“You Have Too Many Issues…” – Interview With Susan Mahon
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“You Have Too Many Issues…” – Interview With Susan Mahon

My January interview starts off here with my interviewee’s My Turn article published in Newsday, a New York newspaper.   

 

STAYING THE COURSE

In March 2000, my husband and I, after 23 years of marriage, decided to legally separate. The very next day, my 71-year-old mother was killed in a car accident on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa.

And then, my 21-year-old son, Timothy, who had just been discharged from the Navy, was hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Every weekend for the next two years following my mother’s death, I would go into Massapequa and help take care of my 80-year-old father and my older brother, Ken, who has Down syndrome.

Then, it became necessary to sell my dad’s house and put him in a nursing home, and Ken came to live with me, and I applied through Surrogate’s Court to become his guardian.

I now had living with me: my son, Tim, who is mentally ill; my brother, Ken, who is mentally disabled, and my 19-year-old daughter, Tracy, who was raising her 6-month-old son, Austin.

I was working full-time at St. Charles Hospital. I signed Ken up as a volunteer, and he came to work with me every day, so while I was working, he was volunteering. Ken loved his volunteer work so much that when we went to visit mom’s grave, he told her, “Don’t worry about me, Mom. I forgive the man that caused your accident and I love my volunteer work at St. Charles.”

In 2010, I was able to help my son find placement in an apartment, which he is able to maintain, and a part-time job as a janitor with Concerned for Independent Living.

I also applied for Medicaid for my brother, which entitled him to a Medicaid service coordinator, who found placement for him in a family care provider home and a day program with the performing arts center sponsored by Maryhaven.

Due to dementia, Ken, 60, now resides in a nursing home.

My daughter, Tracy, has now been on her own for the past 10 years and is raising two children.

My ex-husband and I are now legally divorced, and the pension I receive from him has afforded me to go part time at St. Charles. I have been able to save enough money to start traveling.

In 2012, my friend Carol and I went on an Alaska cruise. And in September I went with friends Carol and Anne on an 11-day tour through England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Thanks to family, friends, faith and lots of prayer, I am able to maintain my sanity. For the past 10 years I’ve been seeing a therapist for my mental health and a personal strength trainer for my physical health. I thank God for everything He has provided for me in the past 13 years.

There are so many instances when I just wanted to give up, but I had my children, grandchildren, family and friends who stuck by me encouraging me and telling me that giving up was not an option.

Even my “happy hour” buddies are there for me, and I totally look forward to seeing them weekly, where we laugh and just have a good time.

So as you can see, it’s now “My Turn!”

Susan Mahon

 

Whoa, talk about personal challenges and adversities.  How does one person deal with so many adversities at once?  I reached out to this incredible woman and she graciously agreed to speak on the phone about how she simply did what she ‘had’ to do.

What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

Well, a lot of people were dependent on me.  I felt an obligation.  I feel I’m a compassionate person.    I have a good sense of humor.  I’m a positive person.  I try to look at the positive – why is God giving this to me?  He doesn’t usually give us more than we can handle.  Let’s try to make the most of it.  Through going to different organizations and support groups I saw there are so many people who had it worse.

I was brought up with this attitude.  You just took charge and you said this is the way it is and we’re going to deal with this today.

My son Tim is considered highly functional so even though he’s diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, he’s able to hold a part-time job.  It took many years to get the right drugs and the right support group and therapy but through persistence and determination and asking questions, I found the right people who could help me.

What were your day-to-day coping skills when you had so many things to deal with?

I always exercised.  I knew I had to keep myself well to cope and help all of them.  I had a trainer and I walked 3-4 miles a day.  Keeping my body strong helped keep my mind strong as well.  I knew I had to keep my serotonin levels up.  My family has a history of depression and alcoholism.  I could’ve stayed here and drugged myself to death.  I do enjoy a drink.  I have my happy hour buddies. But I knew that couldn’t become me.  I’m too conscientious about what I have to do for other people.  My brother, my father, my son, my daughter – too many people dependent on me.

I have a good support group – some family, friends, a therapist.  I even had one therapist , and this is funny, who after I told her all that was going on, she said “You have too many issues, I can’t take you on.”  I laughed and thanked her for being honest.

How have you rebuilt your life through all of this? 

I really didn’t change my life style.  I continue to work hard.  I’m my brother’s guardian.  I see him weekly.  My son lives on his own.  My goal was to get them all to live as independently as possible and they are.    My daughter has her own place too with her children.

How did you get them all out on their own?

You cannot enable.  You have to know the difference between enabling and helping.  They have to understand there are responsibilities.  I helped my son  purchase a car.  I paid for it and he’s depositing through his direct deposit from his paycheck $100 a month into my checking account to pay me back.

What advice can you give people going through their own challenges?

There are so many services out there.  Look for them.  Despite the cutbacks, there are still many things out there to help.   It’s just a one day at a time.  I reach out to many people to get informed.

Be organized.  Write a list of what you want to accomplish, even if it’s one thing a day.  I would call one legislator or one mental illness agency to get answers about one thing.  Each day make a list.  Sometimes it seemed overwhelming when I had to make doctors’ appointments for my brother.  But I made a list and it made it doable.

suemahon1-228x300

suemahon4-300x200Susan with brother Ken

 

 

 

 

Susan as volunteer clown at Camp Adventure (for children with cancer)

Above photo – Susan with son Tim receiving his certificate for maintaining job and independence for past 8 years.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Hope this ‘got’ you as it did me.  To read more inspirational interviews, click on Interviews in the header and you’ll see my monthly blog interviews with some amazing people.  Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story here with us .  I’m sure it will give strength and encouragement to many people.

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