When Michelle Wu was a student at Harvard University, she spoke to her mother, back home in Chicago, nearly every day. But one day, Wu says her mother stopped picking up the phone.
Wu had become concerned about her mother’s increasingly strange behavior, and how it could be affecting her two younger sisters, just 10 and 15 years old. And then one day, Wu says she received what felt like a goodbye email.
“It read something like, 'I love you very much, a storm is coming over our family. And one day you’ll understand. But I just want you to know that I love you,'” Wu recalled.
Wu’s parents emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the early 80s, before she was born. It was at college, as her parents were separating, that Wu noticed her mother showing signs of mental illness. Then, shortly after graduation, just months into Wu's new job, “My sister called and said you need to come home now."
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"My mom was in a full-blown mental health crisis," Wu added. "And was starting hearing things that no one else was hearing."
Back home in Chicago, the challenge was overwhelming. Wu says her mother would often run out in the middle of the night, knocking on neighbors doors because she had heard something.
“The police were called," Wu said, "Not infrequently.”
As scary and sad as that period was for her, for Wu it was all about surviving.
“Honestly, it was just pure survival. Of how hour by hour we could go on," she said. "And I cried every day, for probably a good year.”
Wu tried to start a small business, but between the city bureaucracy, navigating her sisters' schooling and juggling the mental healthcare system, it was too much.
"I got fed up with government. A big part of why it was so hard and why we struggled so much was because there was stigma and shame,” Wu said.
After stabilizing the home life, Wu moved the entire family back to Boston where she began to attend Harvard Law school. It proved a godsend for her mother.
“Bringing her to Boston I believe saved her life. She was diagnosed with late onset schizophrenia, she was inpatient at MGH,” she said.
Wu and her family now share a two family house with her mother.
She brings all of these past struggles and triumphs to her job as City Councilor and now as candidate for mayor.
And how Wu's mother these days?
“She’s great," Wu said. "She asks me every few weeks or so, are you still doing the politics thing?"