My mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was twelve years old.
I remember all too well the pain and fear of losing her to such a scary illness. Sure, it wasn’t cancer, but it was terrifying. It involved attempted suicide, bottles and bottles of pills, and seeing my mother hear (and respond to) imaginary voices. It was a childhood so far outside of normal I couldn’t recognize normal even twenty years later. Chaos and tension were our norm. Moving two, three, four times a year was normal. Changing schools and moving cross country overnight with no belongings was normal. But, I survived! And, I still love and adore my mother. She has come very far (most days!) and we have a good relationship, all things considered.
However, I see her differently now that I see her through my children’s eyes. I didn’t anticipate having the “Grandma is different” conversation with my kids when they were younger. Because my Mama was all I ever knew, I didn’t expect my kids to pick up on how different she really was until my oldest began asking questions.
“Is Grandma ok?” “Why won’t Grandma come over?”
After a very awkward exchange when my twelve-year-old daughter debated with Grandma over the reality of certain things, I realized it was time to talk. I needed to tell them why Grandma says funny things, has really really bad days, and why sometimes we need to give her space and pray for the best.
Though I’ve grown accustomed to this, the weight of my mother’s mental health digs into my soul and wreaks havoc.
Most days I am a good mother. My kids fill me with joy, and I take great pride in raising my children in a much different world than my own childhood. But, just like my mother, I have very bad days. I have days filled with so much rage that I yell at the slightest mishap. My sweet, always forgiving children wouldn’t even tell you all the harsh things I’ve said or done because they are loyal and kind. I, however, feel great shame. I am filled with remorse and regret and pain that I fall so short of the mother I’d like to be. And I have become so similar to the mother I swore I’d never become. I do not have Schizophrenia, just some Generalized Anxiety, but I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and therapy, both of which I practice frequently!
An Open Conversation about Mental Health
After some reflection, I sat my kids down and explained that no one should treat others the way I treated them. Just because I am stressed, or just because I am Mama does not make it ok. It is not ok. I apologized and poured my heart out to them. I asked for forgiveness, not as an excuse for my behavior, but because I am genuinely saddened that I hurt the people I love more than life itself. It is my job to protect, not intimidate. It is my job to build up their confidence and self-esteem, not tear it down when I am feeling low.
We had a mature dialogue about mental health and how we need to take care of our hearts and minds just as much as our tummies and skin. We need to pay attention to our mental health and take breaks when we need them–even from each other. Especially from each other. You can love someone with all of your heart and still need to get some fresh air away from each other now and then.
What my beautiful young ladies showed me was that I am doing a fantastic job. My girls are giant-hearted ladies who will change the world with their kindness. They responded with nothing but love. My kids showed me exactly how we should all respond when someone reaches out for help. They left judgment at the door and loved me in spite of my downfalls.
I hope to be more like them when I “grow up”.
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