Home > Family, Grief, Health, Personal, Relationships > The During, part 2: I Miss My Mom

The During, part 2: I Miss My Mom

My mom once told me that she’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said she disagreed and would say no more: not who’d diagnosed it, not when, not how. It was information I was utterly unable to act upon, apart from to refer to her illness as schizophrenia.

I later discovered she’d shared different diagnoses with my younger sister. I couldn’t call her illness schizophrenia with much confidence, and took to referencing her “mental illness” more generally.

I still sometimes say she had schizophrenia, but the truth is, I don’t know. As it’s hard to get water from a rock, it was also hard getting clarity from Mom.

Click here for The During, part 1,
or here for the why of these posts.

August 6, 2003

It’s after noon already & I’m the only one who’s left the house today – & then only to take out the trash. Nick actually just woke up, which means the day is set to really begin, the fun parts that involve finding Mom & talking with her about commitment. My heart feels like it is literally breaking with the weight of my mom’s terror & the knowledge we cannot know right now whether she will ever be sane again. Right now all we have is hope, & I don’t know how well founded it is. I pray it is. I pray for the best for Mom & know, no matter what, we will figure out how to deal with whatever comes, always with the love & help of awesome friends. I will learn to overcome this fear, the kind that hits hardest at night but is always present in some gnawing form.

(Breathe. Just breathe.)

August 6, 2003

Oh, no.

Scant hours after talking to Lane County Mental Health and filling out the pre-commitment paperwork which will at least lead them to establish basic contact with my mom, my mom managed to find our house. So much for a safe haven. She worked the main street name from someone, then proceeded to go up and down the streets in search of Nick’s truck. She found it and now here she is, talking about how her neighbors have tapped her lines and handing off her safe deposit box keys in case one of them “takes her out” for “talking too much.” She’s resting comfortably on Rache’s couch and I just want her to leave right now, because I don’t know what to do with her, this woman who was once my mom. I am so scared by this whole situation, but all I can do is keep on plodding through – others have done it before, and we’ll do it together now…

Oh, and now she’s asking – subtly – if she can stay with us. Oh, God, what are we supposed to do? This is so tense.

I wish she could just accept the medication she’s been prescribed over the years and try to find some peace, make it so we could be around her without fear… but that’s seldom the path the mentally ill take. I so want to say something, but if we do, we’re stuck here with her, no telling what she might do.

August 8, 2003

Yesterday was a tough day. Rache, Nick and I were probably more nervous than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. We’ve all dealt with pre-test nerves, with performance nerves, with all the kinds of nervous moments you encounter in the course of life, but this was something new. What are you supposed to say to someone in this situation, especially your mom? “Yeah, we really don’t think you’re quite right…” She was running around the house trying to find things to hand us, sure her neighbors were going to take her out at any moment, before we got her to sit on the porch. Nick said we needed to talk, but then fell silent.

None of us were quite sure what to say. So I eventually spoke. And she saw it all coming, every bit of it. “Other people know better what’s happening. They believe me and they support me. They know.” She kept saying harshly, “I understand your position, thank you. I know you mean well,” and in some respect I think she did, but I also think she knows what is happening and is deathly terrified of what is happening to her. (It is clear in everything she says, and does; but she also knows she can’t tell us, because then it’s really, unavoidably real.) As we walked away, she said, “Other people are helping, people who care more about me.” I turned against the sun and said, “It’s not possible for them to love you more than us, Mom…” before she shut the door. I know she heard, but I don’t know if she believed it.

