Home > Family, Grief, Health, Personal, Relationships > The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s Face

The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s Face

I understood mental illness was rooted in biology when I awakened June 23, 2003, but I didn’t know how to identify it in my own life. I didn’t know I’d spend the next few months learning not only how to identify it but how little power I held against it, my heart overflowing with sadness, frustration, rage and fear.

The me of now wishes I’d been less angry then. “It’s not like Mom was trying to hurt you!” I want to shout at my younger self. “It’s an illness, not a choice!” Of course, shouting at past-me doesn’t do any good. I needed to experience then to earn whatever understanding I have now.

My education commenced June 23, 2003.

Click here for The Before.

June 23, 2003

I never talk about this, except in jest, but I can’t joke about it right now.

I had to say a much-needed yet still painful goodbye to one living parent, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to do it again. I’m shaking like I did after I said it to my father… anticipating maybe having to say it to my mother, who’s so much more broken. Who’s much less likely to pick herself up and brush herself off, since she’s not a pathological liar who refuses responsibility for anything.

My mom was never quite right. My father was horribly abusive, the kind of man who greets his wife by spilling scalding water on her if he comes home to a burnt casserole. We spent so many hours hiding under the table as we listened to our father beating our mother, and her trying to protect us. I guess I always just want to explain how she came to be this way, to say that I love her even though I’m frustrated by her, constantly, to say I know it’s never easy… there’s always a reason.

Then, when Rachel was molested by a man with a wealthy mother, she started to think people were following her. We didn’t ever talk about it, but it was only the day of the trial that we realized she was right – there had been people following us. A couple of men who followed us into different markets that morning showed up with files of photographs, and we knew Mom had been right.

But it didn’t end there. Somehow, that changed things, and people kept following her, even when there was no reason they would be.

People were talking about her, putting things in her car, cutting holes in her clothes, whatever. She accused my brother of molesting my younger sister, just because she could, because she thought the world was like that and it was okay to make accusations like that point-blank to him, even when Mads was like, “What the HEY?! He never did anything like that!”

And for years, she’ll be okay, and then she’ll be crazy again. She can be okay literally one second, and then the next moment explode about how her neighbor is poisoning her, and we were looking at her wrong, were we in on it, too? It’s why I moved out when I was 16, because I couldn’t stand it anymore, because she needed to know I wasn’t just a plaything.

Anyhow, she’s been crazy on and off – for some reason, mostly fine with me, only little bits of crazy here and there – but she’s disowned her neighbor and now, today… ach.

My little sister has lived with our godmother for a while, about half the week on and half the week off, in a town one half-hour away. Mom’s pulled her, “I NEED you” shit over and over on Mads, who she thinks she owns. Genuinely. The shit she pulls on her is ridiculous. And what’s worse is she thinks it’s okay, that Madeline owes her it for giving up SOOOO very much of herself.

Today, she told Anna that Madeline isn’t allowed to stay at Anna’s house unless she only stays there two nights a week. Anna – who was there, with her husband, when I was born, and has helped us through every walk of life – argued it, and Mom shoved her out of the house, locked the door and yelled, “Our friendship is over!” while blocking Madeline from leaving. Anna waited in the car, hoping Madeline would come out, but when she didn’t, Anna finally left. What else could she do?

So Madeline is at a friend’s house right now, and tomorrow night she’s going up to Anna’s, to stay. It took some persuading her that Mom wouldn’t hurt her (she never does, physically, only psychologically; she used to beat us, once broke a frying pan over David’s head, one time knocked a hole in the wall with Rachel’s head, but stopped – today she came the closest she has in years, holding Madeline’s arms down so she couldn’t leave… but I guess restraint is physical abuse too), and that if she did, we’d call the police for assault. But I’m glad that conclusion has been reached, and that Mads knows that with her birthday so close she has options. She can transfer to Anna’s local high school for her senior year, or rent a cheap room with money from her job. But she in no way needs to be Mom’s pawn, her little playtoy to make her feel she has some control in this world.

It’s so hard for me. She can be the kindest, gentlest woman, and I have these beautiful memories of some of her tenderest moments. But then there’s the other woman, the one she becomes that other third of the time, who’s totally unpredictable, emotionally abusive, and volatile. It would be so easy if she were just the crazywoman, because I could let it go, or if she were always the sane one, because she’s so gentle and funny in those moments. But the mix of the two feels like it’s tearing me up, because there’s nothing I can do… because it never, ever changes.

