It’s a new year and some of us are still working out our plans or goals for 2021. I personally didn’t set specific goals as I have been in what I consider a survival mode over the last couple months. I haven’t given myself the time to sit down long enough to thoroughly examine what I want to achieve this year. I carry on each day as I do the next and find that I am a bit lost. Yet, I never give up. Each day brings an opportunity to work on myself.
Rewind back to mid October 2020. This is when I brought my mom to the hospital because she wasn’t well. She was quite sick, actually. I didn’t know what was happening to her at the time. All I know is that I never saw her so “small” and weak. She looked old, worn out and honestly, I thought she might die. Turns out after her being admitted, the doctor informed me she was experiencing lithium toxicity. Her body was beginning to show signs of shutting down. It was very upsetting and scary to learn what was happening to my mom. So many emotions started pouring out of me that I had a hard time calming myself. I knew what I needed to do; it was a matter of being able to follow through.
Lithium is a medicine that is used to treat bipolar disorder. My mom was diagnosed back in the early 80’s. I can remember many of the details of the day when she had her first nervous breakdown. It was frightening to witness as a young 12 year old child. I realize now that things were never going to be quite the same again. I spent the rest of my adolescent years learning to understand what happened to my mom and living with a parent who was not mentally stable. I did my best to carry on, living what some consider the best days of my youth. Unfortunately, there was always something different in my home. Looking back, the energy in our house was somewhat muddled. Despite the fact my mom recovered from her nervous breakdown and was under psychiatric care, things were always a bit off.
Mom was pretty stubborn back then as she is even today. She disliked her psychiatrist to the point she would argue with him incessantly. She didn’t want to face the truth. She refused to see the positives and thought the world was against her, including her doctor. I remember one time I was concerned for her and called him to ask for help. When my mom found out, she was extremely angry. That was when she cut the cord with the only person that could medically treat her mental disorder. I didn’t know what else to do but to live my teen life and do my best to ignore (subconsciously) my mom’s well being.
In my mid teens, my mom started drinking. She did it as a result of loneliness. My father traveled a lot and would leave for 1-2 weeks every couple months for his job. To an extent, mom and I were each others companions. We’d actually be excited when my dad left because that meant we had this distorted sense of freedom. The old adage, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play”, was definitely the way it was during those years. Although I was a teenager, discovering life, love and everything in between, I always was by my mother’s side, making sure she was ok. Little did I realize that this began my life of caregiving. My father would always say, “look out for your mom”, when he would leave for his trips. Eventually that statement would be one I would loathe and fight against the rest of the days I lived at home.
Fast forward to 1996. This was the year I finally moved out of my house. I was elated and couldn’t wait to burn rubber out of my parent’s driveway so I could start my life without them. I was 26 years old. Throughout the rest of my teen life and early adulthood, I watched as my parent’s marriage deteriorate. I remember wanting to get away from them because I saw the writing on the walls before my parents did. I was a co-dependent. I was the 3rd leg of the tripod. As long as I continued to live in my childhood home, I would never be able to live my life the way I wanted. I had to sever the cord and say goodbye.
Within 2 years, my parents divorced. My mom had found someone that gave her the attention she so desperately sought over the years. My father was blind sided. He had no idea at the time the impact of his travels had on our family. And even though I saw this coming, I had a lot of anger. I was particularly angry with my mom. I hated that she couldn’t stop her drinking. I hated that she left my dad. I hated that my father was clueless. Being the third party of this dysfunctional family, it infuriated me that my parents couldn’t sort things out. However, it was their lives, not mine. If I needed to take care of my own well being, I needed to get out of dodge and never look back.
Easier said than done. Despite my desperation, I never truly escaped my ties to my parent’s lives. I supported both of them in different ways over the next several years. I developed a love/hate relationship with my mom. Today, I may not have as much animosity towards her, but I struggle. I have been in and out of therapy since my early 20’s. And the sessions have always circled back to my mom, our relationship and how to cope.
I have been married for 19 years and have 2 teenagers. I have been doing my best to live my life with my family. However, since having my kids, I have been diagnosed and treated for anxiety, depression, and ADHD. I’ve had a few medical problems occur, including thyroid cancer and sleep apnea. These issues are not terrible. In fact, I have been doing pretty well on the medical side. It’s my mental well being that has been the biggest challenge. It has affected my marriage and most likely has impacted my children’s lives to some extent.
Enter 2020. The year of the pandemic and unrest in our world. Many of us have had challenges, struggles, or obstacles to overcome. Last year was a year of testing our resilience as human beings. It was a year to slow down and do a lot of self reflection. I have been on a journey over the last few years to be a better version of myself. 2020 helped me see where I need to be and what I need in order to be happy. I am still working out the kinks so I can map out my life. But at least I have more resources and tools under my belt to help support my continued trek.
Although I still struggle with my mom and her mental issues, I can say we are probably closer now than ever. Since her recent hospitalization, I have noticed she is more open to seeking the help she fought against so many years before. She is finally wiling to go to counseling and be under psychiatric care. My mom is finally finding her voice. We may not agree on many things and I know that my patience is tested all the time. Yet, the one thing we do agree on is that we have a strong love for each other. We will never abandon one another. We are on our own road to healing. And that is all anyone can ever hope to have in their lifetime.
For more information on mental illness, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions.