How My Mother Stands by Me Through Life With Bipolar Disorder
As I sat across from my mother and really looked at her face and tiny frame, I saw her age, frailty and worry lines for the first time. Her life has not been easy. It’s been fucking brutal. She has endured and cared for too many loved ones suffering from mental illness. Every decade of her life has been spent caring for a loved one, someone other than herself. Not like in a motherly way, but in a dangerous, ferocious one. She suffers no fools and fought battles others could not begin to comprehend.
She’s grown tired now. The cruelty of age and time have caught up with her, no matter how hard I try to stop the clock. Just stop so we can be a young mother and daughter having fun without the unspoken, inevitable future speeding up. It had to be so very sad, watching your nearest and dearest slip away into madness. I cannot understand her tears, fears or the fight from her perspective. I cannot know her sadness, exhaustion or disappointments. I only know our story and my earth-shattering diagnosis. Having her as my ally, my champion and advocate of my “crazy” has been my greatest gift, that one that drives me to stay…here, on earth. To come back when I drift too far off into the madness. Her voice and stabling presence has made living with manic depression manageable. Bearable. Almost.
Some days, I am not a nice person. I can be mean and ugly and terrified. Some days I am filled with rage and jealousy. I do not want to be here, day after day enduring this pain. She understands she’s watching me slip away unable to think straight. I wonder how it feels to carry so much weight. Some days are so heavy and dark; it’s hard to breathe. She sees how bad it gets. I don’t tell her, I don’t sugarcoat. I don’t have to. She knows.
I carry suicide in my back pocket. She understands and still asks me to stay. It’ll get better, there’s good coming around the corner. She wills me to stay. We both understand the gut-wrenching pain of suicide, and that willing it to be OK is not how mental illness works. It is a vicious, raging bastard disease and does not discriminate. She is the keeper of my “crazy.” She knows I will do my very best not to break her anymore than life has already.
I don’t always win; I scream and cry. I rage. She never complains… never gets angry. She waits for the mercurial moods to subside. They do by the grace of God and willpower, eventually. She doesn’t show emotion, at least not in front of me. Lord knows she has good reason to sob and sob and curse for days. But, damn it she always finds the joy in the simplest, most mundane things.
We are so different, her and I. I’m forever jumping ahead, or behind. She’s not, she’s omnipresent. As much as I try to will myself happy, some days my mind has other plans. But this story isn’t about me. It’s about her and just how much life she has sacrificed and gifted away for her family. I try to imagine all the heartache she’s endured, and the joy too. I try to make her understand that I’m grateful, and do small things to lighten her load: cut the grass, take out the trash, make the bed. Normal things that responsible people do. All the things she taught me a long, long, long time ago.
As we spend this closing chapter together in her home, the place she grew up, I try not to wallow. I can’t help it. I’m an emotional girl. Some days I despise the small-minded, slow pace and my restless soul wants to flee. Get the fuck out of dodge, go anywhere but here. Be anywhere but here. But, I don’t. Because in reality, where the fuck am I running to?
I cannot outrun my “crazy.”
I cannot outrun my “crazy.”
I cannot outrun my “crazy” no matter how hard I pray and barter with God.
I can’t fix being sick. I cannot be a different me. A different daughter. I would if I could. I’d be better. I would be happy and healthy and carefree. Some days, my mind spares me minutes of peace. Laughter. I forget I woke shaking, and that I will tomorrow and probably the day after. I try desperately to quiet the noise. It takes willpower, patience and a shitload of pills.
She knows I wouldn’t want a different mother, no matter how many times I scream, “I hate you.” And I do. Mostly, I hate myself. My mind plays tricks on me. She assures me I’m OK and not out of control. I’m doing fine; everything is good. She lies. She’s had a lot of practice. I wish she didn’t worry…that life had been kinder to her. But who escapes the pain of loving and living? Nobody. Not in the course of history.
I wish for her to be young again. To remember a time when she danced with my father, smiling and carefree. I would want those minutes back, more than anything — except an easier life and family tree free from mental illness.
This journey may break me, but my mother’s strong, tough and ever-present love is the armor and anchor of my life. I hope it has the wings to carry me forward. She has given me more love and compassion than any mother should. Only she has seen the depths of my “crazy” I keep hidden from the world. She loves me more, not less. And, that’s a whole different kind of crazy. Wherever I go she is the rational voice in my head, she is my sanity. She is the strength and sword walking before me, slaying dragons and shit on a spiritual gangster level. That makes me happy by proxy.
A version of this story originally appeared on jacquelinecioffa.com.
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