I just don’t know what to do. I love her so much… but I… I can’t make-believe, and let her think it’s okay to be the way she is. Not that I think it even matters. I don’t know if it’s possible for her to change this. Or us.

I don’t know what to do.

July 5, 2003

Since I was little, I’ve always like rounding things out. All my stories had to have happy endings when I was little, and even when that didn’t become so for my make-believe stories, the way I told it to myself and others always involved a happy ending – hope for what was yet to come, knowledge that there was something beautiful holding it together and negating the bad that I’d just told. I guess I’m finally understanding that sometimes there just aren’t those kind of endings, because in life things never really end… they just keep on going, and you go with them or get left behind in the past, in memory instead of into everything the world could be. But I don’t feel sad anymore. I don’t feel like I need that happy ending anymore, because maybe there’s happiness or peace in just accepting what is. Not trying to gloss over that, but finding the good in what there is now and thinking that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different.

July 16, 2003


I was just chillin’, reading the new Harry Potter on my bed in David’s bedroom, when I heard Mom ranting at David in the living room. I came out to see her helping herself to some macaroni salad while yelling about how Rachel was totally overlooking her for the wedding, how ungrateful she was, how it was clear how Rachel felt about her, “Well, fine, LET Anna be her mom in the wedding, I don’t want any part of it!”

I’d intended to just let it slide and coast by without making my presence known, but when I heard some of the stuff she was saying about Rachel, I came out and was like, “Dude, she’s scattered, SO many people haven’t gotten their invitations! The point to Rachel is you know where and when it is!” She started yelling and insulting me, and I, about three feet away, was like, “It’s HARD to deal with you, Mom! You expect us to grovel and be thankful and spend our lives just doing whatever you want us to do!” She started yelling again (which I did not return, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I actually like thinking things through rationally and discussing them instead of yelling hurtful things at people) about how I was such a [sickly mocking tone] smart girl, always running away, I didn’t know anything about minority families (huh? okay, yeah, I don’t, as best I can figure, she was just getting at her old poor-families-are-supposed-to-stick-together-and-you’re-not-doing-what-I-want-so-we’re-not-sticking together rant, though how I’m supposed to extract that from what she said is beyond me). She stormed out of the house saying she was glad she was through with us and I was like, “What? We didn’t say anything like that. Why do you always have to be so extreme?” She shouted some more insulting stuff as she climbed into her truck and I was like, “We don’t think like you! And whatever you say, I’m NEVER going to accuse my son of molesting his sister, or feel so free slinging accusations without considering that I’m slinging them AT another person.” She climbed out of her truck yelling some more and I was like, fine, go, good, she got back in. As she was pulling out, I opened the door and removed the spare keys from their ‘hiding’ place, which made her yell even more. “I’m not going to take his keys!” I said something, I don’t recall what, but basically I didn’t care. She is NOT welcome to just let herself into the house. David has told her that over and over again. And since she won’t stop – or maybe can’t – we just have to make it impossible for her to come in.

Another thing she said was, “Oh, you’ve bitched to me about David, too!”

Incredulous, I said, “Yeah, yeah I have, and I’ve bitched about other people too – I bitch about it and THEN I LET IT GO! Which some people seem to have a hard time doing.”

So maybe she won’t be at Rache’s wedding. I’m okay with that. I think we all need time away, both she and us. I don’t think it’ll be forever… heck, she’s disowned us twice already (once for not giving us her address when we moved into our second place, ’cause of the crap she pulled at the first, and the second reflecting on the first instance again)… but I think for a little while, we need to not have her harping on us, and she needs to figure out how to live her life without harping on us. If such a thing is even possible.

For all the times we argued when I was younger, today was, I think, the first time I’ve looked dead-on into her icy grey eyes and not been fazed. I always used to look over her when we argued before, when she used to tell my siblings I was the root of everything that had gone wrong in their lives.

Now I bet y’all can see why I live so spontaneously, moment-to-moment. There was never and predicting, and no use contemplating things after they were done, ’cause whether they would or would not happen again was out of my control. The only thing in my control was how I dealt with them. After a time, I guess it just stops being so emotionally disruptive.

July 31, 2003

(As a sidenote, my mom has completely flipped. She’s moved out of her house, stopped taking her vitamins and won’t wear her clothing because she knows her neighbors have put poison everywhere. I’m not sure whether to laugh because it’s so ludicrous or cry for how the woman I always loved is gone, probably forever.)

