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.
Today is my darling daughter’s 40th birthday. Happy Birthday to her. She entered the world at 6:15 am. The doctor was grateful for her early arrival. He didn’t have to miss the Cowboys game. I wasn’t awake for the actual birth. The nurse told me they knocked me out because I was yelling and cursing like a sailor. Well? You try giving birth as fast as you can so no one misses a damn football game. Go on I dare ya!
They told me that I said “oh my God, is that my kid?” when they first showed her to me. She had a huge shock of black hair which they combed into a Mohawk. Go figure. Punk wasn’t the fashion yet. I guess they didn’t want to scare me too much. Later I discovered that without the comb-over she looked like she was electrocuted. She also had one finger hooked on her lower eyelid, pulling it down to about her elbow. I knew right then that it was going to be a strange trip.
It certainly has been so far. I love her more than life itself. But there have been times over the years that I’ve wanted to strangle her with my bare hands. She started making noise before she could talk and hasn’t shut up since. Back then they carted babies around in what looked like a giant egg crate on wheels. As the nurse wheeled them down the hall one baby was yelling about 3 times as loud as the other babies. I actually said out loud “Oh dear, I feel sorry for the mother of that baby.” That baby was my daughter, of course.
She got quiet as soon as they handed her to me. She stared at me solemnly and started sucking on her hand. There was a blister on her hand where she was doing that in the womb. Love at first sight is difficult when you are woozy from anesthetic, but we grew on each other fast. When she discovered that I could feed her she got right to it and has been hungry ever since.
Any parent could write a book about all the experiences they had with a child. It goes on for your entire life. So this story is far from finished. I hope she has a wonderful birthday.