Being a Child of Mental Health.

I haven’t seen my Mother in 12 months. It was my sister’s wedding. None of us thought she would arrive.

She stood awkwardly in the church, unsure of how to behave, where to look. Whilst we all shed tears of joy at my sister’s important day, she was emotionless and disconnected.

I’m 5 years old. As my Dad walks me home after another weekend of carefree bliss, I scream and cry at the thought of returning to my “week day” home. A home where I have to leave my uniform at the front door as soon as I step in from school before getting immediately in a bath. Where I am sent to my room straight after a 5pm on the dot dinner. Invisible, unimportant. Where a marriage of domestic abuse is just a part of daily life.

I’m 11. My older sister is the first one to go. She’s 18 now, so that’s where the care ends. She’s wailing to stay. My Mother’s eyes glaze over.

I’m 15. I’ve heard the words “I hate you” and “You’re a fucking little bitch” more times than I care to count. The daily game of “What Mother am I coming home to tonight?” has gotten too much. I pack my bags and move in with my hero: my Dad.

I’m 22. She’s cut me out again. She does it once every few months or so. But this time it’s for good. She’s disappeared. Gone. She’s abandoned every single one of us. My youngest sister is only 15.

I’m the tough one out of the three of us. I was the only one to ever stand up to her, to call her out on her behaviour. Yet, I forgave her time and time again for her lack of care. Her lack of love.

Despite everything I ever said, I still wanted her to look at me the way my Dad did.

Whatever happened, I still wanted my Mum.

For years I refused to believe it was her mental health. Sure, we accepted she had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but apart from that she was normal, right? I put the extreme mood swings and drastic personality switches down to her personality. It was something she had control over.

She never listened when I spoke. She heard things that had never been said. She conjured stories about different members of the family and then used them to wage a war.

Disconnected.

Her words left scars that would never heal. Scratching at an already low self esteem, she found ways to make you feel like you were worthless. She screamed, she swore, she ignored.

Sometimes I tried to picture what was going on inside her mind. I wanted to connect the dots, find a reason that would explain it all. Explain the lies she told to my older sister that tore her world apart. Explain why she never provided me, the middle child, with care simply because I had a “present Father”. Explain why she would tell stories to the rest of the family about what an awful person I was. Explain why she kept me and my sisters far apart for so many years.

Explain.

It was months until I knew she had left our hometown. Left my baby sister without a parent as she departed with her latest fling. When I found out I felt my whole world fall apart around me. Crippled with guilt at not being home to care for my youngest sibling. Overwhelmed with anger, hatred even, for this woman who dared to call herself a parent. Confused. Shocked. Alone.

I too became disconnected.

I was an angry child. I would scream until it felt like my throat was bleeding if things didn’t go my way. Locked in my room I would tear the place apart, pounded my fists against any surface, pulling at my hair and scratching at my skin.

I managed to put a lid on the anger. But the anxiety remained.

Even now, I find myself knocked off my feet when anxiety strikes. Body into shutdown, mind into overdrive. Panic attacks for no apparent reason. Insomnia. Inconsolable tears.

And I worry: am I just like her?

Not a day goes by without the unbearable thought crossing my mind. I do not fear that I will never see her again (for this is a fate I have accepted). I fear that I will grow into an exact replica of her.

I fear that I will never let someone get close to me without striking. That I will unconsciously hurt the ones I love soon enough. That eventually unhealthy thoughts will find a way in and take control.

I cannot be like her.

For years I thought she was just bad. Evil. A tainted soul.

Honestly? The child inside me still harbors those thoughts.

But deep down, I know that no one of a sound mind could do the things she has done. That her grasp on reality is now so loose that she doesn’t even realise what is going on around her.

And still, I cannot forgive. I cannot forget.

I carry a weight around with me that never seems to cease. Despite reminding myself that she is just one person, one insignificant person, in a family of unconditional love, the feelings remain. This dark smudge is a part of me. It’s a part of my DNA. And it will not go away.

I wait for the day I get a phone call to say the extreme amount of medication she is on has gone too far. That she could no longer physically cope with the complexities pulsing through her body.

Sometimes these thoughts send me into waves of hysteria. Other times they leave me numb.

I cannot be like her.

It is impossible to explain the competing emotions it leaves you with. Growing up with a parent so clearly disconnected from the world, so engulfed in her own inner demons, can send you one of many ways.

Guilt. Anger. Resentment. Longing. Hope.

You jump from one to the other day by day.

It never settles.

Yet, among the chaos, one thing remains.

The desire to be different. The desire to be more.

My sister’s desire (and beautiful ability) to be the best Mother she could be. My desire to be the greatest version of myself, exploring the world and the many possibilities laid out in front of me.

Our desire to love, nurture and care.

Our desire to support one another, for better or for worse.

I may not have a Mother. I have many Mothers. A Father who is a Mother. Three sisters who are Mothers. Aunties. Cousins. Best friends.

One day I will find a way to face my own demons of the past. I’ll accept them and leave them behind me.

I know it. One day.

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9 thoughts on “Being a Child of Mental Health.

  1. Amber, This is so from the heart and the gut. Very powerful. I have a feeling one day all this suffering will bring you a crown of achievement–in that you have the capability to reach out and help others.

    I could relate so much to what you say although my circumstances were different. In my Mom’s case her brain was slowly dying over a 30-40 year period as the levels of dopamine decreased. I watched her lose all empathy and sense of conscience. She could Jesus Christ and God bless everyone she met but then a second later turn around and say the most cruel things about them and later ask me why she had been like that.

    You have gotten it right that it’s mental illness. I know what I’m about to say is very cold and clinical. One day you may find exactly what form of mental illness it was. If you read up and learn about the biological process and the effects it takes the form of a case history and you’re the observer. It helps put it in perspective and eventually to doctor your own hurts. It also helps you to help others. The strange but true thing is just like you said–if there is a spark of love in your heart you come out a better person for it.

    My Mom wasn’t the way yours was so the depth of pain you feel is different and I admire your ability to articulate it. This is part of the healing process. Keep going forward with it.

    1. Emily – thanks for your wonderful comment. I really do feel like, since writing this post, I want to connect with other people who have suffered similar events even more so than before.

      One day I think I will be able to see this all from an outsider’s perspective. I am taking baby steps in order to achieve that.

      I hope that this article was (perhaps) the first big step on that journey.

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