Telling her daughter's story
This interview is about the tragedy of losing a child, but also about the importance to not judge them with mental issues. To judge people with mental health problems only makes it worse for them who suffer. No one would judge you if you break your leg, why do it to someone suffering from what is inside? We do not choose what problems we may get, but we can chose respect towards each other.
Name: Cathy Lynn Brooks
Occupation: Author. I retired after 40 years working with teens who have special needs.
Family: I have a husband, Greg, who I married 40 years ago, a daughter, Candice and two grandsons, Oliver 4 and Elliott 1.
Lives in: Ontario, Canada
A couple of years ago you published a book with the title "Not my story to tell". What kind of story is it, and who should have told it instead?
Not My Story to Tell is a memoir about my experiences raising a daughter who had bipolar disorder. When I contacted a professional, when Justine was a child, and told her we needed to have better discussions about mental health and childhood sexual abuse she told me it was not my story to tell. It was my daughter, Justine's story, but sadly, she died in a car accident at age 29.
Justine was a high achieving child but when she reached puberty she started making bad choices due to her past trauma and mental illness. We spent many hours seeking appropriate treatment in a society that hides mental illness. It was extremely frustrating and scary. Justine was sympathetic to the homeless and did volunteer work throughout high school and into adulthood. She knew without the emotional and financial support she received that she might end up on the street like many other people who have mental illnesses.
Despite everything Justine loved to work and supported herself working many jobs and going to school. She weathered the ups and downs of her illness and was thriving when she was killed by a transport truck on her way home from a night shift at 4:30 a.m.
Your daughter suffered from bipolar disorder and also post-traumatic stress disorder. Would you say that the prejudices about these problems are big even today?
I think things are slowly improving and more people are speaking out about these issues. It was taboo to talk about it when Justine was going through it but she felt it was a disease, like any other, and refused to keep quiet about her struggles. She said if she had cancer she wouldn't have to hide it. I hope one day it will be open just like a physical illness.
She must have been very brave. How did the environment react to her openness?
Most people were sympathetic and supportive. She had many friends and a supportive extended family. Her teachers and principals were helpful many times in crisis situations and offered alternative ways for her to succeed. It was the mental health system that seemed to put up the many roadblocks to Justine's success. We spent many hours waiting in the emergency department waiting room watching many people with physical ailments go ahead of us. She wasn't bleeding so they seemed to ignore her, even when she was suicidal.
What would you wish for all people who have mental illnesses?
I would hope they would trust someone to tell and to seek help. I wish that services were better so people didn't have to go through hospital emergency rooms to see a psychiatrist. Medication should be affordable so people don't become homeless when they can't get the medication they need to succeed.