As soon as the door closed, Rache and I burst into tears. (Nick commended me for being so composed, but though I can put on a show, I feel every bit of it.) I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but I had hoped it might just be that magical, that she’d just get in the car and go with us. We’d hold her hands from either side and let her know we were there to support her through this. That was my hope, but not my expectation – my hope truly did exceed my expectations. It was almost easier for me, because I’d suspected it might be like that, that we’re at the beginning of something that’s going to be a long, long haul, and that we have to be prepared to deal with it. No remedy to something so big could come that easily, could it? Our hands shook as we put our papers and baby books in the trunk, but Nick was hella frustrated and was like, “I’m not giving up! We need to go somewhere!” I was glad we did, because it turns out the people who were ‘supporting’ her were actually trying to find ways to encourage her to seek medical assistance. We went to the police about reports she’s filed, and it turns out some of the calls she thinks were made never were. She’s talked about so many (never, ever one to lie), but there were only four… while Nick conferred with them, I talked with mom’s church counselor. She was awesome. She provided so much information I hadn’t had, and at the end of the call, when she’d conveyed all that, she asked if I’d like her to pray with me. I can’t recall ever accepting such an offer, but this time I did, because it seemed right. I cried when she prayed, because it was so full of hope, love for my mom and for us and just the world, that I knew it wasn’t wrong to hope. She ended off with, “And may Christine once again have peace and order in her world,” which made me cry even harder, because it showed she really understood what scares me the most, and that she genuinely cared. I took great comfort in that prayer, and am glad she asked.

One thing the counselor mentioned was that Mom’s doctor can commit her. That was the biggest piece of information. Mom thinks she can be ‘safe’ just by moving out of her house, didn’t listen to what I said, but the only way she can really be safe again is by getting medical help. So I hunted down Mom’s doctor and I have to call them back again on Monday, ’cause apparently they could only hear my name and number from the message I left. Argh! But now I know we have this route to pursue, and since he’s Madeline’s doctor, too, he already knows some of the things that have concerned us. I was going to say it’s the beginning of a long road, but we’ve been on the road for a while, and… we’ll just keep on going, and hope for the best. I believe it will be better. I remember my mom, my real mom, and she was an amazing woman worth every bit of fighting we have to do to get her back.

six hands for lifting

later date, same porch

October 10, 2003

*** I miss my mom. I joked about her, lightheartedly and with love, with the coolest person here (Linda, the financial aid lady, taking a breath of fresh, damp air with her stockinged feet tucked in front of her on the bench) and… there’s really no and. I just miss my mom, and hope that things will be better for her in the future. And that there’ll come a point that, every time I look in her eyes, I’m looking into a spirit I recognize.

November 29, 2003

I still feel some ambivalence. My mom is still schizophrenic, or whatever it is she suffers from. She was over this evening and I loved her, with all my heart, the way I always have and always will, but I was tired by trying to keep up with her. And when she called 30 minutes ago to ask me if I was doing drugs, because she’d noticed I was jerking a lot in my sleep (that’s a sign, you know), my legs across her lap as we watched “About Schmidt,” she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And when I finally said I had to go, I really had to, she pushed something else she’s been obsessing about this weekend on me. Some part of me shut down and retreated the way I always had to to get by when I was younger, this distancing I have to do to not go crazy with frustration at the immutability of painful circumstance. That is one of the things that kills me, that Eugene will always be tied to so many painful memories, ones I’ve let go of but some that continue into this day. It takes so much energy to have hope when you’ve seen over the years that hope is no remedy for the illnesses that can beset the human mind. It takes so much energy to have the same conversations over and over again, to know they’ll keep on coming and that I’ll always feel guilty when I say, “This has to stop NOW. We have to talk about something else.”

It’s hard. It is. But there’s so much good here in Eugene. Maybe I won’t be able to stay away forever. Maybe I won’t be able to stay away for more than three weeks. I’ve pulled all my My Little Ponies out of Rache’s closet to sell when I get back to LA. They meant so much to me for so long, this tie to the color and brightness I always had to look forward to growing up, but I can’t hold on to them forever. I don’t want to, I don’t need to. And if I can sell enough to pay for plane tickets here over the break? Hell yeah. (I know I can. Do you have any idea how many ponies I have? In boxes, in outfits, with accessories, in excellent shape.)

What do those little pieces of plastic mean when compared to all this love? The comfort of knowing that it will remain?

