Coronavirus Has Become The Great Equalizer For The Mentally Ill

For years now, I have attempted to combat the stigma associated with mental illness.  Again and again, I have given real world examples, approached the subject from differing angles, even used charts and graphs, hoping to help those who have never experienced it themselves better understand.  Yet, sadly I still often feel like I fall short.  While those who are living with mental illness have contacted me numerous times to thank me for putting their experiences into words, there are still those who could not wrap their minds around what it was like to live with our diagnosis.

That is, they couldn’t fully understand until this pandemic hit.

Day after day, for months now, I continue to see postings, comments and tweets that could have been written by any one of the millions of people who struggle every day with various mental illnesses.

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People talk about being worried all the time, sometimes not even knowing what it is that they are worried about, only that the ever-present feeling of dread is looming there, hanging over them.

People talk about being afraid of their world falling apart, the economy crumbling, their job not being there after all of this is over.  They worry about not being smart enough to home school their kids, and of the dangers of sending them back to school in the height of the pandemic. They worry about the house not being clean enough if they have to do a video conference with their co-workers or whether they are even capable to adequately work from home for any length of time. They worry about bills accumulating faster than money comes in and the continuous threat of losing their homes due to evictions and foreclosures.

Even seemingly little things like running to the store for food or toilet paper feel huge.  The world outside doesn’t feel safe.  What if the store is out of whatever we need when they get there?  What if they bump into someone sick? What if they bring the virus home?  The sound of someone nearby coughing makes them jump and want to run back home to safety.  Many even put off going out for days until they absolutely have to, the dreaded eventual trip weighing on them.

People talk about being worried incessantly and excessively about their loved ones and friends, of imagining worst case scenarios of their illnesses and deaths, even though they know they are currently safe and healthy.

Though the common sense part of their brain keeps firing off, trying to remind them that everything is currently okay, and that things will likely eventually be okay again, they cannot help but feel like everything they are worried about is not only possible but probable.  Everything seems to be hanging heavily and even little things feel too big to handle some days.

They feel restless. Their mind runs nonstop.  Even reading the news feels overwhelming, yet they struggle to look away because they feel an urgency to stay informed.  They feel like they have no control over their lives, as if everything is spiraling down into chaos, getting crazier by the day, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do to stop it.

They talk about the confusion of differing information out there, of never knowing what to believe, who to trust, and being fearful of choosing incorrectly and it leading to disaster.

People talk about being continuously exhausted as the pandemic drags on and on, about wishing things would just be over but fearing there is no end in sight. They’re tired of thinking about the coronavirus, tired of worrying about it, want it to just go away. Yet it continues to loom, to linger, to threaten their peace of mind and their very sanity.

All of that is anxiety.

THAT is what people who live with an anxiety disorder go through every single day over a multitude of things in our lives.

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People talk about that feeling of hopelessness.

They feel trapped at home without any real purpose. They are constantly dragging throughout the day.  They can’t stay focused. They are eating and sleeping all the time or not at all.  Some complain about not even enjoying their favorite foods anymore or their favorite shows no longer bringing them any joy.

Some feel all alone.  Many of those feel isolated even with others around, afraid to talk about what they are feeling and going through because they don’t want to seem crazy.  They pull inwards, trying to cope and to put on a brave face, even though they feel like they are falling to pieces inside.

Homeschooling has become overwhelming – they don’t remember school being that hard and feel inadequate because they are struggling to help their kids with basic subjects.  They feel they are letting everyone down by not being enough. Yet the thought of sending kids back to school feels equally as disastrous. It is as if no matter what choice they make, it’ll be wrong, that every option is equally bad and hopeless.

Life itself feels exhausting to them.  There’s times they just feel numb to it all.  Other times, they just want to cry.  Often, they just resort to sleeping, or mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching random shows, though they can barely recall afterwards what it was that they saw.  They feel they are just going through the motions and desperately wish life would just get back to normal – though they know there is nothing they could do to change anything.

