Age at interview: 77
Background: Marta is 77 years old, a widow and lives alone in an outer metropolitan suburb. She is of European heritage.
For the past 33 years, Marta cared for her step-daughter who she thought of as her daughter. First diagnosed at the age of 19 with drug induced psychosis, Marta's daughter in subsequent years received diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar with schizophrenia effects. She died last year, aged 52.
More about Marta
Marta recalled that over the past 33 years, the times when Marta's late step-daughter learned to deal with her mental health issues seemed to be the times when Marta 'stepped back a little' and said 'no'.
When Marta married her late husband, his daughter was six years old. From the moment they met, Marta said she adored her step-daughter and thought of her as her daughter. Around the time her daughter took up surfing when she was 16, Marta noticed a few 'unusual' changes in her, which Marta's GP put down to 'typical teenager' behaviour. She found out her daughter had been smoking marijuana, which Marta said 'devastated' her and led to a 'big argument' in their family. After that Marta's daughter, aged 17, moved out. She started making frequent surfing trips to Bali where Marta said she thinks she became drawn into a lifestyle in which 'everybody was taking drugs'. Two years after she left home, Marta's daughter, aged 19, was hospitalised and diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis. Over the next few years she had several more episodes and hospitalisations until, finally, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, aged 25. In the following 27 years she was hospitalised at least another 24 times. Last year, Marta's daughter passed away.
Shortly before their daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Marta's husband told clinicians his first wife had been institutionalised for schizophrenia. Yet, Marta said, the doctors made her feel she was somehow to 'blame' because she was her step-mother rather than her biological mother, which made Marta feel hurt and angry. Watching her daughter making the wrong choices and experiencing many episodes, was also painful for Marta because she felt unable to 'do anything' for her. For many years, she said she felt caring for her daughter 'controlled' her life. Then, a few years ago, Marta told her daughter she would have to start relying less on her, and was surprised that she seemed to become more independent after that and more 'respectful'.
When Marta became a carer 33 years ago, she recalled, people knew very little about schizophrenia. One day, she read by chance about a carer support group in a newspaper article and went along. It was a 'relief', she said, to be listened to by people who understood her situation. Twenty-five years later, Marta still attends the same group and has been a facilitator for many of those years. Through this forum, she has been able to support other carers, including new caregivers whom she advises to 'take care of themselves' and to not let caregiving take over their lives. Although no longer a carer, Marta said she will never stop caring for her fellow carers who are her 'strength' and her 'people' with whom she can 'laugh and cry'.
In the eulogy Marta gave at her daughter's funeral, Marta said that although she 'wasn't always in favour of what she did' at the time, now she was glad her daughter had lived her life on her own terms.