Dowd3 44M
45 posts
5/14/2006 9:06 am

Last Read:
7/15/2006 5:00 am


My mother is manic. Today we call it bi-polar, but so many people have been diagnosed with this since the term arose that I'm of the opinion that it's a convenient catch-all diagnosis psychiatrists use when they lack any real notion of what's wrong.

To give you an idea of what it was like to grow up with a mentally ill mother, let me first say that she wasn't always ill. She suffered from episodes that tended to be set off by stress in her life. Upsetting her sleep schedule could also set her off, but that was a more clear-cut cause. What she does during an episode is stop sleeping. The record so far for consecutive days and nights without sleep for her is eleven days. She becomes confused when this happens, and I for one can understand why. She may quit sleeping, but the fatigue from a sleepless night is still there. After two days she tends to get a "save the world" complex and sees those around her in a gradually intensifying paranoia. By the end of four days she is damn near convinced that the end of the world is near at hand and begins a fire-sale mentality of racking up debts. By the end of six or eight days she's so run down that anger sets in interspersed with intense grief. She usually checks herself into a hospital near this time (she's quite understandably in agony,) and after a week to two months of the Thorazine shuffle, she's near her usual self again.

What is she like the rest of the time? In a word: wonderful. While I did not appreciate it growing up, I look at how well my sister and I turned out and I have to marvel. She always made the time for us, she always put us first, and she suffered much of the burden of raising us alone and without the support my father promised. I'll admit much of what we managed financially was not due to her efforts (she could never hold a job for more than a few months before an episode came on,) and we were constantly subsidized by my grandparents. So we were not secure when money came into question, but she knew how to build a safe environment for us to live in. I never appreciated just how well she did until I went off to college and saw the veritable freak show of infirmities others were raised to be.

She raised us to be objective, caring, level-headed adults with an eye for seeing things as they are, not as they appear. From an early age she taught us to love conversation, music, and reading. Human interaction was her one, visionary gift, and she taught a master's course during our upbringing. Her illness made us use these skills often.

Mom shaped us carefully, methodically, and patiently over the years to be near what she had in mind for us, but also allowed us room to explore the boundaries. She was frustrated when we faltered, but was always there to help us find a way through our problems with sound advice and a stern warning that we, not her, would bear the burden for our mistakes. It is an education many of my generation never received until after they left home, and have suffered greatly for it. The fact of the matter is that aside from moral support she had nothing else she could give when we were in a fix. She was broke, but she never rubbed our face in it. She was ill, but she allowed us to forget it. She felt lonely I'm sure, but we might never have guessed it. She was frustrated from time to time with us, but she allowed us to understand why and was always eager to clear up a misunderstanding. She was everything she could put into us, and we are better off for it.

Over the years though, her illness has taken a toll. She's been on lithium, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers out of necessity since she was in her teens. She has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals on an average of once every other year. In recent years arthritis has all but crippled her and the active Mom of my youth was replaced (literally overnight) by an old, frail woman barely able to rise from her chair. Every time she went into the hospital she lost eighteen months or so of her memory, so now her past is in patchy, disconnected moments in her mind. How she remains to be herself is a mystery to me.

But now there is a new set of lives for her. My nieces and my daughter adore her. Going from Mom to Grandma was an effortless and delightful transition to her. I can't imagine raising my girl without her. As with many things about her I find she always has more to give to those she cares for. There is a sense of near awe when I think of the daily struggle she must endure to do what she does for her family and how little appreciation she received for it.

I'm grateful she considers me a worthy and loving son.

Do any of you have a mom like mine? Surely she's not so rare a breed.

rm_corezon 54F
3376 posts
7/14/2006 8:05 am

I think you have a one in a million mom. Seriously.

Dowd3 44M

7/15/2006 5:00 am

Thank you. My sister doesn't think so, but she lives about a mile down the road from her so she sees more of her than I do. She tends to roll her eyes and let out great regretful sighs when we speak of Mom together. She always tells me I'm Mom's favorite, but I have to point out she's Dad's favorite so we're even.

On the other hand, Dad raised such a bunch of lazy, whining step children, I know she feels fortunate to have grown up under Mom's roof. The good news is he turned into a first rate Grandfather too.

Take care

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