Local mother of four details struggles with mental health issues
Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Melanie Samora, a 37-year-old mother of four, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in April, began a video diary on YouTube about two years ago that shows her experiences leading up to the diagnosis and beyond.
“The content is a raw, honest firsthand account in real time of a struggle upward from the brink of suicide. I hope to raise awareness by sharing my experience of living in Santa Barbara with mental illness,” she wrote in an email to the News-Press.
During a follow-up phone interview, Miss Samora explained that she calls herself Dark Winterfire in the videos because “I adopted it during the Thomas Fire as my alter ego to cope with my tragedies.”
Now homeless and with no car, she spends her days at the home of her ex-husband, Joey Samora, on Santa Barbara’s Westside.
“I’ve had no income for a year. I don’t know how I’ve survived. I’m completely alienated from my friends, but I do have a wonderful relationship with my children, and Joey has been a saint,” said Miss Samora, a third-generation Santa Barbaran, who grew up in the foothills of Montecito near the Vedanta Temple.
After graduating from the eighth grade at Crane Country Day School in Montecito, she attended Laguna Blanca School in Hope Ranch, Bishop Garcia Diego High School and Santa Barbara High School and earned her diploma by taking the GED test.
“I traveled for awhile and then went to the New Orleans Culinary Institute and earned my associate of arts degree in 2002,” said Miss Samora.
The next year she moved back to Santa Barbara, married Mr. Samora in 2003 and became the mother of her first two children, Guinevere and Atticus.
“That was the best time of my life. Everything was perfect. I believed in attachment parenting. We lived in a house on the Mesa that was owned by my grandparents,” said Miss Samora.
When Atticus was 6 he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It’s a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.
“He needed injections. It was really scary. I was super vigilant about his health,” said Miss Samora.
When she was eight months pregnant with their third child, Holden, her husband was severely burned over 35 percent of his body in a kitchen accident.
“He needed multiple skin grafts. We were in the hospital at the same time. There was a lot of pain and stress. It was a very dark time,” she said.
A year later, Miss Samora became pregnant again at the age of 27. She said she always wanted to have four children — “two of each” — before the age of 30. Petra is now 8.
Despite succeeding in her goal, Miss Samora said she was under so much stress she became suicidal and called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which she confided to a fellow parent at the preschool her children attended.
“We bonded, and his texts helped me survive,” she said.
But her marriage didn’t, and after several years, the couple divorced.
By the time Miss Samora was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was being treated for four other mental health issues — depression, ADHD, panic disorder and anxiety disorder.
“I had a psychotic break the summer of 2017 when I lost my home and became homeless. I stayed in the psychiatric unit at Cottage Hospital, the PATH shelter, WillBridge of Santa Barbara and for a while slept in my car near the beach in Summerland,” she said.
In January 2018, Miss Samora lost her car.
“It was towed away because it was parked on the street too long. The battery was dead. I pawned my grandmother’s jewelry to buy a new battery, but it still wouldn’t start. When it was towed, I didn’t have enough money to get it out,” she said. “That’s when I lost it. I completely broke down. I went to the emergency room at Cottage Hospital, and they sent me to the Crisis Stabilization Unit, a sort of urgent care for people in mental-health crisis.”
Life has improved since she began taking medication for the schizophrenia and continues working with a therapist.
“The drugs help tremendously, along with my art and creative projects. I’ve done hundreds of oil paintings inspired by Tarot cards. I’m writing a book, and I’ve drawn about 300 comics about my experiences,” said Miss Samora. “My YouTube videos are stream of consciousness ramblings that are all over the place about poetry, mental health issues, and things that are important to me. I want to send messages of hope and offer creative solutions on how to cope with mental health problems. I want to use my voice to communicate to others that art can save your life.”