August 1, 2003

My mom’s never been totally right, but it’s over this summer that we’ve really seen how far gone she is. (I wonder that I didn’t see it sooner, in all the phone calls where she’d insist she could hear people tapping the lines.) A few days ago, she informed Mads that she’d moved out of her house because it was being poisoned by neighbors; her vitamins, her water supply, traces even left on her clothing. She frantically dug through Rache’s wardrobe but wouldn’t tell her why till she saw Rache didn’t have anything that fit, and explained, “My clothes are being poisoned; I can’t wear them.” So she wanted us to housesit while she was ‘away.’ Isn’t that sweet? “My stuff is poisoned, so I’ll let you deal with it… okay?” I know I can’t be angry, though. This is the voice of illness funnelled through my mom, not actually the voice of my mom. I know that.

It seems I ought to be dismayed, now that my mom has gone totally looney tunes, but instead I feel only a sense of great peace. It explains so much of my childhood, to know there was a reason she was behaving as she did, so inconsistently and bizarrely. It helps the world make a bit more sense to me.

My godmother called a bit ago and said, “I hope you don’t mind*, but I did a little checking around on resources for you guys.” She found a place called the Association for the Mentally Ill which has informational folders and pamphlets, as well as people well versed in mental illness and the law surrounding mental illness. Rachel, Nick and I are going to take a trip there on Monday to discuss options regarding commitment (there generally has to be a threat involved in the person’s not being hospitalized, and two adults have to attest to it) and what our other options are. As my ex said yesterday, if we don’t do something, she will lose everything. He’s absolutely right – and he should know, as he has a schizophrenic brother. We can’t sit around and allow that to happen.

Of all the things you think you’ll do when you grow up, committing your mother isn’t one of them.

* I sure didn’t mind.

August 4, 2003

Normally I wouldn’t call my godmother’s house so late, but I wanted to hear what those calls were about. Anna answered and, since she was already up, told me about the call from a police officer she’d gotten about my mother earlier. We talked about the situation for a bit and I found myself getting progressively more freaked out. Anna kept stressing that we needed to make sure nothing could be done to Mom’s house if we seek out treatment (which we pretty much have to), and it frustrated me SO much, because if we get to the point where the house becomes an issue, the house will be gone so fast noone will even notice – there’s no issue about whether my mom’s house or my mom herself is more important, and the way Anna kept stressing it, it was like the house WAS my mom’s whole life. It depressed me, that and knowing we’d all be meeting with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill the next day to discuss options… but that I couldn’t do a thing save sit and freak out about it till then.

The talk went well, and we found some good resources. We were going to talk to the County Mental Health Office regarding the specifics of commitment, but we had to move Rache and Nick out of the trailer, so we decided to postpone till tomorrow. On the bright side, it looks like there’s no way they can put a lien on her house for treatment, even with government budget cuts on programs for the mentally ill. So that leads us to the point where we’ll probably talk to Mom and see if she won’t go in willingly; she may, with the assurance that her house can’t be taken from her. (Last night’s quote, “I can’t do that; they’d take my house from me” almost made me cry; it was my mom’s response to a friend telling her she should visit the Johnson Unit. Maybe, then, some part of her knows things aren’t right, and there’s cause for hope in spite of how bleak it all feels.) That’ll probably be Rachel and I talking with her – not all so she doesn’t feel ganged up on – since we’re the ones who will be signing the investigative/pre-commitment papers.

We’ll see where to go from there. I just so want my mom to be well again. I don’t want memories of her laughter to be only memories, knowing there’s no hope of ever hearing her laugh again.

Actually, Mads and I watched a couple of episodes of Buffy on the FX channel, and something Buffy said reminded me of our situation. “…while a demon with my lover’s face…” That’s how it feels to me, like there’s this demon with my mother’s face, but I know it’s not her and can only hope someday my mother’s face will just be her own face again. That’s what struck me most today, realizing that there won’t be any One Decision around this. There will only be struggle and more struggle with the hope of a resolution that might come. That resolution will probably be imperfect. So we’ll just have to learn to live with the knowledge that some problems don’t just smooth themselves over, and try our best to figure out how to work life now that we know. It shouldn’t be that much different than when we didn’t know, should it? And so we take tentative steps toward the future…

Please stay tuned for The During, part 2, and
 feel free to share your thoughts and experiences here if so moved.

  1. September 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    My heart hurts for what you had to endure as a young child growing up and I am sure some of those scars will remain for ever, but look who you are today. A beautiful survivor and able to share this as painful as it may be. The fact that you share this is undoubtly helping others. You are special.