That same evening

That same evening, glimpses of not-Mom …

Always

… and Mom

December 2, 2003

I recalled, aloud, coming across this summer a letter I’d written my first boyfriend’s parents nearly a decade ago. In it I admonished them for the way they offhandedly dismissed my mother as crazy, the way they wrote her off without bothering to understand the factors in her life that made her the way she was. Like that horrible old song, I thought they’d best not judge till they’d walked a mile in her shoes. What gave them that right? What made them think it was okay to say those things about my mom? I remember how angry I was, how frustrated, how finally I just couldn’t handle it anymore.

Now I see there may have been some basis for what they were saying; I did even then. But a basis for so saying does not mean it needs be said, nor by them in such a manner, does not mean there are not more mature ways to approach the situation, ways better suited adults who should understand the complexities of life and how it can break a person.

February 15, 2004

My mom disowned me again, citing “lack of respect.” This time I got the boot via voicemail. Funny, then, that she was in my dreams, since she so seldom is.

This is what I said to her, verbatim, in my voicemail:

Hi Mom. It’s probably true that I haven’t been treating you with exactly the same dignity or whatever you would like to be treated with. But uhm I’ve been having a debate too because I think that, uh, I think that you’re not well and to try and skirt around it every time that we talk is really, really difficult for me. Uhm, so if you don’t want to talk to me that’s fine, because it would be a lesser burden on me as well uhm because we once vowed over the summer that we were not going to talk to you till you sought treatment because the things that you do are not things that normal people do. This is of course something it would be better to say to you, but I already said everything to you that one day outside of your house [and I know you won’t pick up the phone anyway].

I don’t think anything has changed significantly. I think you’re going to keep running as long as you can trying to deny that the fact that everybody saying this about you means anything and it’s not saying anything bad because it’s something biological, it’s something that happens to people. And like all it takes is you just have to get some medication and it will calm you down and I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in your head. Like, I don’t know. Like, I really just don’t know. And I want you to be well but I don’t know when that’s going to come, or if that’s going to come, or if you’re just going to separate yourself out from everyone who loves you in the meantime.

That being said, I do love you. I don’t know if you’ll believe it. I do love you and I wish that life did not throw these crazy situations at us. That’s all I have to say I guess.

Listening to the message over, I was amazed by how calm and clear I sound. In the worst situations, I am always a bedrock of clarity and certainty, and I do not doubt my strength. It’s just that I feel so alone at those moments, like I can be as strong as anything life throws at me… just, why does it have to keep on throwing?

February 16, 2004

On a slightly more confusing note, I got another call from my mom. This time she said, “I’m altering the proceeds of my house sale. I told Rachel this last night, that I’ll give her a couple thousand dollars toward Cambridge, and I’m going to do the same for you. I know it’ll help you move and get established in your new home. I guess it will be your graduation present.”

Cause for exuberance, right? Not so much. Anytime anything has been given in the past, no matter how small, it’s been a source of contention and grief for months to come. I know it’s not her motivation in the rare instances she’s given us groceries or the like, but she has a big-time martyr complex. She really lords it over us, totally disregarding the numerous times we’ve loaned her money or assisted her in other ways. That’s not what’s important to her.

It always used to kill me when she’d tell people how she was helping us through college. Our local paper even covered it once. I would always ask, “How? How are you helping us through?” I paid for it all myself – I mean, ALL of it. All the loans, the groceries, the rent. I even let her keep the child support that was supposed to go to me from my dad… money that would’ve made my life so much easier from the time I moved out when I was 16. I just didn’t want my ease of living to detrimentally affect my siblings, you know? So I let her keep it. It wasn’t that big a deal to me, and still isn’t, it was what I chose and I stand by that. But it’d really irk me then when she’d say she was helping us, dying for us, because though she put forth a lot of emotional effort in raising us in our younger days, well, all I can say is… no. I did it undergrad. I did law school. I took the loans, I worked, I did it all myself. And I felt it.