Some people are attempting to regain control of their lives, to go out and do something, anything, to reclaim the life they once knew. Yet, while out and about, they are distracted by all that could go wrong, by wanting to return to the safety of their homes. Though part of them desperately wants to enjoy their time out, their thoughts and feelings hang heavy on them, throwing a dark cloud over it all. They feel guilty for everything – for even trying to go out, for trying to have fun, for being too lax or not taking enough precautions. They apologize to others for sucking all the fun out of what could have potentially been a nice day, feeling they somehow seem to be ruining everything they touch.

They see other people being productive, using their downtime wisely to accomplish so many things. They wish they could get things done, as well, but seem to have no desire, no drive to do anything. They find themselves procrastinating and then beating themselves up for their inactivity, which in turn makes themselves procrastinate more, caught in an endless loop where nothing gets done and then they beat themselves up for that lack of productivity.

All of that is depression.

That is what people struggling with a depression diagnosis go through on a regular basis.

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I have seen people talk about wanting to be productive during this downtime, taking on a multitude of projects, more than any one person could legitimately handle, convinced they have the time and energy to do it all, only to crash into an overwhelmed, discouraged heap days later with everything half completed.  They go through cycles of manic, larger than life aspirations and heavy, depressing reality.

People talk about feeling irrationally angry, of feeling fed up about everything and nothing in particular at the same time. They find themselves continuously annoyed with everyone in their life and even the pandemic as a whole.

They describe many of the feelings common with depression, but with an entirely different mess added to the mix. They talk about having feelings that boomerang and yo-yo from one end to another, or sometimes both extremes at once. They talk about feeling so much, in so many directions, that they cannot even put it all into words.

Those highs, lows and extremes are all aspects of bipolar disorder.

People struggling with bipolar disorder often find themselves experiencing a wide variety of emotions and extremes with no rhyme, reason, pattern or predictable duration.

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The list goes on and on of ways this pandemic has helped mirror mental illness in the everyday lives of people who have never experienced it before and struggled to understand it. In the last few months, I have seen these sentiments appear and reappear throughout the country as pockets of positive cases sprung up and the epicenters continued to shift. No matter where the worst of the pandemic currently resides in the country, though, the narrative has remained largely the same.

Whenever I see people talking about their struggles during this pandemic, I want to call out “YES! Yes to this tenfold! That is exactly what it is like!” in hopes of turning it into a teachable moment.

At the same time, I find myself saddened, because I wouldn’t wish any of these experiences on anyone else, even if they are temporary and likely to end when this crisis is over.  I know what it is like to live with anxiety and depression every single day for years on end. I grew up seeing my mother struggle with bipolar disorder and now watch my fiance battle it on a daily basis. I am intimately familiar with many of the struggles of living with a mental illness. It breaks my heart to see so many others going through these struggles because I know firsthand how hard it can be.

As strange as it sounds, though, beneath it all, this pandemic has given me a strange sense of unnerving calm. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel entirely odd, different, unbalanced or crazy.  For the first time, I don’t feel singled out, the odd woman out in a world where everyone else seems to be breezing through life, coping much better than I could ever dream. For the first time, everyone else can finally understand all the feelings I go through every single day.  At least in that one aspect, the pandemic has become the great equalizer for those of us with mental illness.

I can only hope that their memories do not fade, though, once all of this is over.  Perhaps now that more people understand and have experienced many of the feelings commonly associated with mental illness even on a temporary basis, they will be more empathetic to the struggles many of us face every single day. Though even if those memories do eventually fade away, I hope everyone currently struggling to cope with the weight of the pandemic knows, as those of us in the mental health community often reassure each other, that none of you are alone. Though there are no easy answers or solutions to much of what you are feeling, we understand and we are all here, even if physically apart, to offer our support. Please never be afraid to seek help if you find you cannot cope on your own. Stay strong.

Love.. When You Both Have A Mental Illness

Everywhere you look nowadays, you see stories about Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson.  And almost everyone seems to want to put in their two cents on the matter, claiming everything from the fact that they’re too young to they’re moving too fast.  So many opinions abound.

