the moms in our lives

it now seems to be no mere coincidence that i grew up as the child of a mentally ill mother. fortunately, the time and place (early 60’s in WA) was right and the family recognized the need to have her institutionalized for the benefit of us all. fortunately for my mom it was the safest place she could be over the following decade as the paranoid schizophrenia took its toll on her and robbed her of the life both she and my grandparents had envisioned for her- and of the relationship she herself had envisioned with her two young daughters, potential grandchildren and more.

i bring this up for a couple of reasons. of course being mothers day, we honor our mothers in whatever size, shape, color or mental state they come. and although this day in the US continues to be one of the most commercially successful holidays where small and large tokens of appreciation are exchanged, no gift can quite compare with the gift of a mothers love over time, space and distance- even when the distances it must bridge are those tangled in the confusion and chaos of mental illness.
love endures, it really does.
in hundreds and hundreds (possibly 1000’s) of often confusing letters over the decades, she writes into the void expressing her thoughts and concerns (there are many!), keeping me posted on the day to day happenings in her life as she sees them- always ending each one with “Your Own loving Mother” then signs her full name including middle initial. as if each one is an official document.
she will be 80 next year and spends her mornings 5 days a week as she has done over the past 15 or so years as an assistant in a kindergarten classroom in No. CA helping children learn to read and write. we are very fortunate that she has lived a full, if somewhat unusually difficult, life. i am grateful for that. through her loss, i learned to appreciate my own motherhood in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

may is also mental health awareness month- for what it’s worth. there are many kids out there who are not as fortunate as i was. who have to deal with the ups and downs of living with a mentally ill parent and have challenges to meet on a daily basis that are often confusing, hurtful, and even downright scary.
it seems while we have loads of new medications that can be used to treat these illnesses, the support system for administering them to the mentally ill is very lacking. i always feel that we were fortunate in that when my mother was ill, it was the norm to institutionalize them for treatment. now we just write out the scripts and turn them back to the families to deal with- often with terrible outcomes. how many of the homeless are mentally ill? i don’t know what the answer is but i do know that there are plenty of kids out there in need of support and on this mothers day, i am thinking about them too.

( a good read- The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut was a book i stumbled on in high school when one day at the bookstore i could no longer find any Kurt Vonnegut books i hadn’t read. again, no coincidence. the anniversary republished version has a new forward that is worth rereading the book for if you read this many years ago)

happy mother’s day to all the moms out there-a day early, as i will be attending to various “mom events” tomorrow. enjoy-

38 thoughts on “the moms in our lives

    1. shiborigirl Post author

      ahh, vonnegut. you should check out this book. i think i was about 17 when i first read it and was so amazed by the story. it must have been when it first came out as it was published in 1975. in light of having read all kurt vonneguts books up to that point i was actually shocked to read mark’s story. nobody in my own family knew much about the subject and it was never discussed although i was keenly interested in the subject. i would say it was one of those books that stayed with me. i tried to get a hold of a copy 20 years later and couldn’t find one. finally it was republished and i re-read it. same effect. still loved it.

      Like

      Reply
  1. grace Forrest~Maestas

    i wish you and your mom whatever kind of
    mother’s day you would love…
    i think it can be very different, one to another.
    but we are ALL daughters.
    so, happy daughters’ day too.

    Like

    Reply
  2. brigid hogan

    i admire your courage to write about this, to share your feelings, and through this to help others. This country needs more tolerance and support for those challenged by mental illness. I deeply appreciate all that you do.

    Like

    Reply
  3. martha

    ahhhh I am another daughter of a paranoid schizophrenic mother and it has indeed been a painful and perilous, often disastrous journey. Thank you for remembering us. We are often invisible.

    Like

    Reply
  4. Connie Rose

    Thanks for sharing the story of your mom, Glennis. You all were lucky that she was diagnosed and got help. Mine was a borderline personality, never diagnosed, never treated, and I was the unfortunate brunt of all of her madness. It left me deeply scathed and set the tone for all the difficulties I’ve experienced in life.

    I finally divorced her after 55 years of trying to have a relationship with her. We haven’t had contact in 7 years, I don’t even know if she’s still alive. Sad, but true. She is/would be 88 this year.

    Mother’s Day has always been a day of mixed emotions for me.

