When Your Mother Has Mental Illness
When I was growing up, I wasn't really aware that my mother had a mental illness.
She did seem to cry a lot. I'd have friends sleep over and she would be sobbing on the phone and they would ask, "Why is your mother crying?" But I didn't really know. With my dad out of the picture and a younger sister, I wasn't sure who to ask. I tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
I also remember there was often an emptiness behind my mom's eyes that seemed to contradict the smile on her face.
As I grew older, I came to understand that she suffered from depression.
Sometimes, with the right medication, she was good. But other times, the medication stopped working and she suffered. At one point, in desperation, she tried Electroshock Therapy (ECT). It left her confused, with her short term memory destroyed. She said it helped. I wasn't so sure. Why couldn't she just be happy like other moms, I wondered. Why couldn't she just take care of me? I was the daughter. Yet, I would become the caretaker.
Over the years, her mental health has been up and down. Then about five years ago, things seemed to get worse. She was wracked by depression and anxiety. She could no longer drive because she couldn't focus on anything. She thought things would be easier if she was dead. And at 93 pounds, her anorexia was destroying her too.
I felt helpless. I wanted to save her but I didn't know how.
My sister and I finally convinced her to voluntarily admit herself to a mental hospital. Dropping my mother at a mental hospital was one of the most horrible things I've ever had to do. She begged me not to leave her there. But we were out of options. I knew I couldn't help her anymore.
She was hospitalized for many months. Since my sister lived a plane ride away, I took on a lot of the responsibilities. I paid my mother's bills. I took care of her home. I visited her frequently. I met with her treatment team. I spent hours on the phone with her, trying to have rational conversations with someone who wasn't rational at all. With a husband and young children of my own, I felt exhausted and stretched. But what else could I do? This was my mother.
After several months, she was released and moved back home. She began out patient care and started to make small improvements. I knew there was hope when she described a night out with friends as "fun." I hadn't heard that word from her in a very long time.
My mother has slowly made her way back to the light. As a life long lover of education, she even recently got her master's degree in social work. She once again sees a future. Her mental health will always be a balancing act. There will be good days and not so good ones. But she is now living a full life with the disease. And for that I'm grateful.
Call Me Crazy: A Five Film World Premiere Event Saturday, April 20 at 8.7c