More than anything, though, I keep seeing people chiming in about the fact that they both have mental illnesses that they have spoken publicly about, as if their illnesses play a large part in their relationship in some negative way.  Ariana Grande has spoken out about her struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Pete Davidson has shared his experiences with borderline personality disorder.  Yes, they both have mental illnesses but they also have found love.  And two people loving each other is not a bad thing.

There are many people that buy into the stigma surrounding mental illness, assuming that everyone struggling with one is crazy, unbalanced or even dangerous.  Some assume that nobody can have a healthy relationship while they have an unhealthy mind and that two mentally ill people coming together is a recipe for disaster.

I once even had a friend tell me specifically that “two unhealthy people cannot have a healthy relationship”.  Based on their premise, because I have a lifelong mental illness diagnosis that has its roots in my genetics, I have no hope of having a healthy relationship, especially if I fall in love with someone else who is struggling with an illness, as well.  If he were to be believed, I was destined to be alone.

As someone who struggles with mental illness who is in a relationship with someone else who is mentally ill, as well, I can tell you from my own personal experience that is not the case.

I have depression, anxiety and PTSD.  He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD.  We have both struggled with our illnesses for years, even being hospitalized for breakdowns at different points in our lives.  Yet, in each other we have found a love unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.

We knew each other years ago as children.  He was my older brother’s best friend for a time and my first crush.  In our teens, life sent us in different directions and we lost touch for many years.  We found each other again a year and a half ago, after twenty five years apart, and sparks flew.

Like Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, we’ve had people look at our relationship with judgment because we moved so fast.  He found me online again, listed as a friend of a friend he might know and we reconnected.  For two days, we talked non-stop whenever we had a moment to spare.  On the third day, we arranged to get together in person.  We’ve been together ever since.  As they often say “the rest is history”.

A month and a half later, we found ourselves living together.  We hadn’t planned it that way honestly.  His father had inoperable end-stage cancer and was placed in hospice.  There was no way I was going to leave his side for even a moment and make him endure that alone.  I had lost my own father to cancer a few years earlier, following his own brief stay in hospice.  Going through that together brought us even closer.

All the people from the outside looking in saw were two people who jumped ridiculously fast into a relationship.  They don’t realize that we knew each other as children and had a pre-existing familiarity and closeness that was brought back to the surface again.  The don’t accept that facing hardships together as we had done brings people closer.  They don’t consider that we have physically spent more time together in the last year and a half together than some couples have after dating for years.  They don’t see how we are with each other behind closed doors and how close we’ve continued to grow with each passing day.  Some people come directly from a place of judgment and automatically think it’s irrational to be so serious after such a short time.  Or worse, they label our choices as “crazy”, as if our love was just another way our mental illnesses have presented themselves.

Because of our mental illnesses, we’ve both always felt different, broken, damaged.  We both never felt we quite fit in or that anyone else could truly understand what we’re going through.  We’ve both felt so lost and that life should not be this hard.  We both have struggled for years to stay positive when it felt like our world was spiraling down into a dark abyss.  We both had numerous people in our lives who just couldn’t understand, who told us it was all in our heads, that we just needed to get over it and suck it up.

The difference now is that we both have someone we can talk to about everything we’ve been through.  Someone who truly gets it because they have been there themselves.  Someone who listens without judgment because they understand all too well how much that judgment hurts.  Someone who sees us not as damaged and broken, but for the big hearts and beautiful souls we have inside.

With that level of love and acceptance comes an incredibly strong bond.

We’re able to open up to one another and talk on a level that we never had before, to share experiences and traumas we’ve kept to ourselves for years.  In each other, we’ve found the one person we can completely be ourselves with, say anything to, without fear of rejection.

We both have a portion of our mental illness that is unique to us.  I have a generalized anxiety disorder and he has bipolar disorder.  Though I have not struggled with his disorder myself, my mother had bipolar disorder so I had some experience with his illness, at least from the outside looking in.  We have patiently explained to one another everything the other didn’t understand and offered tips to one another for how to support us when we are struggling.  We listen intently to each other and are supportive to each other because we both know very well how it feels to have nobody there who understands.

