By Cheryl Wiker
Editor’s note: This story is an excerpt from the author’s book, “Uncommon Courage.”
The day my daughter, Kim, began hearing voices, started out as normal as any other day. As a single parent, I was managing fairly well, fortified by my faith and generally optimistic view of life.
We were enjoying dinner on TV trays watching our favorite show when Kim startled me.
“Mom, please be quiet,” she said forcefully.
“I didn’t say anything!,” I responded. I didn’t think too much about it until a couple of minutes later when she again asked me to be quiet. This was probably the first time in my life I had been genuinely stunned!
She thought I was telling her I hated her and nothing could persuade her I was not threatening her. I finally fled to my room and locked the door when she said she was going to get a baseball bat if I said it again.
I called a friend who was also a nurse. “Cheryl. This sounds like paronoid schizophrenia! You need to get help immediatley,” she responded with intense concern. I didn’t know anything about schizophrenia but I did know my daughter’s brain was not functioning normally all of a sudden.
The following morning Kim was taken to a hospital for evaluation and the next year and a half would test every ounce of faith I had. My “Just look on the bright side” life attitude was now replaced with pain and fear. It was scary and fear was a normal reponse.
Kim was hospitalized and eventually moved to the long term care unit of the San Antonio State Hospital. She was just sixteen years old and was the only young person in this unit. My feet literally buckled under me the first time I visited her in this unit that had so many geriatric patients and no young people for her to talk with each day.
Just when I thought things could not get any worse, I received a call from the hospital one day to inform me Kim was missing. They had interviewed patients and said she had left with a former patient who was a sociopath.
I was shown a large tear in the fence surrounding the hospital which was well known to staff and patients! The patients in this hospital were court committed because they were considered a danger to themsleves ot others. There were many questions that needed answers, but finding Kim in a city of 1.5 million people was my top priority.
Knowing she was at the mercy of a sociopath, I had no hope of a kind stranger finding her and helping. For three agonizing days I searched the streets closest to the hospital, showing her picture to anyone willing to stop and listen. Nobody remembered her and just as my pain was turning into despair, the hospital called to let me know they had found her.
The rest of the story is in my book, “Uncommon Courage.” The title was inspired by Kim when I realized how much courage it takes for her to find a meaningful life in spite of her mental illness.
As I wrote, I realized how often faith, hope and love was so central to our survival and overcoming every setback and situation that we faced. These powerful spiritual energies were the difference between sinking or swimming. Sometimes we lived on hope, sometimes we lived on faith. The one constant was love, for each other and for life.
The book is a quick read because those that need it most probably don’t have the energy to wade through a long book. There are pictures throughout the book which will help readers feel a more personal connection to our life story.
The book takes you through Kim’s year and a half in the state hospital which resulted in a trial by jury when the hospital refused to repair the fence. Her suffering when locked in a boarding house room when she was missing from the hospital is shared, along with what we had to do to finally be free of the nightmares that tormented her for years.
Kim’s release from the hospital and our move to Michigan brings much needed hope and relief through the wonderful support team in our community. Kim’s story reminds us to never stop looking for ways to improve life instead of letting pain and worry become our “forever” experience.
Life is truly wonderful and Kim is now settled in her own apartment surrounded by family and friends in our community mental health center. She refuses to allow the voices of schizophrenia block out her own thoughts of gratitude for every good thing in her daily life.
I hope our story will help us realize that faith, hope and love are not just nice words on a plaque to hang on the living room wall. They are powerful spiritual energies that make us overcomers instead of victims.