Name: Rosemary
Age at interview: 73
Gender: Female

Background: A kindergarten teacher, Rosemary is 73 years old, of Australian origin and has four adult children aged 48, 46, 44 and 33, the youngest of whom is adopted. She lives with her youngest son, aged 44, in an outer metropolitan suburb.

About Rosemary

Rosemary has been caring for the past 26 years for her youngest son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year ago. Rosemary's son has been admitted once for compulsory treatment in a mental health unit. He sees a psychiatrist who Rosemary described as supportive of both her and her son.

More about Rosemary

Although Rosemary's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia last year, she has been caring for him for the past three decades, which she said has been 'a lonely road'.

A kindergarten teacher, Rosemary is 73 years old and lives with her son, aged 44, in an outer metropolitan suburb. Rosemary first noticed changes in her youngest son at around age 17 when he left school to start an apprenticeship. The tradesmen he worked with were, Rosemary recalled, 'really rough Australian men' who her son told her had posters of 'naked women' on the walls they used to 'throw darts' at. Her son became 'very unhappy' and began to spend a lot of time at home, which coincided with the breakdown of Rosemary's marriage when her son was 21. While Rosemary's son finished his apprenticeship, he was not offered a job. After that, Rosemary said, he withdrew to his bungalow and for the next 23 years they lived 'like two passing ships' in close proximity but without communicating. Last year, their situation 'changed' when they moved to a new house, which Rosemary's son 'took very badly'. Unused to living at such close quarters with another person, he grew increasingly paranoid culminating in a psychotic episode which led to his compulsory hospitalisation. During the three weeks her son received treatment and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Rosemary felt 'relieved' and, simultaneously, experienced 'one of the darkest times' of her life.

Over the years she cared for him 'under the radar', Rosemary said, her son kept her 'out' of his life, which made her feel isolated. While his recent hospitalisation and diagnosis meant Rosemary and her son entered the mental health system, Rosemary feels she is still living in 'a no man's land' because she said she gets no information about her son's treatment from practitioners. An exception is her son's psychiatrist who she said initiated contact with her and makes himself available to her, which made her feel less lonely. Another 'ray of sunshine' in Rosemary's life is her youngest daughter who visits regularly with her young children who talk to Rosemary's son and 'actually bring him out of his room'.

A year or so before her son's psychotic episode, Rosemary started going to a carer support group, which she described as her 'anchor'. Being able to talk with other people who have been through similar or worse experiences is a comfort, Rosemary said. A venue for learning information relevant for carers and their loved ones, including information about mental health laws, the carer support group also organises social events like trips to the cinema, which Rosemary appreciates because she said she hates going to see films on her own.

Reflecting on the past thirty years, Rosemary feels for a long time she was just 'going through the motions' of living. Now that she and her son are no longer ignoring but learning how to live with his mental health issues, Rosemary said, her life feels 'more real'.