So, yeah, it’d be nice to have a couple thousand dollars to move with. But I know it’s penance again, her way of saying, “I acted rashly again, I’m sorry, please love me.” And, as always, that’s not the issue. It’s not about love. Like the Patti Smyth song I always used to quote, “Sometimes love just ain’t enough.” It takes more.

Like being firm, like sticking to my resolve. Of course I’d like to find a way that I could stick to my resolve to not communicate till she’s shown she’s listening to us, every damn person she knows, and at least considering seeking treatment for the things that are really wrong with her and simultaneously get the money that would make moving so much easier, but I don’t think I can. It’s hard to turn my back on, but, ultimately, I have always gotten by. I got by before, I’ll get by now without it, because my mom finding peace is more important to me than artificial peace that comes with hiding the truth for personal gain.

Still, I’m confused. I don’t know what to say to her. I know I’ll have to call and I know that conversation will not be fun. I know because I’ve had it before. And it will be hard knowing I’m casting greater ease of living to the wind, but it’s right.

Because… I want the mom who raised me and my siblings, and I have to have faith that with resolve and devotion we can find her again.

Please stay tuned for The During, part 3, and
 feel free to share your thoughts and experiences here if so moved.

 last : The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s Face | The During, part 3: Treatment beyond Our Consent : next

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  1. September 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Our stories are different. And the same.
    As I read yours I walk with you. The pain, the fear, the frustration, the anger, the love, the hope, the grief… So many emotions, many of them conflicting. Equally felt, equally real. No wonder we were tired to the bone and beyond. We tried, we failed, we tried some more.
    Hugs.

    • September 12, 2015 at 4:48 am

      Yes! It was a wearying up and down of “there is nothing I can do” and “I have to find something.” A few times, I took steps I wouldn’t take now. I was so concerned with reaching her, with her not being lost and alone, that I imposed my presence upon her though it riled her up. Given the chance again today, I would check in but would not stay if she told me to go. And yet, I was doing what I could with what I had … including anxiety, fear, sadness. If I might do it more skillfully today, that’s because of what I learned along that hard way.

  2. September 12, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Oh thanks for sharing this! Found comfort in reading it and I think your voicemail to her is poignant. A former friend commited suicide last summer. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia but denied it very strongly. My mother always told me I was the crazy one. (Wel.. I kinda am) I think we always want to heal and fix those we love but sometimes there is no fixing and you can love the good parts, accept, take a step back and let your art be the life you live. She must have known and it must have tore her apart. To fight your own mind and demons.. there is nothing harder than that.

    • September 12, 2015 at 4:54 am

      “sometimes there is no fixing”
      It took me a few years to learn this, and I’d still forget sometimes. But it was easier for Mom and for me when I did, when I stopped fighting that unwinnable fight and accepted what was (in bursts of longer than five minutes).

      I so wanted her to not be tormented and trapped alone in her mind. That was what drove me, until I finally understood that “freeing” her was not within my power.

      • September 13, 2015 at 5:19 am

        It was also never ever your job. You were the child not the parent. And all those people that said you should have done more etc.. it’s not elegant but they deserve a good smack in the face for that. They have no idea what they are talking about. It wasn’t within your power and it certainly wasn’t your job or duty in any way whatsoever. You were not the parent.

  3. cardamone5
    September 12, 2015 at 7:15 am

    This is hard to read. My heart breaks for you, for your siblings and for your mom. You handled it the best way you could, much more compassionately than I would have.

    The other reason it’s hard for me to read is because it brings to life the moments leading up to my own commitment. Everything slowed down and dialed up in intensity. We were anxious for help, but even more anxious for what that help would actually involve. It turned out to be awful, and the time was slow and dramatic. Your important chronicle inspires and challenges me to write about this time in more detail because like you said people going through it need to have resources such as personal accounts of both the person with mental illness and their families. Thank you for sharing. I know it’s painful, and I understand your hesitancy. But, you are doing a great thing, and I think your mom would be grateful for your courage.

