"She's as wild as a caged animal. Try again in a few days."
April 23, 2015 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My mother is like another country I used to live in, familiar but no longer a place I call home. When I visit, I don't stay long; dysfunction is the official language, the terrain is a desert of constantly shifting emotions, and the weather is grey when it's not dark and stormy. Estrangement is so much easier.
posted by divined by radio (14 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This comes eerily close to home for me in many ways. I struggle to maintain mental and emotional distance from my mother, since we live in the same town, but as her health worsens, I find this harder and harder to do. Some days it's really heavy.

I found this article to be really helpful.
posted by k_nemesis at 12:10 PM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's a lot in this story, reminiscent of my ex-wife and her relationship with our daughter; I was one of the rare cases where the father got custody, which helped some, although she was granted "liberal visitation". Borderline Personality Disorder is the diagnosis we had overheard, although nobody was authorized to tell us about my ex's mental health, but it fits to a T. My ex always had a cohort of men -- married to one, but others just 'around'. One where Facebook documents watching a movie with her husband and a friend one weekend: three months later, she is already divorced and remarried to that 'friend' from movie night (he was her third and last husband). One summer my ex shaved her head and claimed she was in chemo; three months later she announced she was cured of cancer; there's some evidence that she actually had cancer at some point, but an awful lot that disproved it as well -- the cycle of "I'm dying of cancer the doctors can't do anything/I've been cured of cancer" repeated for a decade. She vacillated between treating my daughter as a golden child and as the worst person in the world; I did my best to buffer her mother's impact (and not to claim I was a perfect parent ever), but the weight of her mother's mental illness was hard on our daughter, school began to falter, she began doing drugs, cutting, sneaking out at night -- but there's two things that happened:

1. My daughter was referred into Job Corps at 16, giving her control over her own life, miles away from her mother (and me, but I knew its value, despite her mother's complaints about it being so far away)

2. One morning, at 2am, my daughter (in California now) got an unsolicited, unanticipated long text from her mother, outlining in great detail all the reasons my ex thought our daughter was a horrible person. Five hours later, my daughter called me to say her mom was dead. Officially, "natural causes" was on the death certificate, but we have suicide suspicions.

My current wife and I had worried at great length about our daughter ending up like the woman in the article above -- trapped with a mentally-ill albatross around her neck for the rest of her life. Before my ex died, we repeatedly suggested my daughter stay where Job Corps could place her, but don't move back to town -- the closer to her mother she was, the worse things would be for her. I hate to say I'm grateful for someone's death, I hadn't wished it upon her or wanted to put our daughter through that pain...but I spoke with my daughter a couple days ago, things are going so well for her, without having to fight against the undertow of her mother and her mental illness dragging her away from shore, I don't think it was for the worse.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:40 PM on April 23, 2015 [34 favorites]

Yeah this hits really close to home. I spent a decade of my life trying to measure my success by an impossible to meet set of standards before I finally realized that they had been given to me by someone who didn't have my best interests at heart.

What was harder was realizing that it wasn't malice, it was mental illness. Malice would've made it easier to make a break. Instead, I keep peeking back in hoping everything is somehow close to normal.
posted by Fuka at 1:13 PM on April 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

A neurologist tells me that she has a herniated disk, which he suspects is causing her to lose her balance and fall frequently. This would explain the bruises and lacerations, he says. He doesn’t mention the effect that antipsychotic medications mixed with booze have on a person’s equilibrium.

*sigh* I know it's shameful to talk about mental illness, but minimizing the effect it has on other people really helps no one.
posted by Melismata at 1:38 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I totally identify with this situation. While my parents don't have the drug related issues, they are takers just like this lady's mom. Since I was 13, I've had to take on an adult role in my family. My mom is mentally ill and my dad might be a sociopath. For years, they (unwittingly) tag teamed me to make me take care of their affairs. A short timeline:

Age 13-14: Mom begins exhibiting serious signs of instability. She ends up chasing my youngest sister around the house with a knife while my middle sister and I run after her to stop her. This happens multiple times.

Age 15: Mom goes off the deep end for the first time. I end up doing all the housework and cooking for my dad and sisters while she is sent back to her home country to "rest".

Age 18: Mom goes off the deep end again. My dad is working in Southeast Asia. Mom has to go away for rest again. So, at age 18, in my first semester of college, I'm forced to parent my sisters. This caused a rift between me and my youngest sister that hasn't healed to this day. My parents were gone for about 6 months, after promising me at Thanksgiving that they would be back by Xmas.