  2. September 10, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    The demon with my mother’s face. And voice. And some of her gestures…
    Oh yes. I am familiar with that demon. And the grief, the rage, the pain that she felt and she caused. My mama has been dead and at peace for over ten years now, and still those feelings are there. Some of the pain has had the edge taken off, but it still has teeth. Sharp teeth.

    • September 10, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      That’s exactly it! Reading the Buffy quote was startling because of how spot-on the analogy was. It’s more than just one thing: All these little pieces come together for someone so like the person you once knew, but so eerily similar your brain keeps saying, “It’s her! It’s her!” even when the look in her eyes is nothing like the one she always had before.

      I was surprised to find this revisiting extremely cathartic. Something I didn’t have before that I have now is insight thanks to other bloggers. It was so hard for me to find resources when I was floundering in confusion the months immediately following … but now, they are out there, and I can revisit these bygone times with more peace in my heart. In fact, looking back, I felt such pride in my siblings and self: Look what we’ve withstood! Imagine everything we have left to do!

      Big hugs.

      • September 10, 2015 at 6:07 pm

        Hard times come with three choices.
        We can let them break us.
        We can let them define us.
        We can grow. Perhaps not in a direction we anticipated, or wanted, but it is growth.
        And I firmly believe we never realise how strong we are until strong is the only option left to us that we are ready to accept.

  3. September 10, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Your telling of these events is captivating. It is unbelievable to know that you endured such “stuff” and can tell about it with such clarity and confidence. I wait with anticipation for the rest (and I am sorry that you went through all of this!)

    • September 11, 2015 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you! Two things made it more bearable than I think it would’ve been otherwise: writing, and my siblings. My heart breaks imaging facing that alone, or mostly alone. That’s part of why I wrote Six Hands for Lifting, in a much different place than I am now. To reassure anyone in that place that:

      For each of the countless people who have walked or continue to walk this painful road, there are two hands that would reach out to lift you were they only near enough to do so.

  4. September 10, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    I am in awe of your ability to share these deeply painful moments. I found myself thinking how glad I was that you had a godmother in your life, that you weren’t completely stranded. And I am in awe of who you are now, of your generosity and strength (I mean, what I can see from my vantage point of the internet, which is an incomplete picture).

    • September 11, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      I’m so, so glad for Anna! I wrote a guest post about her once, bearing in mind memories such as these. It’s part of why I asked her to give me away when I got married: she is there through everything, good and bad, laughing, scolding or holding as warranted in the circumstances. I believe my life and my siblings’ lives would have been very, very different without her in them, and I will forever be grateful that that alternate universe is but a terrible daydream.

  5. September 11, 2015 at 4:10 am

    I weep as I read this, I weep for the young woman / child you were. I weep for your siblings, I weep for your mother.

    I love you, both the you before and the you now.

    • September 11, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      Knowing you are out there sending such love has been very comforting to me when I’ve faced and formatted these entries the last couple of days, most especially when formatting The End: We Will Carry You with Us. (Yep, even typing that brought on some waterworks.) I love you.

  6. cardamone5
    September 11, 2015 at 5:40 am

    I am so sorry Deb, but also amazed at your grace during this difficult time, not just for yourself (moving out and living on your own at 16), but in your view of your mother and her behavior. Not many kids would be able to experience relief when they realize their parent is mentally ill, but you did. I think of my immature self and how I froze out my mom, dad and anyone who behaved in ways that freaked me out. That was my way of coping. Not very mature, or productive.

    I know you are are sharing this to help people going through similar things now, but if you need it (which i don’t think you do as you strike me as incredibly strong and confident), give yourself a pat on the back for being so strong and giving your mother, siblings and godmother, grace. You mention that happy endings exist if we accept what is. A miracle to me is when I see someone radiating grace, as you do in this post. It is beautiful, full of hope and so loving. I am proud to call you friend. Cue your bow.


    • September 11, 2015 at 4:32 pm

      Thank you so much for your loving words, Elizabeth. I paused and read them in the hubbub of this morning, telling my husband I’d just gotten something in my eyes thanks to a beautiful comment. (I wish I could’ve replied then, telepathically.)

      I smiled reading them again now, so grateful to be enveloped in the grace you have offered … and hopeful others reading quietly will see it, and be heartened by its presence in this world. It’s out there. It’s in here. It’s everything.

      Much, much love.

  7. September 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    No words. Just love.

  1. September 11, 2015 at 4:16 pm
  2. September 14, 2015 at 6:05 am
  3. December 2, 2015 at 6:29 pm
  4. December 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm
  5. February 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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