When They Don’t Grow Out of It

This may sound like overstating the obvious, but you don’t grow out of mental illness. For years, decades, I hung on to that hope by my fingernails, waiting for my daughter to “grow up.” She did grow up, but she never grew out of it. I’m not sure exactly what her diagnosis is because I’m not a doctor. Maybe she is manic-depressive. But sometimes she is beyond that and into completely delusional. I don’t know what that is called in med-speak.

My grandmother used to say, “oh she’s  just moody. She talks before she thinks. She has a vivid imagination,” yada yada. I believed her because I wanted to believe her. But the years passed, and I compared my experiences with her with those of other women with daughters.

Sure there is always the classic mother/daughter melodrama. There is the rebellion and teen angst. However, over the years I had to face up the fact that my story, which I kept pretty much to myself, was far worse than any I heard from others with “normal” children. Looking back, my daughter was not just a difficult child, there was something wrong.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at her or listened on the phone and thought “my God, who are you?” Other times I picture her as a gaily colored balloon, floating off in the sky and wish that I could reach out, grab the string and reel her in, protect her, save her.

I’ve listened to her narratives for hours wondering where on earth was this coming from. She will tell me about how sad she is that she was raised in an orphanage. Huh? As her mother, I think I would have noticed that. It took me a while to realize that she was telling me about her “childhood” as if I was a someone who didn’t know her and wasn’t there. “My mother did this, my mother said that….”

The next day she’ll tell me that I was mean to her all her childhood, that she had to forage for food and so on. Perhaps she had just finished reading Charles Dickens or something? Who knows. Some of it is so off the wall and bizarre that it could almost be funny, except it’s not.

It rips my heart out with a rusty spoon. Occasionally she claims she’s seeing a therapist. But, she’s said that so many times before. I pretty much take anything said with a lot of salt. I have no idea if she is on medication. It’s difficult to get a straight answer.

So what do you do when your grown child is mentally ill? I can’t force her to seek help. According to her she doesn’t need help. What she needs is for me not to exist. Quite a conundrum. She’s chock full of rage, the majority of it directed at me.

I have been locked in the dark night of the soul so many times that I should be awarded an honorary PhD with a major in insomnia and a minor in circular thinking. “What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? What did I not do before, what can I do now? Somehow, if I just try hard enough, pray enough, sacrifice enough, I will fix this.”

Well I can’t fix this. What I can do is yank myself up by the collar and say “Hey! You did not cause this. She is ill. These are the cards she got in the grand and glorious celestial poker game and that is that. She will get help or she won’t, it’s up to her.” It still hurts though.

17 responses

  1. A hard post to write I am sure. And you are so right about mental illness, it’s a chronic disease with more of a stigma. Thanks for your courage in writing and your ability to use the holy gift of humor.

    1. “holy gift of humor” I like that. My grandmother used to say “it’s better to laugh than cry.” I’ve done quite a bit of both. I prefer laughter because crying stops my head up tighter than a drum and gives me a horrific headache.

  2. Best wishes to you both. My daughter has a physcial medical condition and I know how hard it is as a mother to watch from a distance. I really feel for you. My mother, as you know, committed suicide after being in and out of hospital many times.

    I know exactly of what you speak.


    1. Oh my, I did not know that. I’m so sorry. Suicide has such painful consequences for the survivors. My son’s grandfather jumped out a window and my grandson’s father overdosed deliberately on prescription meds. A horrible burden for these kids to bear.

      1. Sorry Trinity. I just assume people have read the “featured” articles in the slider – 😆 – my mistake!

      2. I am sorry about your family’s experiences with suicide too. It is tough.

  3. We should have just gotten a dog.

    1. We did…for our kid 🙂 Can’t live with em can’t live without em.

  4. I am very sorry to hear of your daughter suffering through this withouth getting some help (not that you can tell – as you mentioned).

    I have lived with a couple people over the years that were ill, one had Schizophrenia and the other was bi-polar manic depressive. Both required loads of medications, but they were so much better for it. I remember the parents of the Schizophrenic would visit almost daily and take him to his appointments etc and the fights that would break out because he didn’t want to go were amazing, but his mother was strong willed and wanted to ensure he was able to continue his desire of living in his own place. She would literally drag him by the scruff to the car 🙂

    I am not sure I would have that kind of strength and she has always been one of my secret inspirations. You could always try that? *gentle hugs*

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    1. I’ve thought of the “by the ear thing”. Unfortunately, darling daughter is much bigger and stronger than I am and is not afraid to prove it at every opportunity. My requests and suggestions have to be either done from behind the back of someone who will protect me or over the phone.

    2. Hmmmm – perhaps I should have read all comments before I commented……….. Hugs to you too!

  5. Of course it hurts. She’ll ALWAYS be your “little girl”, right?
    Good luck to you both.

    1. Tis true, she will always be my baby girl.

  6. Oh, I’m so sorry your daughter struggles so. I know that must be painful for you. I have bipolar disorder, and have written about it extensively on my blog. Hope you will read “Leaving the Seclusion Room: Some not-so-crazy notes on recovering from mental illness.”


    Perhaps it will comfort you and let you know there’s hope!


    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kathy. I will read that.

  7. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I was lucky, my son has been a delightfully easy child to raise and he is now a happy 38 year old. He may not live his life the way I would wish it for him, but he is happy and could wish for nothing more. I hope your daughter gets the help she needs. It would be so much easier if she had broken her leg.

    1. You’re right physical injuries are hard, but usually they have a beginning, middle and end. Mental illness just goes on and on.

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