When I was a child my mother’s drug addiction was a prominent force in her life and that also meant that it was a big part of mine. It became one of the major causes of our unending, toxic, family dysfunction, but her crack-cocaine addiction and polysubstance dependence couldn’t hold a candle to her mismanaged Bipolar disorder.
Her world didn’t make any sense to me and it felt as if she would never make sense to the world. The way we lived didn’t match what society had so nicely mapped out for your average, lower-middle class family living in suburbia. My home life never aligned with the worldviews, values, habits, or characteristics of any of my friend’s families. And I knew that. We were living the wrong way. We didn’t fit. We were broken.
I can remember doing a lot of pretending and continually felt like it was my job to overcompensate. I felt relentless pressure to keep up each day; to make the unwritten societal quota of what it meant to be enough, to be important, to be normal, to be traditional, or as close to average as possible. I knew that if I worked hard enough that someday I would blend in and I would fit too. There had to be a place for me. I would have given anything in the world to feel like I was accepted and not overlooked out of avoidance; or ostracized by people who didn’t want to make eye contact, assuming that my mom‘s sickness was probably an easily transmittable airborne disease that might infect their children.
But in the end my daily grind to fit with the conventional world had all been in vain. The calculated masquerading, the mask wearing, none of it fool ed the occupants of our small, mid-western town. My family had always been different, and different has always been wrong. We never did make the cut and we weren’t ever considered socially acceptable by any standard. And that meant we didn’t matter.
Years later I found myself addicted escaping reality with drugs and alcohol. The only thing I loved more than drugs was my son. I was clinically depressed and flirting with losing the rest of what mattered to me.
Years of feeling the weight of even the most subtle prejudice by the larger part of the population had worn down my spirit and grinded my confidence down to nothing. I lived comfortably under the shade that the stigma provides and I settled there, accepting and internalizing the lies, the negative attitudes, the opinions, and stereotypes that public opinion had so kindly offered to my family over the years.
Sobriety offered many perks, and one of them was the opportunity to find my own voice. I could see and feel the benefits of revealing and admitting my personal struggles, and over time, the apathy, pity, and anger that I carried for my mom began to transition into something kinder and less rigid. Before long, I realized that everything I thought I knew about my mom and her disorders was all wrong.
I thought that my childhood experiences with trauma and her erratic behavior were synonymous with everyone who has a mental health disorder. I believed that crazy was an acceptable way to describe anyone with a diagnosis of any kind, and I cannot ever remember a time that I hesitated to routinely mock, mimic, or demean my mom’s peculiar and eccentric mannerisms. Not only was I an asshole with a stubborn, impenetrable mindset, I was unapologetic about insulting her. I had also become a part of the problem, as I regularly insulted one in five human beings who live their lives every day with a mental health condition.
Some of the same labels that I have been fortunate enough to rip off of my face are the same ones that she still wears. She still lives her life within the confines of the same translucent box that I felt trapped in for the better part of 23 years, and have spent the last 10 fighting to completely break free from.
Her most recent diagnosis of Bipolar 1 and Schizoeffective Disorder have been life changing. I had no idea how much progress she had the ability to make with the help of having comprehensive care. Over the last few years she has been hooked up with a phenomenal caseworker. Her care is managed and supported and her treatment plan is closely monitored and adjusted as needed. She plays an active and central role in continued progress and she is proud of herself.
For me, it has been one of my biggest blessings to see these changes. Although I have kept my distance, it is absolutely incredible to have been able to watch this unfold. I am still taking baby steps integrating her back into my life, but I can say hands down that I am amazed at the way her life has been altered, and with the contrasts and differences in her life now, with proper treatment.
I cannot rewrite my story, and I refuse to cover up the scars that I have from my experiences. But my perspectives on mental-health disorders and conditions have drastically shifted, and my heart has forever changed.
Now I speak out and use my voice as I walk beside her, and I am committed to doing my part to fight for her, and others who feel shunned, shamed, and bullied into the silence.
Ten Years Sober. Recovering Trauma Queen. Legacy Changer. Introverted People Lover. Book Hoarder. Gratefully Imperfect Jesus Follower. Former, self-proclaimed screw-up. Here to encourage, to break stigma, and to spread awareness.
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