Age 20-22: Each semester, my dad asks me to give him the left over money from my student loans so that he can "keep the house going". I'm repaid only when I specifically ask for the money, and grudgingly at that.

Age 24: I am told to hand over almost $10,000 I saved over the years and got from student loans to help finance my sister's wedding. This money has never been repaid. When I bring it up, I am told to "stop living in the past."

Age 29-36: Parents decide to move overseas. Without consulting me, they tell me to look after their house. I end up moving back to their house. When I try to personalize the house a bit, since I'm the one who lives there alone for 9 months out of the year, all of my things are thrown into a box and I'm told to "get my own house if I want to set things up the way I want them." When I tell them I'm moving out, they offer me a room that I can set up however I want. No dice.

Last year, I finally said enough. Things really gelled for me when I went to my mom's house the day after she claimed my youngest sister had called and screamed at her. Mom was disheveled and wild eyed. When I asked whether she was on her meds, she said she was going to use prayer to heal herself. At that moment, I was transported back to when I was 13, watching her throw pots and pans against the house. I was just done. It all flashed before my eyes, and things just came into a sharp focus like they never had before.

I was a kid when this all started; I now have gray hairs sprouting. I didn't have much of a adolescence or early adulthood, but I'll be damned if I go into middle age still feeling guilty for not helping people who have never taken my welfare into account.

As you can imagine, my parents and I aren't on the best of terms at the moment. But, through therapy and self-examination, I have realized that they used me as a safety net all those years. They used me so that they could live life as they desired. It's time for me to live.
posted by reenum at 1:44 PM on April 23, 2015 [33 favorites]

Oooh, I had to tap out of this article about 20% of the way in because it's way too familiar/triggering, but I'll come back to it. Thanks for posting.
posted by desjardins at 1:54 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oy, reenum, I'm so sorry. You deserved better. Good on you for saving yourself.

This discussion also reminds me of The Glass Castle, which a friend loaned to me because it was "hilarious" but which horrified me from beginning to end. The author's parents were using, abusive, and addictive people and while she made good for herself, you can't get through that kind of childhood without scars.
posted by emjaybee at 2:14 PM on April 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Great post, thanks for making it. (Previously on the blue, which k_nemesis links to in the first comment: The Debt?)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:19 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lordy, lordy. I can never decide if articles like this make me feel less alone or not. There is so much value in these stories. Thanks.
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Been there as well. BPD is awful.
posted by etherist at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Me too, and I hug myself about it all the time. I can't say I love my mom, but I do love the strength, wisdom, and empathy that being in her path has provided me.

My most recent incident involved grabbing my mom by her hair to prevent her from throwing herself out of the car on the highway, on the way to the mental hospital. Maybe the same Houston mental hospital that the author described.

I'm her legal guardian. Sometimes I wish I could move out of the country, to get out of that undertow that AzrealBrown described so well. But I know that every burden has a gift enclosed.

I appreciate hearing these stories. I feel less alone, and more grounded, when other people share their stories and their feelings about them.

And I'm grateful for the adult life I've created, and my little stable family, and my achievements. I'm not sure they would be so amazing to most people, but to me, given the circumstances, stability, community, and an average middle-aged adult life is everything.
posted by pomegranate at 6:25 PM on April 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting this. My Mom's mental illness and addictions caused a great deal of misery and damage to her and her family. Reading someone else's experience is helpful.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 PM on April 23, 2015

I am sure this type of dyfunction is one root cause of atypical depression. The behavior starts long before young children can comprehend they aren't the reason, their needs aren't met. Building self esteem in a intermittent vacuum / emotional onslaught is very brave work, but leaves an empty place at the center of being.

Best to all who cope with and care for ill family members.
posted by Oyéah at 9:08 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow. I would love to talk about my own story here but my mother stalks me on the Internet, it is one of the reasons I have gone much quieter here and elsewhere.

I was a rube to agree to share a house with her, but I had lived abroad for 20 years and was never that close. Once she was with us it quickly came back into focus, all of the issues about boundaries and allowing people personal space and privacy. Suddenly it became so clear why she had lost my dad and I in divorce all that time ago, and why she had cycled through so many husbands and last names in her life that I lost count.

So I got in line with all those others and divorced my mom. Coming to Saudi Arabia for work, alone, and sending my wife and kids back to their homeland from Canada so they'd be out of her reach has been painful but it is the best of many shit outcomes. She burned her bridge with me, I have washed my hands and walked away for good.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:14 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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