When it comes to my own childhood, I have some painful memories. You see, my mother was mentally ill like I am but it was with a different disorder. My mom had bipolar disorder a.k.a. manic depression. Everyone has mood swings but my mom's were extreme. Sometimes my mom was happy and energetic and created amazing happy memories. She would wake up early in the morning, open up my curtains singing, "Good morning sunshine! Rise and shine with the sun!" I would groggily sit up and rub the sleep from my eyes; or as a teenager I would pull the covers over my head and groan at her to go away and let me sleep. My mom would cook a full breakfast with my favorite foods: pancakes, turkey bacon, turkey sausage, toast, and fruit. Then she would say to me, "Let's have a hooky day today, girlfriend!" She would call school and tell a little fib that I was running a fever, then my mom would take me shopping for a brand new wardrobe. My mom had so much money, or so I thought when I was a child. Her wallet was full of magical plastic cards and she used as many as she needed to buy me the things that she said would look good on me. Later, we would go out for lunch, again with plastic cards. Sometimes we would take a random road trips to Cape May or to Clementine Water Park or even to Pennsylvania.
Late at night, my mom would stay up crafting. She would crochet blankets or doilies. She would teach herself to pain on glass. She would paint beautiful pictures on glass vases to give as gifts. She would make crafts for every season: elaborate wreathes, decorations to put outside and around the house, trinket boxes that she painted then dry brushed then decorated with dried flowers. Sometimes she would antique her art. During the day, my mom taught me how to do the crafts that she did. Other nights, my mom stayed up baking a lot of goods: brownies, cookies, cakes, fudge, and so on. I would wake up to find a kitchen full of delicious treats that she was gifting to the people whom she cared about.
One day, I would wake up all by myself and things would be different, which would lead to painful memories. My mom wouldn't be the one to wake me up and she wouldn't cook me breakfast. She would still be asleep and if I tried to wake her up, she would yell at me to let her sleep or she would promise she would be up in five more minutes. I would have to make my mom's coffee and I would pour myself cereal and milk for breakfast. Sometimes Mom would get up and other times, she would stay in bed crying. If I tried to hug her, I was told that I was being manipulative and selfish. I was confused about what was happening. Why was I selfish? If I was a good girl, maybe my mom would be happy.
Sometimes after work, my mom would come home and pour a drink with her friends. They'd smile while having tonic and gin, and laugh loud. When I got out of bed to ask her to tickle my back, my mom would tell me to go back to sleep. Or sometimes, she would invite me to stay up and play cards while she and her friends gossiped. Sometimes they talked about things that I didn't understand: sex, marital problems and the "sluts" they didn't like My sister learned that she could stay up too provided she rubbed my mom's back.
Sometimes my mom had a new boyfriend. They all had one syllable names: John, Jim, Dan or something of the like. Of course, their names were pretty common and there was more than one Jim, more than on John, and so on it would go. My mom would accuse me of running the men out of her life when I asked when they were going to marry my mommy. You see, my dad remarried when I was eight years old, and it only made sense to me if my mom would too. I thought if I had a stepmom that I should have a stepdad too. It was only logical in my mind. When a boyfriend cheated on her, it was her fault or it was my fault or it was the "slut's fault." I never understood why men would spend the night then leave in the morning, and why we would see them for awhile then they'd never come around again.
I never knew which days my mom would be happy or which days she would be sad. Life with my mom was like riding a roller coaster and my sister and I learned how to go along for the ride so that we didn't fall off and get left behind.
When I was in high school, I took a psychology class and recognized all of the symptoms that my mom had when we learned about bipolar disorder: extreme mood swings, putting oneself into debt with many credit cards and random shopping sprees, lying in bed all day crying, the alcohol use, the over-the-top-happiness and evading of responsibilities. I tried to talk to my mom and tell her that I believed she needed help. My mom laughed me off at first until I persisted at nagging her into calling a doctor. I wish someone would have listened to me then before it got to be too late.
I am pained when I think about how my mom's mental health declined. Her shopping sprees during manic episodes became more extreme; for example, she would buy twelve loaves of bread on sale then put them in her car and leave them there just in case she may need them at any given time until the bread went moldy and the car smelled bad. My mom would peruse the neighborhood on "collection day" and college random items such as bowling balls or rocking chairs, or would take a trip to the local turnpike rest stop and fill her purse with little packets of ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper. She filled her van with random odds and ends that she may need at some point in time (like the bowling balls). It pains me to say that when I was in my twenties I had to cut off contact with my mom because I started having anxiety attacks when she called me in the middle of the night to tell me she was going to slit her wrists or told me about events that I knew were hallucinations.
My most painful memory is the one surrounding her death. When my mom was 42 years old (I was 22), I walked into my father and stepmother's house and my dad told me to sit down because he had something to tell me. My mother had been missing for a week and eventually her neighbor noticed and called the police. When they burst into my mother's apartment, they found it in complete disarray because she became a hoarder and left her insulin needles everywhere. In her bedroom, my mother was dead on her bedroom floor, her body already in decomposition. My dad had been contacted and he had to tell me this news. The autopsy revealed that my mom had been dead for some time before her body was discovered but the autopsy report listed her date of death as September 14, 2005.
My dad accompanied me and my sister to the funeral home where we had to plan the funeral. We had no money because my mom had cashed out her retirement plans and life insurance policy, leaving behind nothing but debt. My stepmom had to send copies of the death certificate to all the debtors, leaving out our names so that we would not bear the responsibility of paying it all back.\
When we viewed our mom's body, she did not look like herself anymore. She was cold and was missing hair and her face was slightly purple, even with the makeup that was applied. We had to ask for monetary donations in lieu of flowers because we had no money to pay for a funeral, and the funeral director helped us to cut costs by driving the casket to the cemetery in his personal car. I spoke the eulogy and asked the people in attendance to find it in their hearts to forgive my mom for the ways in which she had hurt everyone when her mental condition literally drove her crazy. The person who really needed to forgive her most of all was me, and I am still working on that.
My biggest fear is that I will turn into my mom. Unlike my mom, I sought help when I became depressed but whenever I feel a little too happy, I am afraid that I am manic and call my therapist. So far, he has always said that I am anxious but we are monitoring my condition because you never know what can happen.
I promise that my son will never know the pain that I did, because I will always be on top of things. Someday, I hope to come to terms with the way things had happened; I will forgive my mom, I will forgive the doctors for ignoring me, I will forgive myself for giving up on her. Most of all, I will learn to let go of the memories that haunt me almost every day.