The depression side of his disorder I understand all too well.  The manic side not so much, though I had learned early on in life to spot the shifts in my mother because she shared his diagnosis.  When he has a manic episode, I am always there to offer support and encouragement.  He often becomes hyper-focused on one task or another and I intervene to make sure he does not lose himself, putting off self-care and disregarding his basic needs like eating.  On the rare occasion that his mania presents itself as rage, I do my best to deescalate the situation in a non-confrontational way.  No matter how his mania presents itself, I offer a calming presence to soothe him and bring him back down again, often rubbing his back, head and shoulders to help him relax.

When my anxiety makes me think irrationally, he is there to talk me down, to help me see reason.  Following anxiety attacks, when I desperately just need the quiet presence of someone else, he holds me closely without judgment and reassures me everything is okay.

Depression hits us both pretty hard.  In the past, we’ve both dealt with people who never understood and who insisted it was all in our heads.  But we both know the signs.  We can see in each other when our depression is raging strong.  And we are both there for each other how we always wished someone would have been there for us for all those years.  We are gentle, kind and compassionate with each other because we’ve been there ourselves and we understand how hard it can be.

We both are plagued by PTSD, as well.  Nightmares of past trauma are especially hard for us both.  When either of us is battling the demons of our past, the other can see the signs, intervene and offer comfort and support.  When our pasts are haunting us, we can talk openly about it on a level that we never were able to with anyone else.

On days either or both of us are struggling particularly hard, we have learned to lean on each other without judgment.  We each pick up where the other leaves off.  We have developed an ever-shifting balance in our relationship.  On days we both are struggling, we curl up together and lean on each other for comfort.

We cheer each other on for our successes and support each other in our struggles.  We encourage each other to stay strong, to keep fighting and to get the treatment we each need.  Neither one of us judges the other for the ways our illnesses present themselves because we understand all too well and empathize with each other on every level.  We not only offer each other support but we’ve become proactive in each other’s treatment, as well.  We’ve attended doctors appointments with each other and helped bring up concerns the other may not have noticed or may have been too uncomfortable to discuss.  We love and support each other in every way.

Yes, we jumped into a relationship that became serious relatively quickly.  But it was not because our mental illnesses had us thinking irrationally.  In each other, we saw someone who finally understood everything we had been battling our entire lives.  In each other, we found that one person who could accept us completely for who we were, loving us not despite our mental illnesses but because of every single thing, mental illnesses included, that made us who we were.  In each other, we discovered what we had been needing, what we had been missing, our entire lives.  Pure unconditional love.

When you find something like that you don’t question it.  You don’t hold back, think on it or weigh options.  You thank the heavens for placing someone in your life and in your path that makes you finally feel not just that it’s okay to be you but that there’s not a single other person in this world you’d rather be.  You run with it and you love them back completely because life is short.  We have to make the most of it.  And a love like this is too good to pass up.

Yes, we may lean on each other more than others do because of our conditions, but that doesn’t make our relationship unhealthy.  We give each other exactly what we each need.  We might both have mental illnesses, but we both are so much more than our diagnosis.  And now we are both blessed to have found someone who can truly see that.

After all, mental illness is just another medical diagnosis and one that is largely treatable.  The only thing that makes mental illness different from other illnesses is that it presents itself in the brain instead of the body so it’s not as easily visible.  People with different medical conditions live their lives and find love every single day.  Those with a mental illness are no different.  People who have a mental illness are just as worthy and deserving of love as anyone else.

So please don’t judge others, or their relationships, based on the fact that one or both of them have a mental illness.  Don’t let the overwhelming stigma surrounding mental illness turn you into a naysayer that pronounces doom and gloom on two people in love just because they both happen to share a similar medical condition.  Instead, celebrate that, despite the fact that there are millions of people walking this earth, they were able to find that one person who loves them completely for who they are.

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To the Mother I Never Knew..

As Mother’s Day came and went this past year, I once again found myself with conflicting feelings.  Part of me wanted desperately to join in with friends who were fondly honoring their moms or mourning the mothers they had lost over the years.  Another part of me, however, felt numb and empty, because I never had that type of cherished bond with my mother.  I honestly never knew her.

