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Mental Health

I am very grateful to be mentally healthy.

My adopted godmother tried to commit suicide Monday morning. She drank a large quantity of gasoline in her underground parking garage and lay down to die. Instead, she was found, rushed to hospital via police escort, and admitted to the psychiatric ward where she remains indefinitely.

She used to be a tough, determined woman. She was born in Portugal in 1931 into a family of six children, three girls and three boys. Her father owned a brick factory and she was industrious from a young age, loving to cook and loving to make things from the industrial kiln for sale. She was always stylish and worked in fashion in Lisbon from the early 1950s through to the mid-1960s when she followed her favourite brother to Canada.

Upon arriving in Canada, she worked for a family as their live-in nanny for a decade. During that time, she met a guy and had her only child, a little girl, in 1970 when she was 39 years old. He refused to marry her but a few years later she met another guy and they married. He became the adopted father to her daughter. For 15 years she was a happy, devoted wife and mother.

In 1991, tragedy struck and her daughter died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Her husband divorced her in 1995 and she has been struggling ever since.

She is now 83 years of age and has been finding aging exceedingly difficult. She feels alone, lonely and hopeless on an almost constant basis. Whenever you spend time with her, she tells you how she just wants to die. “Never get old” she’ll say as a mantra every few minutes when you are with her. I always reply that it is better than the alternative, which brings a wan smile to her face, but she does not believe it.

When she turned 80, her mind started to deteriorate and she began suffering from paranoid delusions. She started to believe that specific people sent by the father of her dead daughter were after her; that they were trying to poison her, break into her place and kill her as she slept. She would relate stories about these dangerous capers whenever you were with her.

She first threatened suicide two years ago and that landed her in hospital for the first time in the psychiatric ward. She was there again this past summer for the same reason, and again now. The mental health professionals who work in the psychiatric ward describe it as a revolving door. Patients come to them suffering mental illness; they stabilize them and send them home; the patients return within a specific period of time suffering the same mental illness; they are again stabilized and sent home; and the cycle repeats. In the case of my god mom, she is not able to consistently take her medication when not in hospital, despite a mental health nurse being provided for her once a week and despite my and her friend’s encouragement to do so.

It is painful to watch my god mom struggle with mental illness. It makes me grateful on a daily basis that my mind still works fairly well, at least most days.

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