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My Mental Health Story: A Family Legacy of Mental Illness

thoughtful young adult

“Mood likely and able to change between high and low without warning” – this was written on the keychain charm my mother carried around when I was in my teens.

I didn’t understand what bipolar disorder was. I didn’t notice her symptoms, because I simply didn’t know the difference. I’ve always been around mental illness and have many family members with diagnoses. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder at the age of 23.

I grew up in a dysfunctional household. My parents raised me on Social Security, always smoked around and near me, and would often not wear any clothes when I was young. My dad listened to loud music almost all day, and kept all the televisions and lights on at night. He was extremely meticulous about locking doors, and always kept stockpiles of food handy. My mom is an ex-hippie who has substance use disorder (like myself) and smoked cigarettes since she was 13 years old.

She always seemed to have a book nearby in my formative years, and she loved for me to read her stories when I was a toddler. I write a lot of poetry today, and just had my 12th book published. I read her parts of them when I see her in her rest home.

My dad is retired and is currently homeless (by choice) and living in Portland, Oregon. He’s held many jobs throughout his career, including construction foreman, gas station attendant, and an employee of Goodwill Industries. He always worked hard, and was careful to instill that into me from a young age. He is loving, caring, peaceful, stern, and raucously funny at times. He also has Schizophrenia. I learned from a young age that talking to voices isn’t that unusual. My dad would mumble to himself and seemed to have animated conversations with himself daily. I didn’t see it as anything different, and I still don’t. He was always supportive of my goals, even into my late 20’s when I took up basketball. He went out of his way to buy me a new basketball and a handbook on how to play.

Although, my family would be considered dysfunctional, I can say that I always felt safe as a kid, and I knew/know that my parents love the heck out of me. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder at the age of 23 in my birth town of Eugene, Oregon. I had been having what I now know were auditory hallucinations. I kept hearing the words “I don’t care” repeated to me over-and-over inside my room, and I didn’t know how to handle it. This went on for a few months before I finally reached out for help.

The way I reached out was not safe, but I am glad it happened. Staying in that room for another week would have resulted in danger to myself or others. I lashed out one night and punched the walls of our small apartment, breaking sheetrock and damaging my hands. My dad, knowing something was wrong, called the police and I was escorted to the mental health E.R. section of a nearby hospital. I didn’t know what was going on. All I thought at the time was that someone was after me, mocking me, and it made me angry.

I talked to several on-duty nurses there, and they basically kept saying that my mind was playing tricks on me. I left there with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t looking forward to the return home. I was having delusions of people being after me, and I didn’t know what they were.  Although mental illness is prevalent in my family, the details were never really talked about, so I had no idea what was happening to me.

Two weeks later and I was back in the hospital. This time I was situated in the Behavioral Health Unit and given several medications. Three days later, I was stabilizing on the medications they gave me. I didn’t think anyone was out to get me anymore. I made several friends inside the BHU, with whom I played horseshoes almost daily. I was feeling a lot like my old caring self again and it was great.

I was released 3 weeks later and set up on two different medications; Zyprexa, and Klonopin. I couldn’t return home due to the damages to the apartment complex, but fortunately, my older, half-brother allowed me to move into his house with him and his wife. I re-enrolled in college, and everything was looking bright.

After the end of the term, I was hospitalized again. I hadn’t refilled my prescription of Zyprexa for two weeks. I thought I could handle being off of it, and that, whatever sickness I had, had gone away. I was assigned to a therapist in outpatient care after I was released. This was all very new to me. I was nervous, fidgety, and didn’t like the small quarters we were in. The first thing the therapist did, was introduce herself, and then quickly said, “One moment, please” as she opened up a pill container, and swallowed several medications of hers. This, this was news to me. I had had no idea medication was so natural, nor that almost everyone takes them. We ended up having a long discussion on the subject of medication, and I was told I would probably have to be on medication for the rest of my life. I hated this news when I first heard it; but after working with so many gifted individuals, I learned that it isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s two minutes out of my day and it literally saves my life.

I visited my parents often, as fortunately, they only lived three miles away. I wasn’t allowed to stay the night due to my damaging the premises, but I enjoyed a lot of good conversation with my dad during this time. We never really broached the subject of my mental Illness, and I never mentioned it.

My parents were kicked out of their apartment a year later due to going off of their medications and noise complaints. My mother lives in a rest home 2 miles away, and my dad remains homeless in Portland, though he’s taken care of by a Church. He refuses to talk about his mental health. They have their struggles too.

I’m nearly ready to graduate college. I own a small business and I am a proud client of a local outpatient facility. My dad and I are planning to reconnect very soon.


Author Bio: Adam Levon Brown is an internationally published poet in 14 countries. He is the author of twelve poetry books. He identifies as Neurodivergent and Queer. He has had his work translated into Spanish, Albanian, Arabic, and Afrikaans.

Brown is founder, owner, and editor-in-chief of Madness Muse Press LLC, a literary publishing press dedicated to enacting social change through the power of writing.


Photo by Bruce Dixon on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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