How My Mother Supported Me Through Mental Illness Growing Up

When I first got my official mental health diagnosis, I wasn’t shocked, upset or sad. I felt strong, and as close to at peace as I had been in years. I was able to name my enemy and construct a battle plan with my doctor to overcome it. That sense of peace was short-lived. I was only 16 at the time and immediately following that appointment, my mom took me to lunch at a popular fast food joint. She asked how the appointment went and I began to tell her what my doctor said in the way an optimistic and hopeful teenager would: fast and loud: My mother said “Shush, lower your voice.” That was when I first noticed the tears in her eyes and the ones she quickly tried to wipe from her cheek, the tear-streaked rouge betraying her attempt to smile.

Instead of excitedly discussing treatment options, I found myself whispering to her that everything was going to be OK. I kept asking what was wrong and she just shook her head. My mom being at a loss for words was new to me, so I filled the silence with comforting chatter. I explained I would be getting new medications and a new type of therapy, all of which should help me feel better. Somewhere during the conversation, I stopped saying “feel” and replaced it with “be.” I was going to be better, I was going to be fine, I was going to be the daughter she had imagined when she fist held me in the hospital 16 years earlier. As I continued to whisper these words, I realized it was the first time I ever blatantly lied to my mother’s face. I knew because the fear had set in, I no longer felt strong and peace was the furthest thing from my mind.

Cancer took my mom away from us six years ago this June, so the lens I use to replay these memories may be different now than it would have been if she were still here.

My mom loved me in a way that could define unconditional mother’s love. I know this, but the image of that tear-streaked rouged up cheek will never leave me. I know she was mourning the loss of the life she had planned for me. Back then, I thought it was all about the life she had planned for her. Having a teenage daughter isn’t easy on any mom, but add in a severe mental health disorder that required several medications, monthly blood tests to monitor the medications, weekly therapy appointments and self-harming behavior along with everything else that came with my diagnosis… it must have been almost impossible. Other than that single tear stain, my mom never did anything that would make me feel like a burden. She held me tight on the nights I didn’t think I’d make it through another breath. She literally picked me up off the floor when I was a sobbing mess, she never grounded me for the glasses I broke while throwing them in the sink, she did the dishes when my OCD wouldn’t let me pick up the plates that someone had stacked thinking they were making my life easier.

When I was a teenager, I thought, wow, how selfish of her, to sit there and have the nerve to cry when this is my life that is “ruined” by this diagnosis… but as an adult on Mother’s Day weekend, without her here to pick me up, hold me or pick up the broken pieces of glass, I realize the tear was very likely for me after all.

Thank you to all of the mothers out there who do their best day in and day out to take care of their children who have a chronic physical or mental illness. We may not always say it, but we are very grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via SVPhilon

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