Love Triumphs Over Mental Illness In Mother/Daughter Memoir

Growing up in a middle-class African American family, Sakeenah Francis was college homecoming queen, married, and had a family. However, when her daughter Anika was just three years old, Sakeenah began hearing voices and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Sakeenah describes her story as “Cinderella in reverse, from riches to rags.” Her marriage broke up, she was institutionalized and wound up homeless.

As the daughter of a woman with schizophrenia, Anika Francis had a harrowing childhood. Despite this, Anika learned to view the world differently, to see “joy in the midst of pain and the golden hearts in people that others wrote off.”  Most significantly, Sakeenah and Anika learned that the love is the most important thing in life.

Sakeenah and Anika write about dealing with Sakeenah’s illness in "Love’s All That Makes Sense: A Mother Daughter Memoir." Sakeenah details the onset of her mental illness and her struggles in a series of letters to her daughter. Anika offers a forthright account about growing up with a mother suffering from schizophrenia. Their book will be discussed in Lakewood Public Library’s Main Auditorium on Thursday December 12 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the Library’s Meet the Author Series, but before the Meet the Author appearance, Sakeenah  and Anika take the time to answer some questions.

LO: Sakeenah, you serve as a speaker for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). What do you want people to realize about mental illness?

SF: First, mental illness can happen to anyone. I was raised middle class and graduated high school. My senior year in college I was elected Homecoming Queen. I married, had two children, then mental illness came over me. Second, people with mental illness can lead full lives. I had twelve crisis years. Since then, I have held two long-term jobs, have raised my daughter even though we live miles apart, and I have lived in the same apartment in Lakewood for twenty-four years.

LO: Anika, you overcame a difficult childhood and attended an Ivy League University.  Where do you find your strength to succeed?

AF: Family support and love was an integral part of my resilience growing up. My grandparents opened up their home to me when my mother was sick and helped raise me. They also made it possible for my mom and me to stay together which sadly is not often the case for parents with schizophrenia and their children. I wanted to be strong for my mom to support her and this gave me a sense of inner strength from a young age.

LO: Anika, you mention seeing the world differently from most people. How do you find value in people others disregard?

AF: When you grow up knowing the people in the neighborhood who talk to themselves, you see the world from a different perspective. I grew up around the people society casts off as being "crazy." I saw beyond these labels into the heart of these people. They laughed, cried, loved and wanted to be loved just like the rest of us. Being able to see beyond the labels and the surface and perceive the humanity of a person is powerful.

LO: Sakeenah and Anika, your book is a wonderful account of the redemptive and healing power of love. What would you like to tell family members of people with mental illness?

AF: Love holds things together. It is a powerful force often overlooked when we talk about severe mental illness. Love can get you through the times when it feels like the world is crumbling around you. Remember your loved one behind the illness; they are more than the illness.

SF: Their loved ones can have long-term recovery; it's been 23 out of 24 years for me. I have given over 50 speeches with NAMI. My Dad rolled with the punches with me in my 12 1/2 crisis years, then I helped him ten years in nursing homes with Alzheimer's. All I can say is: "Don't Count Us Out!"

Meet the Author will take place in the Main Library Auditorium on Thursday December 12 at 7:00 p.m. Books will be available for sale and signing at the event.

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Volume 9, Issue 24, Posted 5:48 PM, 11.28.2013