    Lots of love,
    Elizabeth

    • September 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      I would love to read more about your experiences.

      I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days thinking about why I didn’t share some/a lot of this sooner. Part of it was that I wanted to be very clear that I loved my mom deeply and unconditionally, so that no one would look at one sentence or paragraph and go, “This is what it’s like to love someone with mental illness!” No. You can’t take extrapolate the entire experience from any one person’s experiences, especially one or two posts! But now, now I feel I’ve established enough my love for my mother that this won’t detract–for others–from how much I love her, or from how beautiful she was. Is. Now it feels OK to say, “I love her deeply, and that was so despite this decades-long struggle.”

      One of my girlfriend’s mom’s died of cancer a few years back. Before she died, I talked with her about losing my mom to mental illness before losing her to cancer. She asked how I’d done that. I said something like, “I did that lifted by all the love she gave me before; her love from everything preceding gave me the strength to endure what followed.” She beamed when I told her this, with me all the while having NO IDEA that what she’d really been asking was, “How will my daughter survive without me?” I only realized weeks or months later what the conversation was really about, but was so glad I’d answered exactly as I had. The love she’d bestowed upon her daughter before she died was indeed part of how her daughter endured saying goodbye.

      So … I think of all this. I think of how my mom never wanted me to write about her, thinking I’d write only the terrible things, and I feel like I am absolutely doing the right thing. I emailed my younger sister and asked for confirmation my talking about the physicality of her death was OK. I wrote her,

      “I include some fairly detailed descriptions of where Mom was at physically. I want to share those things to show approaching death in a tender light, not a terrifying one. So few people I’ve found write about those final moments that I think the silence contributes to fear. I would like to contribute to anti-fear. But I’d also like your thoughts on whether it’s OK to share that, or whether you have some concerns.”

      She wrote back:

      “Do it. I think it’s perfect. I don’t think writing about our realities is anything but healing. <3"

      And so, I will share. I will share this tiny piece of my mom's life, knowing it as but a fraction compared to all the joy she shared before. Thinking that the her who raised me would be glad to be part of easing others' hearts, and helping them feel more love.

      It is in the moments I share that light that I continue best to feel her still.

      (You are loved.)

  4. September 12, 2015 at 11:01 am

    I read with my heart in my throat, blocking breath holding my tears for the young you, for your mother who was so lost to you and to herself. Oh Deb, what hurt is exposed in your journals. I ache for all of you reading these words from your past. Yet, even through this I am glad for you, glad you are finding your way more clearly to the heart of your love for your mother. I know your love didn’t waver, but you doubted yourself and I think this walk through your history is helping you.

    I love you. ❤

    • September 12, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      I read your comment while D was taking a bathroom break, and my own breath caught in holding back tears.

      I felt so uplifted reading the last of these entries over the last few days. I couldn’t figure out why. Was it just time, I wondered, that made me feel better about it all? Or was there something more?

      You hit it exactly, in a way I couldn’t have found without your words:

      your love didn’t waver, but you doubted yourself and I think this walk through your history is helping you.

      YES. THIS.

      When I thought back on those years, I thought of the frustration. The helplessness. The bitterness of being unable to do anything to ease my mom’s fearful isolation. That’s what I expected to see when I read all these entries.

      To look back and find such tenderness and love, along with the frustration? To see that I’d generally been clear my frustration was with circumstances, not my mom? That was more healing than just about anything else so far. To look back and know that what I’d actually done wasn’t nearly as horrible as what I’d remembered was so healing. It made me feel more hopeful that what my mom felt from me was love and, nearer the end when I no longer felt like I had to heal her and instead made peace with loving her as she was, acceptance.

      I’d never have understood that if I hadn’t returned to these posts. And I’d probably not have understood why I felt so free reading those later entries if you hadn’t left this beautiful comment, helping me understand the why. I almost feel, I hope you don’t mind my saying, a little of my mom in this comment and your love, and I am so grateful I would never dream of finding the right words to express that gratitude.

