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Archive for the tag “mother’s day”

A Mother’s Love Will Transcend Mental Illness

Mother’s Day is quickly approaching and for all of us– whether you have a great relationship with your mom, or you don’t, or she’s passed away or still with us– people take the time to reflect on the power and love of moms.

I think that’s a good thing, because none of us would be here without our mothers (we literally couldn’t live without them for 9 months), and I’m told that becoming a mother is a unique experience that infuses you with a love you’ve never experienced before, but can’t imagine living without once you’ve crossed that threshold.

Mother’s Day is emotional for a lot of people, and for very different reasons, and it should be.

It gives us time to be thankful for not only the women who brought us into the world and cared for us, but all of the women standing in the gap when maybe our own biological mothers couldn’t be mentally or physically present.

It gives us an opportunity to show love to our friends who are mothers and to let them know, “You’re doing a great job, keep it up.”

I tend to feel strange about Mother’s Day because of the situation with my mother. I’ve spoken about this before on this blog, but I want to reach out to children of mothers struggling with mental illness specifically.

Mother’s Day can be difficult, but try to be present and show your love the best way you can. Even if it’s just saying to your mom, “I love you.” Or, “Thank you.” She still needs to hear it.

When I was younger, all I wanted was for my mother to be fixed, healed and back to herself. I wondered if there were ways I could give her a push. I wanted her problems solved, her pains eased, and I wanted to go back to having a normal life. I cared about her, but I cared about me. I cared about what I felt I was lacking because my mom just couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t leave the house, she couldn’t put on her nice clothes and be her old self. She was selfish, I was the child. Why was she putting me in this awful position? I still needed her. I was robbed.

Now that I’m older, I can’t imagine how difficult that must be. For your world to change, to know you have a teenage daughter and a husband and a grown daughter far away, but you are out of gas. You can’t keep up with the life you built for yourself, and maybe that life somehow became a prison. What is it like to not feel like you have a support system to start trying to let people know something’s not right before getting swallowed whole.

I think of arguments I’ve had with my mother and they were always about me and my loss and my anger and what I needed from her. I think of moments where I didn’t try hard enough when she was trying to be present, and how much that probably hurt, because on that day, it was probably the very best she could do, but I was still mad, and that effort wasn’t good enough, because only good enough was her going back to normal. But my vision of normal may have been the hell that broke her. Keeping that up for me and for my father and for everyone else, may have just been too much.

I was very jealous of friends who had close relationships with their mothers, and knew it would be a miracle to ever get my mother out of our house to go to a tea, or spa, or fancy brunch.

I’m madly in love right now (it’s about time, right) and I think of marriage often. I think about my wedding day and I also think about feeling a sense of emptiness on one of the most happiest days of my life, because as I’m getting ready, I will have a circle of women friends and family I hold near and dear, but my mother will be missing from another major life event because of her paranoia, depression and anxiety.

I get sad thinking about my father having to support his child in this moment, but not be able to share it with his wife together as happy, proud parents.

Because it’s Mother’s Day, I don’t want to make this post about me and the loss I feel. But over time, I do feel like I’ve come to accept things for what they are. Keep in mind this has taken nearly 20 years. I accept and understand the fragility of all of our emotional and spiritual well being and there are things we may never ever know about the people we love, the past traumas hidden deep, and burdens our loved ones shoulder to protect us.

I do believe that my mother gave all she could give to me prior to her illness and what she gave me was enough. She got me to 16 and in some ways, she still has me. It’s just different now. I had so many women throughout my life step in and nurture me, guide me and cheer me on, no matter what state I lived in.

They may have been older than me, they may have been peers, they may have been mothers or aunties of my friends who I connected with or who saw something in me to give me some special love.

We are a community. So if you are a child of a mother who has a mental illness, or even dealt with issues around substance abuse, or maybe your mother is incarcerated. These circumstances will make you feel self-conscious about who you are, it will make you afraid that you will become your mother and manage to hurt the people you love the same way her circumstance hurt you, it may even make you ashamed or even over protective of your mother and you stress yourself out over what the world may perceive your mother to be or not be.

Having that struggle is okay. Don’t avoid asking yourself all of those questions, don’t ignore being angry about what’s happening to your family. All of your feelings are real and valid. But it is on you to figure out how to heal and it is on you to actually take the necessary steps to heal.

Now as an adult woman and being a friend to other women and hearing the stories of their lives, there’s absolutely no shame in our moms who struggle. Yes, their struggle is more visible, but they still struggle. Part of my mom’s illness is probably directly connected to her wanting to appear strong and in control and I see that in her when I visit.

