Nine year’s ago, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day as a true mother. I will never forget that day and the feelings that went with it. A day to recognize the hard work, loyalty and devotion of women everywhere who make the most difficult job in the world look easy. I was honored to become a member of the tribe.
It’s also a day for me to remember the role my own mother played in my life and still plays, and seems like a perfect time to share with you where my personal perspective comes from. We all have a story that lines the path we walk through in life and mine began with my mother.
My mother was a beautiful young mom, naturally light blonde hair, slim, and beamed an easy, radiant smile that lit up the room. Her laugh was infectious and warm and our goal was to hear it as often as possible as small children. But for my mother, life did not breed an infinite number of moments where laughter was easily found. Her brain was not designed to hold them the way it was for others.
When I was 9 months old, my mother had her first mental breakdown or “episode” as my father would refer to them. Shortly after hearing her first set of voices telling her that my brother and I would be poisoned if we ate food, she was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. Many episodes and therapy sessions later, her diagnosis changed to Manic Depression, where she would trial through various pharmaceutical treatments trying to find the one that made her feel whole again. My brother and I spent many afternoons running around playing hide and go seek outside of the psychiatrists’ offices while my mother would sit inside trying to “fix” herself. She desperately wanted to be “normal.” But to us, she was “normal.” She was the only “normal” we had.
I have many memories of my mother’s dark days where she would lie in her room alone crying. I recall the few attempts and numerous expressed desires to end her own life. The times I sat trying to plead with her to not leave us and that we needed her were the hardest days. She nicknamed me her “little psychiatrist” as I would spend countless hours listening to her hardships and heavy feelings of depression, trying to sort them out for her and make it better. Early training for a girl who just wanted to fix the world.
On the days she was stable and content; my mother was my closest friend. I spent many days away from school faking illness so I could be home with her and keep her close. Although she was fractured in more places than she could mend, she was my mother and she did her best to love me in the ways she knew how.
My parents separated when I was 12 years old and my mother chose to leave. She could not offer her pre adolescent children the stability and care we needed. I wonder what it was like for her to walk away from us, her children. I wonder if she felt fear, or regret or confidence that this was the best decision for everyone.
My mother greatly struggled on her own, mostly because she chose to stop taking her medication. She moved into an apartment in town with a man who rivaled her in emotional dysfunction. She visited us as often as she could, but her behaviors became stranger and stranger. A year after living with her boyfriend, he died unexpectedly. The rumor was that he took his life. My mother was later arrested for playing her music too loud in mourning after his death. She was involuntarily placed in a mental institution to help her recover. Once she was stable, she moved to Maine to be with her parents, my beloved grandparents. She called me shortly after Christmas that year to tell me how sad she was. It was the record I’d heard all my life. Five days before my 15th birthday, my mother put an end to her chaotic life by her own hand.
Throughout my high school experience and adolescence, I struggled to keep my mask on so no one would know how hard it was to walk in my shoes. I was a sneaker loving chick balancing in 8 inch stilettos. One day feeling regret and sorrow, the next day feeling relief that I could move on, and the next trying to feel nothing at all. But, I knew I had a choice…to let my own pain and experiences take me down or to take that pain and experience and use it for good. There were moments where going down would have been easy. To sit in a puddle of myself and wallow in what could have been. But I was impatient with those moments of discomfort, they would not get me where I wanted to go. Instead, I found myself drawn to anyone who had personal difficulties and wanted to help them in any way I knew how. To be the support for others felt natural and was a great relief in my healing process. I knew my path would lead to me a place where I could use my passion to heal and to help. I was thrilled to learn that reading people was a skill because it was truly the only one I had.
Living with my mother was the first experience I had with real, raw pain. It became the building block of overcoming the many more experiences of adversity I’d encounter in my life. This, in turn, made it one of the most beneficial gifts I’ve been given. Without watching the pain of my mother, I’d never understand mental anguish in its greatest form. Without feeling the loss of her presence, I’d never understand grief and the depth of mourning for what was lost and what could have been. Without growing in the love of the shadow of my mother, I would not know how to touch the part of my heart that adores the children who I call my own. All of these experiences have made me who I am and give me the skills and strength to help others in the capacity I do. For this, I could not be more grateful.
I have made many mistakes in my life and anticipate that I will make many more. Each of them has taught me a lesson about myself and my place in the world. And each of them has come with the sweet reward of knowledge that I would have never learned in a classroom or reading a book. I am an imperfect mother, but I am a mother who is here and who loves her children and is doing the best she can. So, I will take my much deserved hand written Mother’s Day cards and picked flowers from the yard and savor every bit of them, keeping them stored away in a safe place to revisit when the old pains resurface reminding me of my roots. They are what keep my perspective what it is. Full of hope, life and re-framing the challenges to what is good and true in the world. And I have never felt more thankful than when I have the opportunity to pass it on to you.