      I love you, and I am grateful for you.

      Thank you. ♥

    • September 12, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      Also, I posted this on my FB page. I assume it’ll only show to twelve people, but maybe one of those twelve people will be half as touched as I was.

      • September 13, 2015 at 4:57 am

        I hope it touches someone’s heart and lifts them. We are never as horrible as we remember.

  5. September 12, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Diagnoses are funny things. My husband has been diagnosed with ADHD, Bipolar II, Schizoaffective Disorder – Bipolar Type, and lately Schizophrenia. It really depends on the doctor you talk to any given day. So, your mom may not have been hiding anything or doing anything weird by telling you something different from your sister. She really may have been told different things on different occasions when she did see medical professionals.

    Your story gives me hope for my son. He didn’t choose his father. He sees the good days, he sees the madness of the bad days. I doubt their relationship will ever be easy, but I have hope that there will always be love at the bottom of it.

    • September 12, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      The different diagnoses was something I’d resigned myself to–like so many things from these years–not understanding, and yet … it was good reading your post and seeing a likely reason for this different diagnoses.

      I tried so hard to find the doctor who’d diagnosed her with schizophrenia. If only I could find him, I thought, everything would be OK! I doubt that now, but it seemed plausible then.

      Tonight, when I posted a much more grim recounting of dealing with Mental Health folks, it was easier to imagine the end result of finding the doctor would probably have been the same: nothing doing, barring imminent threat to herself or others.

      I’m glad this gives you hope. If it helps, my youngest sister has also written recently about these experiences, and my younger sister intends to. We are three very different people, each of whom loved Mom deeply in her own different way.

  6. September 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I want to say I’m enjoying reading this, but it’s hard reading, and although the writing, as usual, is outstanding, the content is anything but enjoyable. Life with an alcoholic, abusive father and a needy, narcissistic mother is not as different from yours as I’d thought it would be. Know that I’m sending much love and good vibes your way to help you tell your story, I believe many will read it and know they are not alone. ❤

    • September 12, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      I so appreciate the candor and compassion behind this comment. I posted the first post a few days ago thinking, “The world will end because I’m doing this!” and I’m glad to see that isn’t so.

      I also think, FWIW, that this is one of those stories where The End might be … healing, somehow. Certainly more healing than the rest.

      It was such a struggle, but there was so much love in the struggle. I don’t know how to explain it here, but I think … maybe The End itself will do so for me.

      Thank you. ♥

  7. Katrina Espinoza
    September 13, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Sometimes thinking about mental illness has scared me. My dad used to say it as almost a threat saying look at your uncle mental illness runs in the family. I think this was all failing to see his lack of “normalcy” I also used to think the mental illness I saw in my family was due to how some of them were raised. Spending time with my paternal grandparents was hard and different. However we were constantly guilted into spending the night at their house instead of sleeping at our maternal grandparents house who gave us the comfort and the love we were used to. The last half of my life seems to have revolved around fear. A huge fear is what if I go crazy like my dad said will happen. I am sure it was meant as a joke. However your story is hitting my heart so much and it sounds familiar on some notes. Love it love you all. I can’t wait to read everyone’s blogs.

    • September 18, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      I have to say …

      I remember talking with S and him telling me we’re doomed. All of us. It’s just in our blood at this point.

      I remember watching Mom’s devolution into mental illness and thinking, “Oh, crap. This could be me. This maybe will be me.”

      But in the years since I wrote some of my fearful words while watching Mom suffer, I’ve seen–from a distance afforded by blogging–that “doomed” is not accurate. There are so many possible outcomes, and with internal vigilance (self) and external vigilance (loved ones, which we’re so lucky to have!), the outcome can be very, very different.

      I’d not have seen that had I not walked this road again, more quickly, and so I’m glad I did walk it. 🙂

  1. September 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm
  2. December 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm
  3. February 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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