My mother, my MOM.

The story I’m about to share is how my mother’s life and death lead to the formation of Mind Over Matter (lovingly referred to as MOM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention in Michigan.

My mother was no stranger to mental illness.  Her own mother was ill for most of her life.  Psychiatrists first classified my grandmother as schizophrenic, but later changed her diagnosis to “manic depression,” now referred to as bi-polar illness.  Diagnostics aside, my grandmother’s illness was a major source of stress for my mom and her six siblings.  She was hospitalized half a dozen times while they were growing up and as much as they tried to hide it, word got around.  Sadly, other neighborhood kids weren’t allowed to come over to their house to play.  My grandfather did his best to hold the family together, but he was killed when my mom was just 17-years-old.  A decade later my mom would lose her little brother to suicide.

I’m not sure if my mom ever fully dealt with her mother’s mental illness or the tragic deaths in her family.  She just sort of pressed on knowing that someday she’d have her own family and it would all be different.  She would give her children the happy childhood she never had – and she did.

My three siblings and I grew up in a house with plenty of laughter and joy – and my mom was the pulse!  She had an energy about her that was absolutely contagious and people gravitated towards her.  Friends and family were always stopping by to see what she was up to and what she had in store for us that day.  She was always coming up with new games, activities and things to teach us.  We were never bored and we always felt loved, especially on our birthdays.

In our house, a birthday started with breakfast in bed (and I don’t mean a Pop Tart) and ended with the best party you could imagine.  Even though money was tight, my mom placed no limit on the number of guests we could invite. She knew we’d only be young once.  She’d go all out: decorating the basement, making party favors, baking cakes and planning original party games.

I could go on and on, but the point is, my mom was an extraordinary woman.  There was no one else like her and no one I’d rather have as a mother.  She inspired our creativity, taught us to be lifelong learners and truly believed that we could do ANYTHING we put our minds to.  She encouraged us to stay in school and make our dreams a reality.  Unfortunately, my mom’s mental health deteriorated soon after my three siblings and I went on to college.  She had what doctors would later describe as late onset schizophrenia.

My mom believed she was fighting a religious battle between good and evil. She was convinced that Satan himself was scheming to kill her.  She saw horrific images, heard voices and began living every day in utter fear and desperation.  The hallucinations and delusions impacted her ability to sleep, which only made things worse.  She began obsessively reading the bible, went through several deliverances and even embarked on a 40-day fast trying to kill the demons she believed to be inside her.  Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work.  She bounced around from church to church changing denominations every time someone insinuated that maybe she should see a psychiatrist.

We had her hospitalized on three different occasions, but each time she would somehow manage to check herself out and stop taking her meds.  The untreated schizophrenia took over my mother’s life causing her to lose her job, her home and her place in society.  So many people opened their doors and tried to help my mom, but it’s hard to help someone who can’t accept the fact that they’re ill. It’s especially hard to help your mother when you’re the kid and she’s the parent.  Still, I held out hope…

Two years after graduating from Michigan State University, I was working as an engineer at an automotive plant in Indiana. They were getting ready to shut down and I was offered a promotion at another plant in Kentucky.  I wasn’t thrilled about moving farther away from home, but it was a good career move and I saw it as an opportunity to help my mom. No more bouncing around from apartment to apartment or sleeping on people’s couches.  I could afford to buy us a nice home where she could feel comfortable and settled. She wouldn’t have to worry about money and other daily stresses.  She could just focus on her health.

Our mom had lived in Michigan for 48 years and did not want to leave, but after much convincing, she finally agreed to come live with me.  It was a HUGE weight off my shoulders.  I was relieved and as excited as any 23-year-old girl could be about their mother moving in with them.  I knew it would be challenging, but things were falling into place.  I was going to “fix” my mom and give her a new lease on life.  Of course, I never got the chance…

On May 1, 2005, two weeks before the move, my mom overdosed on prescription-strength Benadryl that doctors had prescribed to help with sleep. I was in utter shock and disbelief.  I didn’t see this coming.  She promised us she’d never do “that.”  I was devastated, I was angry; I was every emotion under the sun.  I blamed myself, I blamed my mom, I blamed the hospitals and the doctors.  How could this happen?  How could I ever trust another human being again, let alone myself?  How could I ever be happy?  I went around in circles like this for a while until I realized that I could not live in the past. I had to find a greater purpose and move forward with my life.

In 2006, my siblings and I formed Mind Over Matter, lovingly referred to as MOM.  We put on the MOM Race for Mental Health Awareness & Suicide Prevention in our hometown of Royal Oak each May.  It’s the ultimate tribute to our mother and the ultimate therapy, as well.  We are bringing families and communities together to talk about mental illness.  We are sharing stories of loved ones lost to suicide.  We are showing the world that our loved ones are so much more than the manner in which they died.  We are providing hope that, together, we can help erase the stigma and start to save lives. 

Julie has recently become a mother and put her engineering career on hold to raise her daughter, Abigail.  Her main focus is on her non-profit organization and helping with her husband’s business.  

She lives in Royal Oak, Michigan.

To date, the MOM Race has raised $90,000 for Michigan-based suicide prevention efforts and brain research.  The 8th Annual MOM Race is scheduled for Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 10 AM in Royal Oak.  The 5K run/walk starts and ends at Starr Jaycee Park, right across the street from where the Boledovich family grew up. 

Proceeds from the upcoming MOM Race will benefit brain research at the University of Michigan Depression Center, suicide prevention programs by KnowResolve, and crisis intervention services by Common Ground.

To register or for more information on the MOM Race, please visit MOMrace.org.

 For more on the charities benefitting from the MOM Race, please visit the following websites: 

The UofM Depression Center

KnowResolve

Common Ground

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