Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What is living with a schizophrenic like?

I didn't know there was anything wrong with my mother until I was about ten. I knew she was not like the other mothers. I just didn't know HOW different until my step-dad had to commit her to the state mental ward a year later. Old family letters tell stories about her oddities. Apparently, she tried to kill my brother and I when I was two. The neighbor called my dad and he came home to rescue us. Is this true? Maybe, I don't remember it. But that's the time frame of her diagnosis. She would have been 23. Right in there with the statistics of young adult onset of schizophrenia.

Something that bugs me about the stories though. They leave out the part about how loving she could be. The aunts talked incessantly about how often she bathed her children (several times a day.) But they didn't talk about the way she held me and sang to me in the rocker. I remember that. I still remember the songs. She'd sing Bye Baby Bunting, Ten Little Indians, Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, and I'm sure a few more. I think she succeeded in making me feel loved.

The harder parts. Sigh. She'd get herself confused with me. I'd find her sitting on my boyfriend's lap. I'd be so embarrassed! The guys would usually ask to meet me outside after that-if they still wanted to take me out. Yes, it happened more than once.

She'd ground me for imaginary wrongs. Then melt down and sob as I held her in the kitchen. What was she even doing in the kitchen? She usually burned everything she cooked. She couldn't focus long enough on the meal because her mind would be listening to someone outside the window. (No, there was no one outside the window.) I'd be literally drenched in her tears when I could finally disengage from her two hours later. This started when I was twelve and continued until I left home at eighteen.

Most of the time, our roles were reversed. I acted more the adult while she acted more like the child. Then she'd have a clear period. That was really hard because I'd have to adjust to her being a parent for a short time again. Until she broke down and cried in her room after losing yet another job.

The cycle would last about three to four months. She'd get a job. Work for a month and then begin imagining things about the boss. Her work would deteriorate. She'd get fired. She'd cry for two months. No, I'm not kidding. It would take two months of out right sobbing before she would go shopping for "the" dress that would get her a new job.

Another thing she did right. She supported me in all the things I wanted to do. If I wanted to sing, she came to the concerts. I wanted to be a cheerleader. She didn't oppose me, in fact, she watched me practice over and over again with amazing patience. I cheered for five years-one for the air force. I loved acting. She came to the performances. I wanted to compete in beauty pageants. She drove me all over the city to help me get sponsors, attended all of the pageants, and cheered or cried with me depending on the outcome. I don't know how she could do any of those things with her illness. I can only believe that during my teens, my mother fought hard to maintain for my sake.

She didn't always win. She left me out in the cold because she couldn't get her days straight. (I was locked out of school, after a game, in a blizzard for several hours waiting for her.) She forgot me often, or was talking on the phone for hours, or couldn't stop crying long enough to sew a dress together even though she'd had two months. I arrived at the concert with that dress barely pinned together and flunked that quarter of choir for missing the performance. She could never get anywhere on time.

No, she didn't always win. But maybe I didn't always lose. Of all the kid's parents in school, I think my mother might have been the only one to constantly tell me she loved me. She often called me "pretty girl" or "my beautiful daughter." She failed so many times. But she succeeded in taking me to church and making sure I knew Jesus. No, she didn't always succeed. Sometimes, it accidentally came out right anyway. Sometimes, she did the right thing too. I'm very blessed, aren't you?

Consider this: Do we write off the mentally ill because we over-simplify them?

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