Growing up, I always knew that I was loved. My mom told me she loved me every day, showered me with hugs and kisses and said I was the smartest and prettiest girl in the world. But life was also confusing and traumatic at times, because my mother has a mental illness. She called it “Manic Depression”, which is an old-fashioned term for bipolar disorder. My dad passed away when I was 7, and my mom was my whole world. In my adulthood, I’ve made peace with how it affected me, but it wasn’t always that way.
As a kid, there was a lot I didn’t understand about the way my mom acted. I learned early on to do things for myself. When she was hypomanic or manic she would stay out until early morning or simply not come home at all. She would fall into a deep depression and forget to pick me up from school, unable to get out of bed. I made my lunches, got myself to school and signed my own permission slips. When my mom was treated with medication and therapy, she would become present and available as a parent. It was very confusing. I became disrespectful and cagey around her. I was embarrassed that our house was always in disarray, that we were always moving around, and I didn’t invite her to school events because I knew she was too unpredictable. I would scream “Why can’t you just be normal?” during our frequent fights. I blamed her for all of the chaos, and I grew into a guarded and mistrustful young adult.
It’s taken me a lot of time and therapy to process the effect my mom’s mental illness had on me growing up. During my own issues with substance abuse and subsequent recovery, I started to see that my mom did her best, even if it wasn’t “good enough”. My mom is the nicest person I know. She’s smart, funny and unconditionally loving. She’s the type of person who goes out to run an errand and makes 3 new friends by the time she gets home. I am still working through the anger and resentment I feel about the way I grew up, but it’s a journey I take on my own. I no longer feel like I have to hurt her back or lash out at her because of the scoreboard in my head that kept track of all the times she let me down. She’s generally stable now, in an independent-living apartment for disabled seniors. We see each other all the time, and she sometimes calls me for help her when she forgets her keys, feels too nervous to drive or wants me to bring her home from the doctor. Being a “parent” to my mom is something I used to resent, but since I’ve started to focus more on my own healing, I have made peace with it. Sometimes I even feel grateful for the experience because it shaped me into the person I am today. My mom’s mental illness is a part of her, just as much as her wit, her kindness and her unwavering love for me.