Woman tells story of mother’s mental illness in upcoming book

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER — Diana Ketterman of Winchester can spend several minutes detailing her many life accomplishments, explaining how, through hard work, she was able to lift herself out of poverty in Moorefield, W.Va.

Her experience growing up with a mother with schizophrenia, though, has taken nearly 50 years to relate.

“I started noticing a change when I was 6,” Ketterman said. “But it took me 14 years to get her help, and then 10 more years to get her the right kind of help.”

Ketterman has written a book called “A Child of Royalty.” Autobiographical in nature, the work describes what it was like growing up with a mother with a mental illness from the perspective of a child.

Ketterman said her editor is currently working on it, and hopes to publish it by next year.

Her father also developed a brain tumor when she was 12. Four years later, he passed away.

“When I tell people my father died of a brain tumor, they react with sympathy,” she said. “When I tell them my mother had schizophrenia, I feel shame and judgment.”

As a way of coping with the stigma, Ketterman started pushing herself. She said she gathered her self-worth through overachieving — she only viewed herself positively when others told her she had done well.

“You have no validation as a child,” she said. “You become a perfectionist because you’re constantly striving for someone to say you’re a good girl.”

After her father passed away and her mother’s condition deteriorated, Ketterman largely became the sole caregiver to her younger sister and brother.

She said she tried going to school counselors to explain what was going on at home, but no action was taken because Ketterman’s mother was not technically doing anything to harm her children at the time.

“She would mix fruits and vegetables up together and call it soup, then complain that we weren’t eating the soup,” Ketterman said. “She did start to have hallucinations. She’d hear voices and think it was the absolute truth. I was embarrassed to talk about it.”

The issues she had in bringing her mother’s condition to light and finding her the proper treatment, Ketterman said, inspired her to start doing her current work.

Ketterman is working with the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley to help increase the dialogue surrounding mental health issues. She co-wrote their latest mental health community report.

She is also offering seminars to schools and businesses in the community in which she details her experience and explains the immense harm mental health stigmas can cause.

“I want people to know that even if this is in their family — even if they have been diagnosed themselves — they can be productive citizens. They do not have to be ashamed,” Ketterman said.

Abuse also comes into play in Ketterman’s book. She said when some mental illnesses such as schizophrenia reach maturity, the individuals can become violent. After her mother became violent, Ketterman had to go through several years of therapy to recover.

Ketterman said she sees many cases of childhood abuse stem from the mental health of the parent. If the proper help were readily available, maybe those cases would not be as frequent, she said.

Currently working for the federal government, Ketterman has been a teacher for 23 years, teaching at Sherando High School in Stephens City as well as Shenandoah University and Lord Fairfax Community College.

Now she said she is also actively working within the community to spread awareness about mental illnesses and help those she can.

“I want them to know there is hope,” she said.

Those interested in hearing Ketterman’s presentation, called “Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness,” can contact her at diana@achildofroyalty.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com