Poet equates mother’s struggle with mental illness to the changing of the seasons

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Maria del Carmen Rodriguez placed third in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI NJ) poetry contest.
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Maria del Carmen Rodriguez placed third in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI NJ) poetry contest.

NORTH BRUNSWICK – It took many years for Maria del Carmen Rodriguez to realize what her mother was facing throughout her life.

“When I noticed that my mother was struggling with mental illness, I did not know what to do with her and the whole situation. There was a point that I considered her wea’ and not having enough will to live. It took many years of my own ups and downs through life to realize that my mother was one of the strongest persons I have ever met,” she said.

Rodriguez wrote the poem “Symphony” inspired by her mother, and placed third in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI NJ) Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts Mental Health Poetry Contest.

Winter, majestic power of naked trees and silent nature, Spring, air crisp as an arrow, lifting me as a sparrow, Summer, disguised as gentle sweetness of ever shining sunny days,
Fall, many dancing, vibrant colors, leaving me breathless, Life is a mysterious hoop, always flowing, never still.

The North Brunswick resident said her mother suffered with mental illness since she herself was a young girl, and in her later days faced her last battle with cancer.

“This poem is a tribute to her and the many ‘weathers and seasons’ she had to cope with,” Rodriguez said. “I want those who read this poem to see my mother as a beautiful and wise spirit. When I learned about the NAMI-NJ contest, I found this as the perfect opportunity to let others know about her and possibly contribute to lessen the stigma around mental illness. This is a problem faced my many communities but especially in the Latino community.”

Rodriguez said when she came to the United States for the first time as a doctoral student, she “felt totally disjointed.”

“I decided to get counseling to deal with the powerful cultural shock that I experienced at the time and also the grief of having left all that I loved behind to pursue my Ph.D. education. Investing in counseling at that time has been one of the wisest decisions I have ever made,” she said.

She said she has written poetry for quite some time and “find it to be one of my best coping mechanisms when I have faced the greatest challenges in my life.”

She advised others to “not discard a person because they look barren or down and out – as we may consider any tree during winter time.”

“Inspired by my poem, they would try to find out how was this person during their spring or harvest days of fall. In other words, not because a person may look totally disheveled, confused and/or lost, we should always keep our eyes and hearts open to explore the many seasons this person may have experienced. By doing so, we may still give these individuals a chance to overcome their difficulties and share their hidden gifts with the world.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.