After already having another post written for this week (and with many other topics to choose from), I’ve decided to change directions and flag this as what I’m stealing this week. It is a wonderful article from a mother with a son dealing with mental illness.
In the wake of the shooting in Newtown this week, this mother responds with her own harrowing tale of what it is like to be a parent of a potentially violent child and the lack of support available:
This shooting and the response from the world about raising awareness of mental illness comes at a particularly poignant time for me, as I am currently working on a play about a family living with a person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This play is inspired from my own experience growing up in home with a mother suffering from BPD.
Mental illness is very hard to diagnose, let alone treat but it does not only affect the person suffering from the disease; it touches everyone around that person as well. With a lot of types of mental illness, a person can appear just as normal as can be most of the time; they are usually quite likable and easy to be around. Depending on the illness, you can know a person for years and never have the slightest inkling that something is wrong. This is the most alarming part of it. It is not easy to detect, so it is not easy to explain or talk about. Often when you try; you hear the response: everyone gets upset once in awhile. It is hard for the majority of people to imagine the reality of what you are talking about.
I feel great empathy for Liza’s situation. It is soul-wrenching to be afraid of your child and have to lock him away for fear of the safety of you other children. Often, you can’t explain to the person that you are truly looking out for their own good. They simply don’t believe you and as much as you tell yourself that they don’t mean the things they say while having an episode; it still cuts like a knife and is no more pleasant to listen to. In their moments of lucidity, they may say they understand, but when the next episode occurs, you can’t know what to expect or if they will seek revenge.
As a child growing up with a mother with mental illness, it was a much different struggle. She was a single parent and after sending my older sisters to live elsewhere, we were alone in the house for most of my life. The best I could do was lay low and weather the storm whenever she was in one of her “moods”. But, it was a life of walking on eggshells. You never know what would set her off and the affects of growing up in this environment are clearly evident in my personality today.
I suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder); which is relatively under control (and serves me surprisingly well in my day job as a stage manager), but it does manifest itself distinctly at home. I was away for a bit this year and on multiple occasions had friends staying in my apartment and every time I came home, within seconds I was putting everything back where “it belongs”, because I couldn’t function with things out of place. Eek! I know, try dating me! I know that this comes from living in fear of doing something simple that would set my mother off. I remember once I didn’t wipe the crumbs off the counter after making toast and when my mom found them, she proceeded to yell, scream and shriek for over an hour; saying things like: “I hate you”; “I’m going to stab myself”; “Asshole”; “I wish I was dead”. I would sit quietly in my room and listen, waiting for it to be over. I had learned by that point that any protests only made things escalate. I remember being shocked that there were crumbs because I was usually so good about leaving no trace that I had been in any room of the house. Sometimes she would lock herself in the washroom with a knife; which was always particularly terrible as our carpets in the washroom were red and I couldn’t tell from peaking under the door whether it was blood or the carpet that I was seeing. My mother had previously tried to commit suicide and I found her in the washroom one day when I returned home from school in Grade 9.
There are many other results of growing up in a home with mental illness. I’ve been in therapy for a while now, dealing with some of my issues, but they still plague me on a daily basis and I never know when something will trigger a memory that shakes me to the core. That happened recently at work. A co-worker made a joke about telling his kid he would throw out her toys if she didn’t put them away. This brought up the long repressed memory of when my mother would sometimes have a fit and grab garbage bags and start piling in all our toys and then putting them in the dumpster. All the while, I would sit there watching in horror and shrieking. I hadn’t thought of that in years and had to excuse myself for a good cry in the washroom. It was shocking to me. I didn’t realize that I was still susceptible to hidden landmines like this; lurking in my subconscious.
I was just a kid. This has been the greatest issue I’ve had to come to terms with (and I still have not made my peace). Being alone in a home with someone suffering with mental illness, it fell upon me to be the support and strength in the home. It has made me a very strong and resilient person (for which I am grateful), but as I grew up and learned about life, I realized there was so much more I could have done: a great lesson at 25, but I have to forgive myself for not taking action when I was 6, or 11, or even 17. I was young and scared and I didn’t have a voice then. I needed someone to speak on my behalf.
There are so many people out there; just like me. People who need a voice. People who need someone to say: mental illness needs treatment and awareness. We need, as a community, to be responsible for the people in it. When we hear of tragedies, like that in Newtown, we need to look at ourselves and the people around us and reach out. We need to stop pointing the finger at other people and see where our own responsibility lies.
I grew up in an apartment building with very thin walls. I could hear my mom screaming from down the hall, which means everyone else in who lived in the hall heard as well. No one did anything. No one ever called the police or asked if they could do something to help. It wasn’t their business. We need to make it our business.
Liza’s article is one example of a person who is living with mental illness and in need of help, but not able to receive what she needs. This story can be told the world over. It takes courageous people like Liza to make a difference and speak out. The play that I have been working on for an upcoming submission deadline, My Mother’s Daughters, deals with a family living with mental illness. Stories like Liza’s, fuels the fire for the necessity of works like this. Not only to educate people about the world of mental illness; but as a support for the victims. It is easy to stay quiet when you think you are alone. My heart goes out to Liza and her family and I can sympathize with her desperation. I also thank her for telling her story because for those of us who also suffer as she does, it is good to hear we are not alone.
My mother’s BPD continues to haunt our family. Her daughters now have very little contact with her. Something that creates a great deal of guilt in my life, but it is the only way I have been able to break free from the psychotic webs in which she snares people. The doctors don’t see the way she is: she is all smiles and sweetness when she sees them. They prescribe medication; which she abuses. She now has her medication delivered daily. It is tough to find the support you need, especially when the person suffering from the illness is resistant to acknowledging the problem or getting proper treatment. What do you do?
My hope is that one day there will be a greater focus on promoting mental health within our society. The stigma associated with therapy needs to go. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or having an impartial person give you some perspective on the issues in your daily life. We spend hours in the gym promoting our physical health; why does an hour a week with a therapist, promoting our emotional health, give the impression that we are crazy or mentally unstable? I like having someone who is paid to listen to me whine and complain each week where I don’t need to feel guilty about doing so or failing to ask how their day is going. Everyone could benefit from a little emotional “me time”. The stigma needs to be dispelled; everyone has their own issues that they need to work out.
When we recognize that everyone could benefit from a little extra help, we can finally get the help for those who need extra support to make it through their daily lives.
For more from Liza Long, check out her blog at: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.ca/.