MESQUITE, Texas — Amorelle is a singer, she's an artist, she's a 16-year-old, she's a big sister, she's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and she has schizophrenia.
"She's the bravest person I know," Rochelle Perales, Amorelle's mother said. "She suffers from schizophrenia, but that’s not who she is."
Three years ago, Amorelle Perales hit a breaking point and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She had experienced depression since the sixth grade, extreme bullying and an eating disorder throughout seventh grade, and during her eighth-grade year, Amorelle was hospitalized three times after having hallucinations and experiencing psychosis.
If a house burns down, neighbors might provide a place to stay, food to eat or clothes to wear. If a bone is broken, friends and family might visit, sign the cast and bring flowers. However, there is no common response to the diagnosis of schizophrenia, and Amorelle found herself feeling alone and frightened.
It was during one of these hospital stays that Amorelle turned to her faith.
"I was like, ‘I really need to pray, I need to mend my relationship with Heavenly Father,’" Amorelle said. "So I got down and prayed in the middle of the bathroom. I had to rely on my faith to get through all of this and the terrible time in the hospital. A couple hours after I had finally sat down to pray, I got out of the hospital. They discharged me. My faith is what helped me get through everything that’s going on in my life."
For months, Amorelle's family tried to keep the diagnosis to themselves. Afraid of what others might think, Rochelle Perales only confided in her bishop's wife who was also her visiting teacher.
"There would be days that I would just be constantly on my knees praying," Rochelle Perales said. "The bishop’s wife at that time was pretty much the only person who knew what was going on. I would text her during the day, ‘I miss my daughter,’ 'I don’t know what I’m going to do’ and she would text me back, and that’s pretty much how I got through it."
After returning to school, Amorelle decided to open up to others about her diagnosis. While some friends accepted the news, others did not.
"I’ve heard so many comments about people who think I’m a monster or that I’m going to hurt them or something," Amorelle said. "I wouldn’t hurt a fly. All the stigmas that schizophrenics go through, it’s just terrible and I want people to know that we’re just like them, we’re human too. And the comments they make are hurtful."
Amorelle and Rochelle chose to stand in front of their ward's Relief Society to explain Amorelle's diagnosis. The bishop of their ward also met with all of the young women and young men to discuss mental illness.
After much trial and error, Amorelle was able to find a medication that worked well. Although she still has hallucinations, they are not to the extent that she previously experienced.
"When we think about how she was three years ago when she was hospitalized the first time, it’s night and day," Rochelle Perales said. "I think a lot of prayer and a lot of fasting, and a lot of our ward coming together and praying for us — all of that just kind of led to this point in her life."
Recently, Amorelle joined a wraparound program that creates a safe team using adults in the community, such as teachers and church leaders. Amorelle visits with a counselor and is striving to develop skills to be able to be independent. During one such meeting, the counselor suggested that Amorelle could benefit from a psychiatric service dog. The dog could provide stability and comfort, as well as a way to help her determine what is real.
Rochelle Perales knew this would not be possible as she had already quit her job in order to be at home with Amorelle on the days she needed it, and her husband had recently been given a pay cut. The family's finances were tight, and they were forced to move in with Rochelle's parents.
Amorelle created a video and a GoFundMe page to try and raise money for the service dog, but didn't believe anyone would help her raise money. Shortly after she posted it, however, friends, ward members and strangers began to donate money.
Madeline Hansen, a young woman in Amorelle's ward, was aware of the GoFundMe and decided to do her own fundraiser to help raise money for Amorelle.
"She’s such a sweet girl, and for someone to have to deal with (it) is just terrible, so I’ve always kind of felt like I wanted to do something," Hansen said. "So then when I heard that she was trying to raise money for a service dog I really wanted to help her find a way to get her goal."
Hansen, along with her family, made stained glass ornaments, candy stocking stuffers and necklaces that they posted for sale on their social media accounts. Hansen also contacted others in her ward and encouraged them to do the same.
"I feel like if I was going through what she was going through, I’d just be a grumpy person all the time, but even with all that’s going on, she’s still happy and kind and she doesn’t take her situation out on anyone else," Hansen said. "I’m kind of shy, I’m not super outgoing, so normally I just keep to myself. But definitely looking at the Savior’s example and how he befriended everyone, and loved everyone no matter who they were — he went out of his way to show that love — has helped me to feel more comfortable going out of my way to show love for others and just befriend people."
Hansen's efforts raised nearly $1,000, bringing Amorelle's GoFundMe total to $4,400. They have a goal of $6,000.
"I was really shocked everyone was pitching in and helping," Amorelle said. "I kind of didn’t think that anybody really understood or really cared, but this really opened my eyes and now I can see that people do really care. I’m just really, really happy. I didn’t know that this was possible."
Although Rochelle Perales never thought she would have a daughter with a mental illness and has had to learn and grow herself because of this trial, she expressed her love and admiration for Amorelle's ability to handle hard things.
"I’m proud of her for hanging on, for never losing that faith," Perales said. "When things were the darkest for her, and they still are sometimes, she just keeps praying and holds onto the faith that eventually it’s not going to be so bad."
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