I’ve often heard people complain about their mothers, “God, my mother’s so crazy, she won’t leave me alone, she keeps calling me and asking me what I ate today,” or “My mother won’t stop buying me things or stopping by to check on me and telling me how to cook my sauce, it’s so annoying!”
Sometimes, for shock value, I like to interject, “Hmm, did your mother ever get married in the living room while your sister was at work, invite two of her friends from high school, but none of her own children?” or “Has your mother ever sent you a care package consisting of a bunch of rotten tangerines and $7 in cash?”…”or spent $900 at CVS in a week?” It becomes very clear, that in a “whose mom is the craziest” contest, I almost always have everyone beat by a long-shot. My mother is bi-polar, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would prefer I didn’t talk openly about it or give the details, but throughout my life (and after a shitload of therapy), I’ve found that talking promotes healing, and connects people through shared experiences. So that’s why I write about it.
I sometimes think that people who haven’t had much experience with severe mental illness think that she’s probably very happy sometimes, then sad or depressed, then has periods of normalcy in between. But for my mother, an extreme case that features actual psychosis when she gets manic enough and is like something you’d read in a psychology textbook, it goes something like this: sometimes she runs away and we can’t find her, she moves out of my stepfather’s house and lives with other people, she doesn’t sleep for days, and during a manic episode a few years ago, drove off the road over a stone wall in someone’s yard directly into his parked car in the driveway. Luckily, nobody was hurt.
My mother, never one for following the rules, also doesn’t like to do things like take medication, go to the psychiatrist, or listen to anyone’s ideas or advice about how to take care of herself. She’s found an excuse not to take any medication that’s ever worked for her before, and conversations with her are not unlike conversing with a four-year old child. “But I don’t like carrots!” “Yes, but carrots make you strong and healthy, remember?” “Carrots make me sick, I hate them!” She’s been not well so often in recent years and non-medication compliant on so many occasions that it’s hard to separate her illness from her personality, and we wonder how much is a conscious choice on her part and how much is a diseased mind.
The mental health system in America sucks, and my mother is often turned out on the street after a short hospitalization, before she’s ready or capable of making sound decisions, which inevitably results in a subsequent hospitalization, and so on and so forth. During a recent hospitalization, after she’d disappeared and stopped answering her phone for a few days, we found her and I talked to her case worker at the hospital. I often do this, give background info, her history, medication information, etc. in essence “translate,” because the information she gives is usually wildly inaccurate and fabricated. “I can’t take that medication because it makes me drowsy, one time I fell asleep at the wheel!” “No, you were manic and you hadn’t slept in days, and you were driving around at 4am and crashed into someone’s car, it’s not the medications fault.” As you can see, the stories don’t always match up. The case worker put me on hold, and passed me around to several people, which is typically the case, then I was told they needed to ask my mother if she’d sign a release to give permission for the team to talk to me, which seemed strange to put her in charge, seeing as her decisions have previously included living in a room above a thrift store owned by a woman she barely knew. I finally heard a voice on the other end of the phone, “Ok, all set,” the woman at the hospital said. “She said yes,?” I asked. “She said okay… for now,” the woman answered. We both laughed. “That’s great, I said, “she’s probably going to let me talk to you, until she doesn’t like what I have to say,” I said. And that’s exactly what happened. She’s told me in the past how reasonable and logical I am, as if it was an accusation, almost, “Oh Doria, always so REASONALBE.” It’s always been a point of contention in our relationship, my logic and reason, and her irrationality and inconsistency; even times when she’s doing well, we rarely see eye to eye on much of anything.
Each hospitalization and episode I hope will be the last, the final straw that scares her and makes her choose finally to fully to take care of herself, knowing full well it won’t, and that this pattern will never change. A few years ago, after her car crashing incident, I told her I really wanted her to take care of herself and that when she didn’t, it made it hard for me to continue to have a relationship with her, it seemed to resonate and I have no doubt scared her, since I’ve often come to her rescue when shit hits the fan. I thought maybe it would last, and it did- for a time- but I realized it was only temporary. And so, I try to find the humor in the experience. One day she called me and was talking rather incoherently about her plans and whereabouts and I said, “Mom, sometimes I don’t really know where you are, what you’re doing, or what you’re talking about,” and her response was, “You know what, neither do I.” Sometimes she calls me three times a day, other times I don’t hear from her for 3 months.
My sister and I recently had to have a family meeting while she was hospitalized, she was refusing to take any medication that had worked for her before, and as a result taking something completely ineffective that was doing nothing. So, like reasoning with a child to eat his vegetables, we sat with her and convinced her to take what’s worked for her in the past. It worked, but I heard recently she changed it again, because when she wants to avoid doing something, she’ll stop at nothing to accomplish it. When we left the hospital that day, my sister asked for someone to get her car key from my mom, it was the only key she had to her car, my mother had stolen the car at some point to escape (not the first time she’s stolen one of our cars, but that’s another story, I suppose) and she hadn’t been able to use the car. “That’s the only key you have?,” the nurse at the front desk asked. “Yes,” my sister answered, “also, it’s not the first time she’s done this.” “Wow, I’m sorry, this must be really hard,” she said, “I bet you have lots of stories.” I smiled, “You have no idea,” I said. I told her the story about her living room wedding, my sister chimed in about the other time my mother stole her car. And in that moment, after we’d pleaded with my mother to make a reasonable choice as if she was a child, and the trauma it brought up from all the times we needed her but didn’t have her in the past, and because there was nothing else we could do, we laughed.