I took time off after my first year and a half of college; at the time I told people it was because I was at an expensive school and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to major in and left out the part where I answered the phone at my house one day and was told from a loan officer that my mother owed a significant chunk of money to my school. Given my parents track record, I realized this was something I’d have to figure out on my own as well.
I also rarely mentioned that when I went home, it was usually to make sure my sister and her underage friends didn’t get arrested when they drank at the house and huffed ether while my mother disappeared for a few days. This, along with financing my education, didn’t seem like my responsibility, but it was, unfortunately, the role I’d assumed.
I never invited anyone into my house, friends, dates, I’d get dropped off and say things like, “Looks like everyone’s sleeping,” instead of “I can only imagine what kind of crazy shit is going on in there and usually I like to spend four days cleaning before anyone comes over and I haven’t had time to do that this week because I work two jobs and now have to figure out how to pay for college…” “Everyone’s sleeping” was much easier and kept things where I wanted them…hidden.
I left college, moved home, worked, tried to keep the ship afloat until one day, after dealing with some more crazy antics, I decided, “No, I won’t do this anymore, this won’t be my life.” I was working full time at the time, and moved in with a friend for awhile until I’d saved up enough for an apartment. “I’m leaving, I can’t live like this,” I told my mother. “Well, where are you going to go? Can you afford it? I wish you wouldn’t,” she said. “I don’t know, but it won’t be here,” I said.
My mother’s illness made her wildly inconsistent, unreliable, and unable to meet my most basic needs. She rarely was available when I needed her, and I very often fulfilled the role of caretaker for both of my parents. I started taking classes again years later while working full time, I’d work close to 50 hours a week, drive an hour each way two nights a week, sit in class for 3 hours, then drive home. I’d register for as many online courses as I could, and finally decided to quit my job and go to school full time for one year to finish. Both my parents told me they’d help me during that year, and true to form, they both failed to fulfill that promise. But like always, I found my way. I became resourceful, sought help from friends and other family members, and refused to believe I’d have to become a product of the environment I was born into.
Since I’ve moved back to the area and live in proximity to my mother, she’s offered help and support, and by that, I mean our relationship consists of text messages that tell me to come over for dinner. This is what she’s able to offer, and so I graciously accept. “There’s meatballs here, Love Mom.” “Veggie lasagna, I hope you had a good day, Love Mom.” “We have turkey chilli, come over if you can, Love Mom.”
We connect in no other real way, don’t do things or spend time together, but I know she’s giving what she can. I have a student loan that’s almost paid off, the loan is nearly paid off because my mother promised to pay it off, didn’t follow through, and so I insisted on putting it in my name, and I’ve paid it off myself over several years. Every once in awhile, sometimes during a manic episode, my mother will put a chunk of money toward it, then remind me she’s helping me pay it off. “I put $500 on your loan.” The old me would’ve probably said something cruel, like, “That’s great, Mom, but you totally screwed it up, so I did it myself.” But instead, now I say, “That’s great, thanks.” And when she says, “I know you like beets, here, take some of these home with you,” I don’t say, “I don’t need beets, I need you to be my fucking mother,” because we both know it’s too late for that. I say, “Thanks Mom, these beets are delicious.” I know she knows I’ll probably move away again, that self-preservation will persevere, and I’ll need to do what I haven’t done enough of, take care of myself. But while I’m close by, I accept and appreciate what she gives.
I joked with my therapist a few weeks back, “Guess what, my mom’s going to pay off my student loan!” We both smirked, “Did you thank her?” she asked. I smiled, “I did,” I said, and we both laughed. I showed her a text message, “Look, she made beets!” “Did you thank her?” “Of course,” I said. I helped my mom with an Amazon order last week, I looked at the book she was ordering, and it was about overcoming poor parenting and moving forward. I didn’t say anything, neither did she, but there was an unspoken understanding that said, both “I’m sorry,” and “I know.”
There’s such a huge stigma around mental illness, but dealing with and talking openly about my mother’s has taught me resilience. Her limitations encouraged me to be courageous, and dealing with her illness taught me grace, kindness, patience, and compassion. Because of her, I am strong, brave, and have taught myself the greatest lesson of all, that I may not have anyone to rely on, but I can rely on me.
While solving a problem for someone at work last week, I examined every angle and wouldn’t give up until she was satisfied. “Thank you so much, she said, I really appreciate your persistence.” I smiled, because I do too. And I have my mama to thank for that.