There is a hurricane brewing in Ohio.
At least that is what my mom is paranoid, restless and consumed with fear about tonight. My mom suffers from several kinds of mental illness. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia right around her 20’s. Now at 72 she has also been told she has dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Any one of those are pretty terrible. Pile all three – and you have a shit storm of confusion at any given moment.
Looking back, my childhood was very different from most. I just didn’t know it at the time.
But now – as an adult, and the fact that she lives 4 states away – it gives me some space and ability to see things for what they are.
I have had time to heal and forgive from the seemingly personal attacks. The souless look in her eyes as she would hurl insults and physical objects my way. The delusions, the voices, the paranoia, the anger.
So now when I hear she is suffering from another episode, it just saddens me. She is in a rehabilitation center worrying…in great concern that I am about to be wiped off the face of the earth from a hurricane. A hurricane in Ohio.
Her mind is taking her down a senseless track of anxiety and fear and there is no talking her out of it.
I remember sitting in the complete dark and silence – no electronic device allowed of any kind – because in her mind aliens were coming and they would enter through the electrical wires.
I remember trying to see the spiders – the hundreds of spiders that she was screaming about – begging me to get them off of her and her anger at me because I didn’t save her from them.
Pretty scary stuff. Especially as a kid. I remember thinking…she IS wrong…right?! right??
There is a natural tendency as a child to want to believe your parent – but in these cases there was a lot of confusion and internal struggles.
The brain is a mysterious place. It happens so fast – She was just fine, laughing and sounding great last week. But this week there is a hurricane in Ohio.
Living with a person with a serious mental illness is a challenge. It takes an extraordinary person to be able to handle it and understand it with compassion, love, forgiveness – especially in the midst of an episode that could involve personal attacking. I wasn’t always that person and am not always that person even now.
The distance has helped. It has given me the opportunity to focus on my own little family. To be a little selfish. I had not realized just how much of my life, my energy, my thoughts had been focused on caring for mom, worrying about her, or living in a constant underlying state of dread when the phone rings and it is her…needing rescued again from something or someone – which usually involved lots of time and possibly lots of money.
But I will always remember a conversation we had a few years ago that completely broke my heart and changed the way I deal with her and look at her.
She said in a moment of realization, “No one likes me Lee Ann. No one likes the REAL me. The unmedicated me. The raw me. People only like me when I am on drugs that make me something, or someone else”.
That is a sad and truthful statement.
She is locked inside a body and brain that has been failing her for years and is only increasingly fading out. The real, unmedicated her is an unpredictable, paranoid, delusional, angry, unstable person.
And the worst part of it all is that she is aware of it. She knows this truth.
So when I step back, and think about it in terms of pure physical illness…I am able to have compassion, patience. Just the same as if she had a failing kidney or heart. It just happens to be her brain in this case.
It is still exhausting, frustrating. The whole thing is unfair. But life is not fair.
We all have challenges to face. How you face them – THAT is what determines who you are.
I lived the earlier years of my life angry and blaming her for a terrible, scary, unstable childhood. A childhood that left scars, and some really awful exposure to some really bad experiences.
So I became that. An angry person. A victim. Resentful. Naive. Restless. Blind. Making unwise decisions and choices.
But it wasn’t because of her. All that was because I made that choice to become those things. In many ways it was coping mechanisms and I did have a right to be angry to some degree. But when it starts tearing you apart from the inside out…that is a problem.
It took me years and a few hundred miles to finally make peace out of all that chaos.
So. Here I sit in Ohio. No real threat of a hurricane. Just a heart that is sad for a very confused loved one that is fighting a huge storm of her own. And having no way to rescue her from this one.