• Gina DeGirolamo

Stress and mental illness- lessons from mom


Today is November 30, 2016. My mother, Santina Adorney DeGirolamo passed away 18 yrs. ago to the day. It’s been so long now that I can barely remember what it is like to have her alive and walking on this planet, In some ways that is sad but in other ways it is not.

You see my mother was a very complex person. She had the heart of an angel, the beauty of a film star and the ability to converse on any subject even though she only had a high school diploma. She also had bi-polar disorder and at one time was even diagnosed with schizophrenia. As a teenager this was a really hard thing to deal with. Perhaps, it would not have been so difficult if it were happening now in 2016 instead of the 1970’s. Back then treating mental illness was still very much in the dark ages. She received electroshock therapy, was overloaded with meds, locked up in a padded room (think One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest) and completely shunned by her friends.

I often think about how her life, my life and our entire families life would have been different had this been occurring now instead of then.While I do believe it would still be extremely difficult I feel that she would have not suffered nearly as much as she did. One thing that I realize is that her freedom to express her thoughts and the truth of who she was, a devoted woman to the most high spirit, a true giver to all she met, would not have been suppressed as it was.


We lived in a very homogeneous society of Italian Catholics and if one spoke out in anyway with different thoughts about what they believed, they were deemed as crazy. Now my mom did have some “out there” thinking (like saying the Pope was going to be coming to our house for dinner because she was the chosen God Woman to bring a new message to the world). Yet, I have a feeling that if she were able to find a tribe, like I have, that had like minded thinking about progressive ideas about God and religion, perhaps her so called “schizophrenia" wouldn’t have been so severe.

I believe that the pressure to conform, along with the copious amounts of medication, put enormous strain on her ability to think clearly and to express the truth of who she really was. Knowing what I know now about stress and what it can do to us physically, emotionally and mentally I really believe all our lives would have been better if she was treated for her chemical imbalance and allowed to still express who she was. I have friends now that are very proud of their bi-polar personalities. They take their meds and still allow themselves to be the incredibly unique beings that they are. They have family members that say to them "we love you for who you are and we are glad you are bi-polar because it makes you more creative and fun." Isn’t it time we treat people with mental illness with more respect to their individuality by understanding that there is nothing wrong with them having different beliefs, different interests and different ways of looking at the world? The less pressure we put on them to conform to acting a certain way the more they may be able to deal with the illness and the better the chance of them getting healthier.

I don’t worry about my mom not being here on this earth because the one thing she always stated throughout her life was she was ready to meet God whenever he was ready. She was actually excited to meet her maker because she felt such a deep connection. I may not feel that way but it certainly brings me joy knowing my mother is free to express her fullness now in another realm. As for me, I am living my life according to my truth and I do not allow anyone to put any pressure on me to conform in anyway. I understand how important that is to my own health. I do not allow the stress to be part of my life because I know all too well how dangerous that is. So, I encourage you to live your truth in order to live your healthiest life possible. Oh, and Mom…thanks for coming to this earth to teach me that lesson. I love you..

#mentalillness