Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Those dirty words.. Mental illness



Originally written October 27, 2007 updated February 3, 2009

My mom is 63. She has spent the last 30+ years in and out of mental hospitals and I really feel for her.

Once...... she was a promising child, beautiful and talented, a ballet student, graceful and elegant. At 18 she was a model for a local department store. In High School she was popular and pretty, naturally blond, and thin and beautiful.

And then somewhere along the line she became depressed and then manic. Everyone who could have told me exactly what started it all has passed away, so I will never know exactly what it was.

And now she is alone in a State Hospital. I fear that what is actually wrong with her, at this point, is years of experimental treatments and not fully tested anti-psychotic medications.

I've struggled with those dirty words my entire life. And now thanks to my husband they don't scare me anymore.

Mental Illness.

I'm not Mentally Ill. But as her daughter I do have a story. My story started when I was 4 years old.

When I originally wrote this my daughter was 4 years old, and I was glad that her biggest challenge in life was immersion in Kinder.

Because when I was 4 years old I remember being with my mother driving around the dark, in a 1960 Chrysler with read interior, in a foreign city, only 15 miles or so from my home. “The Gambler” was playing on the radio. I remember my mother saying she was lost and I felt her anxiety and upset.

I remember a blur of lights and within hours, ending up in a place that was beautiful and rich. I spent one week as a foster child when I was four years old... because my Mom got lost in Vancouver, Washington and had a nervous breakdown. The police wouldn’t let my Father, who was divorced from my Mother, come pick me up because of something to do with custody issues and state-lines.

In the foster home I remember white frilly dresses, going bowling, a cushy bunk-bed and a game room.

The next thing I remember about my Mom’s mental illness was years later when my Father explained to me what had happened. He said he was desperately trying to get me back, but because of red tape, it took an entire week and hundreds of dollars to get me back.

Later on he ended up spending thousands of dollars to get custody... and still in the end, they gave custody to my mother. Which is how things went in the 70’s.

At around age 5 my parents got back together for “the purpose of the children” I remember several years of my mom sleeping constantly and then one day when I was 10 or 11 I came home from school, to find my mother crouched down in the dining room area.

She had taken out all of my childhood pictures from each year of school, and lined them up in a row, when I came into the room I asked her, "Mom, what are you doing?"

She didn't say a word.... she was just focusing on the pictures. Finally she pointed to my Kindergarten picture and said accusingly “This is where my Heather was... and then this is where you came in, WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY DAUGHTER, WHO ARE YOU?"

I said to her, very upset, "What are you talking about Mom, I love you..."

She said, "I don't love you! I don't even know who you are!"

And then with a struggle my father and I took her to the Portland Adventist Hospital. And shortly later we moved, and then we moved again, and then we moved again.

I think we tried to move away from it, and the humility and embarrassment of it all...

My poor Mom was institutionalized for a very long time and I remember some verty scary visits to see her at the State Hospital.

And then years later.... she was better and my Mom and Dad somehow got back together again.

Enrique has taught me to deal with my Mothers mental illness straight-on. And I love him for that. He is not embarrassed, he is loving and sweet. She has been very ill the entire time since Enrique and I have been together. And while I was in Portland I did my best to always be there for her.

But no matter what we do, she always ends up in the same place. A terrifying place inside her own mind. She lives in a land where everyone is trying to get her. In a nightmare where she can't wake up and no one can save her.

After 30 years of being on probably hundreds of different medications she just can't get better anymore.

I love her and even though I pray for her to get better, I have had to accept that there is nothing I can do to save her.

God love her. The sweet, gentle, beautiful person she is. I hope to go back to Portland soon and be able to take her to do the things she loves once again. Going out to eat, and shopping, and buying her presents. Having her come over for birthday parties and school concerts. I love you Mom, and thank you Enrique for teaching me how to accept those dirty words Mental Illness.