My mother is constantly apologizing for her ‘bad’ mothering. I, of course, rush to defend her and point out all my good memories of childhood. She, however, is quite insistent that she has irrevocably damaged us kids.
Perhaps she is right, perhaps I downplay too much what it was like growing up with someone who was bipolar.
My memories of her when I was little, before age 4, aren’t very strong. I remember being outside a lot – my mom loves biking and hiking. My mother worked full time to put my dad through school, so I spent more time with him when little.
The first manic episode occurred when I was 5. My mom was convinced someone was trying to get my little brother and tried to save him with lots of incoherent screaming and fighting with my dad whom she did not recognize. Dad called the ambulance, and they took her away in a straitjacket. I asked my cousin who came over to watch us if my mother was possessed by a demon.
Her answer was more traumatizing than the episode.
When mom came back after a few months she was in a full blown depressive state. The drugs she was on caused her to shake and she really couldn’t function. She stayed in bed for months, listening to church music. Our neighbours came to do our laundry. My mom was vacant, she had been given a drug-induced lobotomy.
I overheard family members bully and blame my dad. Church members prayed for her and proclaimed healing.
After she pulled through, things went back to ‘normal’. My mom could get all the neighbourhood kids playing scrub or king of the mountain. She took us on bike rides out of town and taught us to skip stones in the sloughs. It was great.
Another manic episode. I loved the hypomania! Mom became more confident and creative; it seemed like she enjoyed life and maybe even liked herself! Life was so much fun. Then the psychotic break, which wasn’t as traumatizing because by then, we knew enough about brain chemicals not to blame Satan. Trip to the hospital, playing with drugs. Done.
Then the depression. That was always the worst. Mom crying that she was a bad mother. My brothers calling her names. She encouraging them to do it more. I being the only one to defend her or to make them do their chores. I vowed my kids would never treat me like that.
Guilt ruled her life. I had been delivering papers since age 8, but as a teenager my mom began to ‘help’ me more. Gradually, she took over my route. Before I left home, I had never done my own laundry. When I was asked to clean the bathroom at the bakery I worked at, I had to read the instructions on the cleaners to know what to do.
My mom’s idea that she owed us was damaging. Just as we needed to take more responsibility, she did more for us. All those things she couldn’t do for us when we were little kids she tried to do for us as teenagers. It soothed her guilt, but it wasn’t helpful.
The worst thing was her belief that she was evil. She didn’t respect or care for herself. I doubt I have life-long scars from living with someone who was bipolar, maybe just a fear of losing control of my mind – a fear I think most of us have.
I do have to work to overcome the example of self-loathing and guilt-clouded overfunctioning.
But, its not like I’m a computer program. I’m a human.