I spewed this shizz....guess I needed to.
My Mother suffered from mental illness. Back then, they called it 'Manic Depression-. Now it's referred to as 'Bi-Polar-. No matter how it's labeled, it was horrible. She was first diagnosed when I was about 10, after a suicide attempt. Four years earlier, my Dad had been killed in an Air Force plane crash - he was a pilot and decorated military hero, an amazing man, and we both loved him to pieces. She never recovered the loss of her soul mate. She may have had this disease all along...we'll never know. But it certainly manifested after my Dad died. I'm an only child, and my Mom was falling apart before my eyes. She spent a year in a mental institution when I was in 5th grade, and I lived with my Grandparents during this time. I loved them dearly and was very close to them. They were wonderful people and loved me well. So, the doctors put Mom on meds and released her. Life was a struggle for her every day, and even when she was on her medication, I had the feeling that she just wanted to be with Dad, and the only reason she was hanging around was because of her obligation to care for me. I remember one time she woke me up at 3:30 in the morning to tell me that she was going to write an opera. She was on such a high it made me dizzy. She never wrote the opera. My childhood was kind of a roller coaster ride....I never knew what to expect. My Mother loved me dearly, but she didn't quite know what to do with me. I was adopted as a baby, when she was 40, so the maternal hormones weren't really present. She did everything she could to make me happy, though, and I had a very decent childhood. She bought me a pony, and when I outgrew him, she bought me a horse. I got to ski every Saturday during the winter, going up to Yosemite on the ski bus from a local sporting goods store. Summers were spent in Jerseydale, high in the Sierras near Yosemite, with a pond to swim in, a creek to picnic by, and several hundred acres to ride on horseback, fishing with Grandpa and listening to Vin Scully reporting on the Dodgers games on the AM radio, on the front porch of the cabin. But still, I always had a simmering fear about when Mom might break. You just couldn't anticipate it, because sometimes she'd forget to take her meds. She was on Lithium, and saw a psychiatrist at least once a week. I don't think she liked him much, though; she never said anything, but I got that impression because of her demeanor after sessions. Life was always unpredictable around Mom. A couple of times I woke up in the middle of the night with her holding the gnarliest kitchen knife in the house against her own throat (I threw that knife away, and she repeatedly asked me about it, although I never told her the truth, that the knife scared the meep out of me). This was long before we had the 911 system, so I had to call the operator and ask for help. I remember sitting in the Emergency Room at the Air Force base hospital while I waited for news in the wee hours, when a child my age shouldn't have even been awake. That was really traumatic, but what choice did I have but to love and support her the best way I knew how? The worst part was that she wasn't really present. Ever. She tried to be, but life just kind of passed her by while she attempted to engage in it and battled her own silent demons. She took courses in art and photography at the community college, she played bridge and was involved in the women's church group, she took me to the symphony and gave me money for the movies, she took me on trips to museums and Disneyland, but she could not figure out how to interact with me as a person. I think a lot of that was due to her medication. She did not notice the changes in my behavior when an older cousin began to meepually molest me at family functions when I was 8 years old. She did not notice until I was 17 and came home drunk one night and told her what had been occurring for the past 9 or so years. When she learned of this, her pain was palpable, and she held me and let me cry for as long as she could. The next day, it was like it had never happened. We did not discuss it again, as badly as I needed to talk to someone, and she didn't recommend I get therapy or anything. It felt like the whole thing was my fault, and I never should have spoken up. No wonder I drank. On occasion, she would wake me up at 2 or 3 am, and ask me to help her move furniture around. That would completely screw up my sleep schedule and my concentration in school, but I had to help her. We had some pretty heavy stuff. Mom and I managed to make it through somehow, and we shared a lot of laughs, but it broke my heart to be with her, and I couldn't move out of the house fast enough after I turned 18. I still feel guilty about that....I was the only person she had left in the world, and I couldn't wait to abandon her. After moving out, I kept a wary distance, needing and loving her but frightened of being too close. She remained a strong presence in my life, which I am thankful for every day, but I shunned her far more than I should have. I wish I had spent more time appreciating her, the gifts she had, and the love she shared. I was pretty much exhausted by the time I was married and had my own children, and although she was a huge help to us in many ways, I resented her illness and how it had impacted my life. Many years later, she became unable to care for herself and we moved her in with us, far from the hometown she had known and loved. It was incredibly difficult for her, and incredibly difficult for my family, which consisted of my husband, myself, and our teenage kids. We had to build a room in the garage for our son, so that Mom could have his room. It felt like I was kicking my own child out of the house, and he probably still resents us for that. Another guilt trip for me. She needed help bathing and dressing, and was pretty much incontinent despite medications and adult diapers. I was doing laundry every day, mostly Mom's bedding and clothing. I tried to take her places, out to lunch, on outings to the beach to watch the otters and seagulls, on drives to see the wildflowers. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Even trips to her doctor got to be an ordeal, as she became combative and did not want to go. And she LIKED her doctor, so there was no logical reason she wouldn't want to see him. I just got so tired. My poor husband and kids were troopers and helped out all they could, but we were all wiped out. Mom tried really hard, I know she did, but between her bi-polarism and the impending dementia, nobody could win this. She started hitting us, just out of the blue, when we'd be helping her on the toilet or bathing her. One Thanksgiving, she picked up the pitcher of gravy off of the table and just drank it. None of us could believe our eyes, and when we recovered from the shock and horror, we laughed long and hard about it. Another holiday, we had two spiral cut hams ready to serve and we were finishing up with preparation of the side dishes, while Mom sat at the kitchen table with the hams. Halfway through dishing up the potatoes, I glanced over at Mom just in time to see that she was digging right into one of the hams with her fingers, shoving it into her mouth as fast as she could. Needless to say, we let her have the entire ham. It is episodes such as this that help me to remember her fondly, and with frustration, and with pity, because I know that most of the time she couldn't help herself. She was just broken, and tried her best to remain glued together for me. Sometimes I wonder if the drugs made it worse....but again, this is something I will never know. I just wish I had been more strong, more educated about mental illness, and better equipped to deal with her condition. She passed away in 2003, and each day I regret that I didn't get to know her better because she scared me. Because I was terrified that I would end up like her. Because her sorrow through her smile was so visible. I miss my Mom so much, and I kick myself because I wasn't able to fix her. Sometimes I think that if I had loved her better, been a better daughter, she might have been okay. Everything I have read and heard about mental illness tells me differently, but I still keep thinking 'what if?-. My Mother was a phenomenal woman. She was accomplished in so many things; she played piano like a virtuoso, she skied like Jean-Claude Killy, completely fearless, she was a gifted artist and a brilliant conversationalist. She met heads of state, diplomats, and VIPs during her years in Washington, DC, and bowled everyone over with her disarming charm. I admire her more than words can say, I wish I had told her more often how much she was valued, and I regret every single day that I did not fully understand her disease. I love you, Mommy. Thank you for everything you did for me, thank you for loving me, and thank you for being my Mother.