I know so many women who have dealt with great losses, who have endured mental and physical abuse (almost always by people who should be protecting and loving them– never creepy strangers as we are led to believe), and have suffered in silence for years and years. Then the expectation is that they forget and carry on as if nothing happened.

They carry this pain while fighting off their own insecurities and the ones tossed at them by society. All of this secret pain happening is happening in far too many women. So it makes me think of our mothers and our mothers’ mothers who lived in very different times. They didn’t go to or couldn’t afford therapy or even luxurious vacations or spa trips. They had to really live with their pain. Swallow it, and be expected to smile, take care of children, grown men and not nurture their own spirits.

The neglect of a woman’s spirit has serious consequences to families and to society.

Our mothers paid in pain so maybe we’d at least have a little less. In their deepest hopes lies our happiness and success, even if they never come close to having it themselves. The generational emotional sacrifices mother’s make can’t even be quantified. Mothers can look down the road and see what’s ahead and they sacrifice themselves to make our journey a bit easier. They know what it is to be a woman, they know the burden.

I know my mother loves me. I know she worries about me and I know she wants me to be happy. She always asks about my health, if I have enough money and if my love life is good. No matter her condition, she’s always asked about what I NEEDED.

Gaining this deeper understanding makes me realize that a mother’s love can transcend mental illness just as it can physical illnesses or distance. We may never know the toughest decisions our mothers had to make to save us, to keep us alive and to keep our spirits alive so we could thrive and know something better, even if their lives are a reminder of the importance of our self care and our mental health.

Mom’s Lessons

“Maybe I’m just like my mother, she’s never satisfied…” -Prince

As Mother’s Day is approaching, I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot.

For the last several years, Mother’s Day has been difficult for me, and no. My mother isn’t dead, she’s very much alive.

Mother’s Day is tough because, my mother had a nervous breakdown from which she has never recovered when I was just 16 years old.

Since then, I’ve had aunties and career mentor moms, an older cousin and older sister who picked up the slack and carried me through when my mom just could not.

I appreciate those women and their impact on my life, and while I still struggle with my feelings and insecurities involving my mother’s mental illness, I know for a fact it made me the person I am today.

It taught me compassion. It taught me that life was unpredictable, unfair and cruel. It taught me not to take my mental health for granted. It made me painfully aware whenever I felt really overwhelmed, that I needed to pull myself from the brink and do whatever it took to get back to center.

Prior to her illness, my mother was just absolutely fabulous, vibrant, gorgeous. In my mind, she was Claire Huxtable in real life.

She grew up in the South, and was determined to get the hell out. She knew she was different. She never had a southern accent, my aunt and grandfather attest to this oddity. My mother’s dreams were always bigger than her coastal town and newly integrated high school. She graduated a year early.  She met my father, “an airman” serving at a near by Air Force base. They fell in love, and when he decided not to re-up, he took his bride away to New York.

My mother always had a deep respect for teachers and any job that required a woman to wear pantyhose and high heels. She worked for sometime as a teacher’s assistant in a special education class and even years after she left to work for and rise through the ranks of a large insurance company, former students would happily flag her down in the grocery store or even stop by our home to say hello.

My mom had an amazing effect on people. A huge laugh, big reddish hair poofed to perfection thanks to that massive aerosol can of hair spray and a strict regimen of sponge curlers every night complimenting her soft, brown skin.

My mother taught me how to sit properly. She made me hold my ears, so she wouldn’t burn me while straightening my hair for special occasions. I watched how she walked in those heels, her quick cadance when she talked. She walked so fast. She’d go to work, shuttle her children around, serve on countless boards at church.

I was fascinated with this woman who would cook dinner still with her heels, pantyhose and office clothing on. She was so strong an opinionated, always had a joke and held you captive when she’d tell a story or gossip about someone at her job or at church.

My mother had no college education, but she was clearly intelligent and driven. The young girl from Mississippi had it all. A handsome, devoted husband, pretty and intelligent daughters, and finally the office job she held in high esteem.

My mother adores my father. Even after her long days of work, and his long day of work, after his shower, he’d sit on the floor, between her legs, shirtless and still damp. She would take a comb and dip her fingers into a red can of Royal Crown hair grease, and slowly part his hair, and massage the oil into his scalp. Sometimes they’d chat, sometimes they’d both just watch the t.v. together. It seemed the stresses of his day melted away with her touch, she seemed to get pleasure from seeing him become more and more relaxed because of her touch.

It was a tender moment, and humble lesson for me in this age of women not wanting to appear weak or subservient. She was a strong woman finding joy in taking a moment to take care of her man. She wasn’t lowering herself to do it, she did it because she wanted to, and she knew how it made him feel.