    Like

    Reply
    1. shiborigirl Post author

      i’m sorry you had to suffer right along with her. i’m not sure i can imagine what would have happened had my mother not been treated.

      my mother still has some very serious issues
      and doesn’t let people get very close to her. her life continues to be difficult but at the same time i see some things that in her case, really worked for her and i can’t help but see hope in that for others.
      each case is so unique and part of why i suppose it’s so difficult to treat even if you are fortunate to be diagnosed.
      we are really experiencing a crisis in geriatric mental health care due to the persistent underfunding of mental health programs. then there are other issues. more people over 65 finding themselves as caregivers of younger family members who are mentally ill who are really in no condition to take on that responsibility. past generations of schizophrenics had a very low prevalence of chemical abuse, current and future generations are a whole other story. one could go on and on. i did find this article, while written in 2000 of interest :
      http://psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/51/3/299
      what they were suggesting was a very tall order.
      i’m glad there are people much smarter than i thinking about and researching these things. still, solutions seem so distant.

      Like

      Reply
    1. shiborigirl Post author

      yes, isn’t it? we have been connected by an umbilical cord of words written on paper. i often think it is one of the things that helped her arrive where she is today. things could have been very much worse.
      she is a very smart woman.
      writing, i think, was her creative outlet and something that kept her in touch with reality.

      Like

      Reply
    1. shiborigirl Post author

      weaving them in….
      i have this photo where i see it every day. it’s a reminder that there was a time where my mother was able to enjoy being a mother.

      Like

      Reply
  5. deemallon

    wow. what a lovely and compelling tribute to your mother and to your own capacity for survival and forgiveness. As a fellow blogger, fiber person, it is touching to be ‘let in’ this way. It will change (in a good way) how I look at your work.

    Like

    Reply
    1. shiborigirl Post author

      it’s not my survival and forgiveness that i see here but hers- not once do i ever hear her be bitter or angry at what life has dealt her. as for survival- man, she takes the cake!

      Like

      Reply
  6. velma

    thank you. mental illness touches so many, and yes, i think that the release from a state institution of so many mental health patients into the town where i work has had a profoundly negative affect on the culture of the town. i work with two mentally ill students (as well as addicted, behavioral issue, and abuse survivors) and by far the hardest for me are the mentally ill ones. unless their meds are right, and as adolescents, this only happens sometimes, they are hugely difficult to relate to.

    Like

    Reply
  7. julia Moore

    Thank you for sharing your story. (This is probably the 30th thankyou in this comments section!) My family curse was alcoholism, similar in many ways to having a mentally ill parent. I hope to have the clarity and wisdom to write about my experiences the way you have in your Mother’s Day post. I also want to say that I worked as a Mental Health Case Manager for our local Community Mental Health Center for many years. My primary customers were adults with Schizophrenia. I do know how devastating and frustrating this illness is, for everyone involved. I also know that their craziness was a gift to me. One that would take a book to describe. Suffice it to say, there must be room in the world for everyone, we all bring gifts to the table, if only we take the time to listen with open hearts and minds. I am a better person for having worked with these folks.

    Like

    Reply
  8. Frankie

    Dear Glennis, I just saw the post you wrote about your mother, and I want to say thank you for sharing your story. My mother passed seven years ago when me succumb to Alzheimer’s, she had the illness for twelve years as we slowly watched her slip away. They say it’s the long goodbye and it truly is. I know how hard it was for me to watch my mother slip into a place I could not fallow. I had her for many years, but the last twelve years of her life were the hardest. I only had a small glimpse into mental illness with my mother, so I can understand a little of what it must be like for you with yours. We only have one mother and when she’s gone, there is none to take her place. This brought me to tears reading your story, thinking of how it must have been for you as a child, and in remembering my mother.

    Love Frankie

    Like

    Reply
    1. shiborigirl Post author

      i didn’t know that about you and your mother either. and we only live within blocks of each other!
      alzheimer’s is so difficult. harder on the caretakers and family i think. we’ll talk soon-

      Like

      Reply
  9. Diane

    Glennis,
    I had a “crazy aunt”, my Mom’s sister, who I spent time with at her farm. I was the one who took the brunt of her issues. I have seven siblings and I had the misfortune of being born after she had and lost her only child, a girl. We didn’t know until I was an adult that it was schizophrenia. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see her for years and two years ago my younger sister, who got the best part of her attention, told me she was failing. I went with her and got one last visit and all the animosity I had felt for so many years fell away and I could see that she did the best she could given her mental illness and I found that I had much more compassion since I have become an adult and a parent. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    Reply
  10. ValArt (Valerie)

    Thank you for sharing such a profound and personal post about your mom. My brother in law is a paranoid schizophrenic, and though he still lives with his parents (at 52), he deals with his demons on a daily basis. I can see what their family has been through for the past 34 years, it’s not been an easy ride.
    There is another wonderful book I’d like to share about schizophrenia, The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn R. Saks. Her memoir about living with schizophrenia is telling and inspirational. I highly recommend it.

    Like

    Reply

be in touch and wonder~

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s