No, my mother didn’t die when I was born.  She passed away 8 years ago this Thanksgiving Day.  No, she didn’t give me up for adoption nor did she abandon me.  The truth is that my mother was there throughout the majority of my childhood and sporadically at best throughout my adult years.  I just never really knew her because the woman she truly was was buried deep beneath often untreated, always undertreated, mental illness.

Growing up, my mother was one of my biggest abusers, both mentally and physically.  She was prone to severe mood swings that would shift into bouts of rage at the drop of a dime.  She had bipolar disorder.

We were estranged for the last few years of her life.  I could no longer handle the abuse nor did I want my children subjected to it.  It seemed that her medication was never quite balanced nor were her moods.  It always felt like what little treatment she did receive was not helping, was not working, and she was doing very little to proactively work towards correcting anything.  She felt to me like a ticking time bomb, one I was afraid would go off at any moment and I did not want my children caught in the crossfire.

Over the years as I have struggled with my own mental illnesses, I have come to deeply regret those feelings.  I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, labelled treatment resistant for years.  No medication ever seemed to work.  It wasn’t until the last year or two that I discovered via genetic testing that my resistance was caused in great part to a genetic mutation.  I’ve often wondered since then if my mother suffered from the same mutation.

The truth is that mental illness changes a person, or perhaps more appropriately it snuffs that person out, dimming their light and dulling their soul.  The person that you are is trapped underneath, desperately needing to come out, wanting to shine.  But there is this dark hopelessness that oozes over everything, making it impossible to fully be the person you truly are.

I think about my own children and how my diagnosis has affected them.  They have only seen glimpses of the real me over the years.  The creative me who would spend half the day drawing huge murals with sidewalk chalk on the tennis courts at the park with them on summer days.  The silly me who would make paper pirate hats and eye patches, transforming our dining room chairs into a pirate ship to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day with them.  The nurturing and educational me who would catch tadpoles in buckets with them to show them how they turned into frogs.

More than anything, though, they saw my mental illness.  They saw the mom who was too exhausted just from going through the daily motions of life to do anything fun.  They saw the mom who opted for quiet family days indoors watching movies or playing board games because I was physically and mentally unable to do anything more.  They saw the mom who often emerged from the bathroom drying my eyes as I attempted to hide the tears I could never seem to stop from flowing.

They were vaguely aware of the person I truly was but they knew my mental illness well.

I remember when I first started taking the medication I needed for my genetic mutation and I had my first truly happy moment.  It was the first time in my life I ever felt that sludge of mental illness be lifted off of me, albeit for a short period of time.  The medication is not a panacea.  It in no way cures or stops my mental illness.  However, it does give my mind the ability to fight back in a way that it never could before.

That moment of happiness was beyond blissful.  I laughed, cried and hugged my boys, asking them again and again if that was truly what happiness felt like.  I had never experienced anything else like it.  That sludge continues to lift here and there sporadically and I have a genuine hope for the future now, that there might be a day when there’s more periods of happiness than illness.  But for now, more days than not, I still struggle.

I have heard from people that knew my mother at the end of her life, in those last couple years, that she had finally gotten the treatment she needed.  Her medication was finally balanced.  She was happy and more herself than she had ever been before.  She was doing crafts with the neighborhood children and even developed a fondness for Harry Potter.

Part of me envies them because I never knew that woman.  I never had the pleasure of meeting her.  All I ever knew was the sludge and taint of her illness.  On Mother’s Day, I mourned the ghost of a woman I never even met, a woman I would have loved more than anything to know.

Please keep in mind that when you’re dealing with people who are struggling with mental illness that they are not completely themselves.  The person they truly are is in there somewhere, beneath their diagnosis, fighting to get out.  Please don’t ever assume that we’re just not trying hard enough, that we’ve already given up or that we’ve lost who we are along the way.  It is a daily battle, a constant fight, against your own mind.  It is a never-ending struggle to push your way through a thick layer of darkness just to come up for air.

