Hi, my name is Sonya, and I have six beautiful children. Of the six, four suffer from some form of mental illness. I want to share with you my story and the power of love that binds my children and me and how I reached this point in my life today.
My life took a drastic change on December 15, 2012. The weekend leading up to this day was strange. I worked for Orlando Public Housing, and that Friday was a typical evening, with leaving work and going home to my family. This story begins later that night, when I had a bad sore throat, which I felt needed attention, so I went to the emergency room. There, I was given an antibiotic shot and a prescription. I came home, but I still felt strange. My throat didn’t stop hurting. I felt disoriented, and I felt like the medicine wasn’t working. The doctor later said that he’d never seen a case so bad.
The entire weekend was crazy. I complained to my mother about how I was feeling. People sometimes say I get a little overdramatic, so my mom felt nothing was unusual by my behavior. I couldn't sleep and instead walked the floor the entire weekend, causing noise at night that was not normal for our routine. My children worried, so did my mother after Sunday, when it seemed something was seriously wrong. When Monday came, I felt better and prepared for work.
From that day to the present, my mother tells the story of the next four months of my life:
Sonya was admitted to the hospital on Monday, December 15, 2012 and finally released on February 17, 2013. Initially, we did not know what was wrong with her. The doctors at the hospital believed she was suffering from some type of psychotic episode. She spent several days undergoing diagnostic evaluations. She spent days in two different psychological facilities, until it was later realized that she was not psychotic but suffering from Limbic Encephalitis (LE). This term is used when the limbic areas of the brain are inflamed or not functioning properly. The symptoms of LE include memory loss, seizures, confusion, disturbances of sleep, and psychological disturbances such as altered personality or behavior. Sometimes the immune system reacts with the limbic areas of the brain because the individual has a growth, such as a cancerous tumor that activates the immune system. In Sonya's case, the antibodies made in response to a growth on her ovaries had attacked her brain. Doctors call this reaction Paraneoplastic Limbic Encephalitis (PLE).
I remember nothing of what happened to me during the time I was ill. I was told that I was in a coma for three months. I was told that I was a very sick individual. All I do know is that I am here today because of a praying family and God's healing hand. I'm a living miracle.
Learning to start over again after this experience was tough. I had to learn how to talk, eat, write, and even walk again. Recovery included months of medication, doctors' appointments, and several months of counseling. I know that suffering from this type of illness is not completely curable, but I take one day at a time. My miracle of life is what pushes me to be a better mother for my children. It is now easier to relate to the mental illnesses they suffer with daily.
The social stigma around mental health can blockade individuals from getting help, preventing injury or death, and recovery. Stigma makes it hard for people to recover from mental illness. I look back on all that I went through during the course of my illness; first, I must thank God, my mother, my sisters, Kim and Kesha, and my entire family. Additionally, I have to thank the doctors and entire staff at Florida Hospital East.
I am proud of myself because after hearing the stories and going through rehabilitation, I turned to the binding love of family, and thus, now devote as much time as I can to taking care of my children. Through parenting all of my children, I have dealt with courts, juvenile programs, and many attorneys and school officials. Whereas my mother was the one responsible for these tasks when I was ill, I now can do what my mother had to do on the behalf of my own children.
Mental health issues have and are a very hard problem to deal with, especially since I too suffered from a form of it myself. The road has not been easy for my family, but we continuously strive to deal with situations as they come. I have had much help from many people after my illness. I would like to thank all of the staff from the Wrap Around organization and my family for all the support given to my children and me. Today, I work closely with them to encourage stories that dismiss myths around mental illnesses and convey the reality of hope and recovery. My story is one among many, which is shared and conveyed to others in hope of making changes and bettering the lives of families who also suffer from mental illnesses and stigma. I hope that this story will help someone else deal with situations they are going through. What is important in sharing this story is to remember, regardless of what type of illnesses one may go through, they can tackle the obstacles and make a difference in not only their lives but also the lives of others (for me, these others are my children.).