Our story could fill a book, really. We've experienced so much over the last 20 years as parents of a daughter who has a chronic mental illness. Sure, we know we're not alone, but it doesn't always feel like that.


I am a teacher and my husband, Phil, sells computers to businesses. We live in Minnesota and are the parents of a son and a daughter. For many years we had a fairly typical not-too-exciting life: mom, dad, son, daughter, a big extended family nearby, a comfortable house, great public schools, enough food, decent medical and dental care when we needed it, and a nice vacation every now and then.


And then, on a family vacation to Florida, my daughter (who was 13 years old at the time) attempted suicide. The police came, locked her up in a juvenile facility in Florida, and we couldn't get her out. Florida is a long way from Minnesota, and it was devastating to have to return home (from what we thought would be another fun family getaway) without our daughter. It took a long time and a great deal of legal help to get her home to Minnesota.


That was where it all began. Over her teen years things were up and down. She did not have a diagnosis at that time, and there were periods where it seemed as everything was going to be just fine. But it was never really fine, it just wasn't so bad sometimes. There was no ignoring the issues with behavior, substance abuse, hyper sexuality, or her attempts to injure herself. We made countless visits to psychiatrists, therapists, and doctors. Finally, she got a diagnosis: bipolar schizoaffective disorder.


It made me unbearably sad to hear this tragic diagnosis. I was angry, fearful, lonely, and I felt so guilty. Could I have prevented this? Were there signs that I missed? What if we couldn't take care of her at home? (As it turned out, we couldn't.) All I wanted was for her to have the things that other girls had as they grew out of their teens: college, a job, a wedding, a baby...and I began to realize that probably none of this would happen for my daughter.


When things finally became unmanageable, she was state-committed as an adult and our rights as parents were terminated (because she was over 18). She lives in a group home now. Though we often spend time with her, we can't prevent things like electro-shock therapy (I think she's had 30 now), or give her spending money, or talk to her doctors unless she signs consent forms authorizing us to do that. It's been really frightening at times, and we worry about the future when we're gone. Who will look after her?


There's so much more I could share, and I will. Some of it will come out when I respond to your stories, sometimes I will write on just one particular issue or topic. But for now, I will leave it at this. I just want to open the door for you to tell your own story.


What I want most is to start a conversation that will lead to increased awareness. I dream of a
day when people will lose their awkwardness when they talk to us about our daughter, and when
they will have kind words and the right words for us (instead of acting as though our
daughter doesn't exist).


I want to de-stigmatize mental illness, because after all,
it affects at least one person out of every ten.