This ritual, was hardly sensual, but the image has been seared in my brain as one of love, respect and a strong, strong woman simply taking care of her weary, hard-working man. Working the oils through his hair, saying, “I love you,” and “Thank you” without saying a word.

When you see someone you love go through a terrible thing such as suffer from mental illness, memories of who they were can be the only thing you have left to hold on to, because the person they are can scare you. Can frustrate you. Can make you feel like you’ve been robbed, that you’re whole family has been robbed of a most spectacular member.

There are two moments that I look back on, and it makes me think how similar I am to my mother, in terms of our spirits and our love for fashion and for things creative.

My mother had gone shopping for a cousin’s wedding. And she saw the most glorious bone colored strappy heels. The store was an expensive boutique, and my mother prided herself on having a well-dressed family. This one particular day, she really wanted those shoes, but there wasn’t a price tag on it. She looked at me and said, “That usually means it’s too much.”

She looked at the shoes and then paused for a moment. I was about 13. My mother said “Size 9 please.” She tried them on.

She took a moment again, and said, “I’ll take them.”

We got to the register and we both held our breath. The shoes were about $200, but she finally treated herself. She walked out with her head held high. I walked out with my chest out too, holding our bags. Yep, I knew it. Mom was Claire Huxtable!

Flashback a few years.

My mother was working very hard, juggling it all.

Then all of a sudden, she purchased a casio keyboard and set it up in the living room. She declared that once a week she was going to take piano lessons.

And so, for several months she did. Scales, and little ditties filled our home as she prepared for her weekly class.

I wondered why my Mom did this religiously and was not to be disturbed.

Then I got grown. I started working a crazy job with crazy hours and when I decided I wanted to take guitar lessons and have a standing appointment– job be dammned– it clicked.

I understood why my mom was so intent on those weekly piano lessons.

My mother needed something for HER. She needed an outlet where she could be herself, and learn something completely new, and do something that had nothing whatsoever to do with her husband, her kids, her job or other civic duties.

When my mother splurged for $200 shoes, she decided to do something for her. I now totally recognize that look in her eyes while deciding to do it, because I do the same thing. You rationalize, and then you say, wait, I deserve this! I’m doing it and I don’t care!

Who knew me watching her do those things for herself was going to have such an impact on me in terms of realizing, no matter what, you have to take care of you.

But the lesson of the piano lessons didn’t end there.

She’d be mortified if I told this story, but she had prepared a piece to play for our church’s annual Christmas program.

She’d been practicing and practicing at home.

She had it down.

They called her name. She sat down to the piano, and nothing.

She froze completely.

She went to her seat completely embarassed. Until someone, probably my dad, encouraged her to try again.

She went back and she played her song.

Afterwards, in her amazing way of telling stories, she said, “I saw nothing on the page. Literally, all of the notes, just jumped right off. I couldn’t play a thing!”

And she laughed. She was horribly embarrassed and admitted it, but she still could laugh at herself in the end.

My mother has always been brutally honest, sometimes silly and sometimes even crass. I see flashes of that even now in the thick of her illness.

I love my mother. There have been times I have been angry, and even ashamed, then angry and ashamed at myself. My mother is a recluse and is scared to leave our house. She hasn’t gone further than our front yard in over a decade for sure. She hears things and sees things and believes the government is watching our every move. It’s difficult for her to sleep for very long.

I don’t know why these things happened to her and happened to my family, but that woman who raised me and taught me how to be a vibrant woman, who speaks her mind and always has a fresh pair of pantyhose on standby, is my mother, for better or for worse.

She is the only one I’ve got. She had to be one hell of a woman, to influence me so much and make me so strong, even though it seemed like I had her at full capacity for a very short period of time.

She got me to 16, and she is still teaching me, she’s still making me stronger and better and compassionate and a fighter. Sometimes she has these moments of clarity, where her mind is still and she’s speaking to me so clearly. I want to cry because I know it won’t last, but even for a few moments, I am like my friends, who can go to brunch with their moms or have a spa day. I listen to her words, I sip tea and I cherish it.

The moment slips instantly and she’s back to patrolling the house for signs of government infiltration. My heart sinks. I had her. I saw her again, I heard her voice.

For a long time I didn’t realize she still has been giving to me, even when I couldn’t or wouldn’t see it.

Her illness did not steal my mother from me. It made me see her even more clearly and see the complexities of womanhood and whatever secrets she held from her past held on her.  It made me further appreciate what hard work it is to be a excellent and real woman, wife and mother who is strong, but can be very fragile.

She’s not Claire Huxtable, and she doesn’t have to be. My mother as she is, now and forever will always be good enough for me. I love you, Mom.

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