Looking back, I truly regret becoming estranged with my mother.  I had done what I thought was best at the time, trying to shield my children and myself from an illness that was not her fault.  She had no more control over her bipolar disorder than I do over my own mental illness.  I am sure she was trying harder, fighting more, than I ever realized.

To the mother I never knew – I’m sorry I was not there when you needed me.  I’m sorry that I allowed my fear to dictate my actions and choices and that I abandoned you when you needed me most.  I’m sorry I was not more compassionate and understanding of all that you were going through.  Most importantly, I am sorry I never had the pleasure to truly meet you.  Happy belated Mother’s Day.

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Mother Dearest

Trying to Look at My Mother through Adult Eyes

 Growing up, my mother was larger than life and seemed forever intent to make me suffer.  Her words were harsh and unloving, her approval unattainable.  I’ve spent much of my life struggling to come to terms with what I, as a child, must have done wrong, to incur so much wrath.

What I didn’t know then was that my mother suffered from bipolar disorder and struggled with abuse and trauma of her own.  While that does not excuse her treatment of me, it shines a light on why it happened.  Mental illness had such a stigma back then.  At most, people would talk in the shadows about someone who was unbalanced or crazy.  Families hid such problems and pretended the world was just as it should be.  And things festered and grew.

I’ve begun looking at my past through different eyes, trying to take into account her disorder.  Again, I am not looking to rationalize or excuse her actions.  For too long, I’ve looked back at my past through the eyes of the young girl, battered and broken, who lived through it.  In her eyes, everything was plain and simple, good and bad, black and white.  There were no shades of gray and no compassion.  Today, I aim to fairly take into account her mental illness and understand that, while she is responsible for her actions, her life was so tainted by her own mental illness and trauma that she was not fully herself.  Very few things in this world are plain and simple, good and bad, black and white.  My relationship with my mother was painted in a multitude of grays.

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My mother was often unreasonably critical of my achievements.  An A grade was acceptable; an A minus was not.  Anything less than first place in any aspect of my life was tantamount to failure.  If a test or paper came home with less than a hundred, she would pour through it with me until I understood how glaringly wrong my mistakes were.  I was once beaten because a semester grade dropped from a 94 to a 92.

As a child, I internalized her criticism.  No matter how hard I strived, I always felt I would never measure up to her standards.  Despite high grades and participation in sports and academic groups, I felt like a failure.  Teachers and coaches showered me with praise but it felt hollow and empty.  I wanted more than anything to please her, to finally win her approval.  I never did.

As an adult, I try to weigh her actions from differing viewpoints.  She saw potential in me and never wanted me to settle for less than the best I could do.  She had gotten married young and began having children early.  She wanted me to build a better future for myself.  Perhaps, within a life she had very little control over, I was one thing she could control, one person she could mold and sculpt to ascend higher than she had landed in life.

None of this erases the harshness of her criticism, nor does it ease the inadequacy I carry with me to this day.  While her intentions may have been good, her approach made me feel like a failure.  Each time I fell short of a goal, I would attack myself with worse criticism than she would dole out.  Where her voice ended, my own began.

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My brother was four and a half years my senior.  Often growing up, we were both held accountable for transgressions until the guilty party confessed.  Many times, punishments were harsh and lasted whole days.  More than once, I confessed to wrongdoings I had not done in hopes of ending the torture.  On many of these occasions, she would refuse to accept my confessions, declaring that she knew I hadn’t committed the offense and the punishment would not cease until the guilty party confessed.

As a child, I could not fathom how a parent could repeatedly punish a child for transgressions they knew their sibling had done.  As an adult, I wonder if she had hoped to teach my brother empathy and compassion.  Once again, it doesn’t excuse her actions, but it helps to see the situations in a different light.

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I was seven the first time I remember my mother telling me she hated me and wished I was never born.  Over the course of my childhood, she told me many times that I had ruined her life, that I was inherently unlovable and that I should never let anyone in because, once they got to know me, they would leave.  Words like these have haunted me since childhood.  Each time I was rejected or abandoned, I took it as a prophecy fulfilled.

