Sometimes when we are caring for someone with a mental illness it feels like nothing ever changes.  We do all we can and we don’t get the response we are looking for.  That is when I usually say, “That isn’t working so I will change myself."

My daughter’s self esteem had reached a low point.  Her illness, medications and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) had all taken a toll on her memory. She remembered the bad times but memories of all her happy times and accomplishments seemed to be completely gone. I felt stuck. Someone suggested that I sign her up for a portfolio development workshop at Healthy Minds Co-operative. This would be a fun project for us to do together. I would help her remember things and she would be the artistic one putting it all together. Then she would have a beautiful record of her life.

"Today my daughter is entertaining her occupational therapist in her new apartment and she is showing her the portfolio over tea and cookies."

She was unable to focus in the class. Her energy was low and she was uncomfortable in a group setting. I felt stuck again. I asked the leader if I could do it for her. No, she said, you must do your own. So I decided to do both.

At home I showed my daughter her souvenirs and pictures and I interviewed her. Taking her words, I wrote the assignments in her voice. We were both astounded at the volume of material that emerged. Report cards, little notes she had saved, certificates, photographs, posters from her art shows - dozens of little things emerged from cupboards and drawers. I took it to her hospital room and, through the portfolio, she showed the staff the kind of community person she was.  

While in hospital she published a book of poetry and sketches and we had a book launch at the hospital. Sitting there on the table with her books was her portfolio and so many of her guests enjoyed looking through it and chatting to her about her accomplishments.

Many things emerged from this experience.

I learned that my expectation of my daughter’s readiness for a group was too high.

I learned how to make beautiful portfolios for both of us.  

I had not planned on doing one for myself and I discovered things about myself that delighted me. We had so much fun looking at her accomplishments together and she regained pride. My closet full of childhood souvenirs got cleaned out. She had a new tool she could use for connecting with people and discovered that others were very impressed with all she has done. My son asked me to do one for him. I am writing this article. I have encouraged others to try the portfolio course. Our experience is discussed in other portfolio workshops. I watched other people make their own portfolios and learned how different they all are. Such a simple idea and it led to so much pleasure.

Today, my daughter is entertaining her occupational therapist in her new apartment and she is showing her the portfolio over tea and cookies.

 About Sheila Morrison

Sheila is an accomplished freelance/creative writer, community volunteer, and public speaker. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The mother of an adult daughter who lives with mental illness, Sheila is a passionate advocate for mental health initiatives which respect and support individuals and families. Sheila calls her daughter her hero.