don’t know what to think about them. We are not all scary, no more than the normal population. Like it or not, I am an individual with the label of mentally ill. I admit, I used to feel the same about people with the label of mentally ill. My grandfather used to work at a state hospital in Jamestown, North Dakota. When I was young, I recall thinking of the mentally ill as being locked away, shut out from society, walking around with nowhere to go. Weird, strange, do not talk to them because they are dangerous, living a different life. Yet, I found them interesting and found some connection with their lives. Little did I know that I’d be one of them someday. These days, the mentally ill are usually given respect and people are talking out about their illness. We are able to thrive and live normal lives. I spent a lot of time in a state hospital years ago, and know how frustrating it can be to be shunned from society. I have met many people in different institutions that I have found much in common with. Many people who are just scared of being themselves. Some people who are just reaching out for someone to be there for them. I do not feel that I am scary, I just have a gigantic label placed on me. We are all unique and different.
I cherish friends, family and strangers who have accepted and allowed me to be the person I am meant to be. I am grateful that God blessed me with two kids who make my life worth living. I am more than just a face. I am single and talk often in my posts about finding love in any kind of relationship. Sometimes I have found a false love that I wanted to be there, to be real.
Recently, I met with my psychiatrist and let him know what was going on. I also told him that my dad was doing great! I told him that often I don’t know what to say while having a conversation. The rules we have as a society are tough. I’ve learned that people can either accept me or reject me. I have a strong support system either way!
My dad and my daughter have had major health issues with their lungs. Dealing with these life-threatening illnesses has made me a stronger individual. I have become much more realistic about what is important in life and what really doesn’t matter. In dealing with real-life trauma both in my life and others’ lives, I have become stronger and more focused on moving forward and not looking back.