Considering those words now, I am faced with the ugly truth of mental illness.  Mental illness can not only cause those suffering to internalize the actions of others, but it can also cause people to project their own illness onto those around them.  I was, in many ways, an extension of her.  If she saw herself as unlovable, it makes sense that she saw those who came from her as unlovable, as well.

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Perhaps the hardest for me to overcome were her responses to the two times I turned to her for support after being raped.  The first time, I was eleven years old.  The second time, I was thirteen and one of my brother’s friends had not only taken advantage, but had gotten me pregnant.  She had told me not to talk about it and made me feel like I was at fault both times.  She had secretly arranged for an abortion and told me to never tell my father.

I’ve tried to rationalize her behavior over the years, taking into consideration that rape cases were treated differently back then.  Often, the victim was put on trial in the court of public opinion.  Her history, behavior and clothes were strewn about as possible causes for the rape.

I also know now that she suffered through sexual abuse and rape herself as a child and young adult.  I know, as a victim myself, that the events play over and over in your head, a spinning wheel of torture, as you search for what you did wrong and what you should have done differently.

Of all I’ve endured from my mother, these two instances have been the hardest to understand and move past.  As a mother myself, I cannot imagine being so callous.  I can try to reason that it was a different time or that it was her mental illness oozing out, but I can find no words of solace to ease that pain.  Some things, I just have to accept as a horrible piece of my past that there’s no justification for and do my best to move past them.

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My relationship with my mother has always been dysfunctional.  When speaking of her, I often feel like that little girl again, walking that thin line between trying so desperately to please and being terrified of failure.  I feel more vulnerable when discussing her than any other aspect of my life because that little girl inside me will never understand why she didn’t love me.  Why she couldn’t love me.

So many choices in my life have been made for no other reason than I did not want to become her.  Where she was critical and unyielding, I made every effort to be flexible and praise those around me; While she was closed-minded and bigoted, I prided myself in being unbiased and accepting.  She had many health issues and was a hypochondriac; It takes severe pain or illness for me to see a doctor.  There were no rational thoughts beyond my life choices.  I simply was terrified of becoming her.  I’ve slowly started to question the motives behind my various choices.  In retrospect, I’ve made far too many poor choices in life based solely on that one irrational fear.

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My adult relationship with my mother had been sporadic and strained at best.  When she was in my life, I always kept a watchful eye for bouts of anger or tears or other signs that her treatment was not working.  I was terrified that she would hurt my children in some way.   Many people scoffed at me for those fears because they could not understand.  When I was around her, I was instantly that little girl again, backed into a corner as a windmill of blows hit me on all sides.  I was that little girl who was told she was horrible and unloved so often that she eventually believed it.  I was that little girl who was made to feel like I deserved to be raped.  This was also the woman that shot my father.  I had many reasons to be scared.

Regardless of everything I had been through, I longed in so many ways to have family in my life.  Over the years, I tried many times to repair fences and rebuild bridges.  Every time, however, my fear ate at me.  I would see her moods shift and panic that her medication was no longer working.  Once fear set in, it wasn’t long until I’d run.  I’d flee for my own safety and the safety of my children.  We would go blocks of time with no contact, months, sometimes years.  I had been estranged from her for over two years when I got the call she had died.

I’ve since talked to the people she had stayed with in her last year, months, days.  They shared stories about how she had finally received the help she needed and was in a better place mentally and emotionally.  I learned she had developed a fondness for Harry Potter, something my children and I all share.  She had become, in many ways, quirky, silly and sweet;  She was kind and generous almost to a fault, always reaching out trying to help others.  As I heard one candid story after another, I realized  I never knew my mother, though I knew her mental illness well.  It was a dark sludge that oozed over her, blotting out her true self behind a darkness and cruelty.  The knowledge that she found herself at the very end is honestly very bittersweet.  I wish I could have met that woman.  For years, I longed for a mother to be there, MY mother to be there.  Instead, I am left clinging to the memories of others and running from the monsters that oozed from her own mental illness into my depression.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/16/16.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 10/20/16.