Dear Daughter: This Is What I've Learned About Love and Mental Illness
I never thought limes would be a metaphor for loving someone with mental illness… but as it turns out, they make a pretty good one.
I was 11 the year I took my first flight to New York to see my aunt and uncle. I thought they were rich because every time we drove by a Sonic, my aunt would point and my uncle would do a U-turn in traffic to take her for a lime-aid.
I didn’t really like the lime-aids back then… they were too sour for my taste, but my aunt would give me the cherry out of hers, and I would sit in the back seat of the car and suck on it like it was candy, pulling the stem into my mouth and pushing it through my teeth with my tongue.
Later, I used limes for cleaning. Oh, the bane of being a mom. Limes are great thrown in the garbage disposal though after your 16-year-old sends his fishing worms through it. At least I hope those were worms I tugged out like intestines…
I used to find myself at the grocery store in the produce section, handling the small fruits… rolling them in my palms and remembering my aunt as my uncle would do a sharp turn for her lime-aid. She told me once that when I found a man who would do U-turns for me over a lime, I would know I’d found the right man.
For a long time, I kept a lime in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator to remind me of that.
I have found out there is a lot of truth in what my aunt told me, especially when it comes to loving someone with mental illness. Your father was never there for me like I needed him to be. I sunk into the depressive episodes of my bipolar disorder alone, and then later post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became the overriding factor of my life. I felt abandoned until finally I had to leave the relationship. And I know the divorce was hard on all of us.
I had to start over. We all did. And this time, I took my aunt’s advice to heart and chose someone who would “do a U turn in traffic over a lime for me.” (Figuratively.)
My new partner knew upfront who I was… my flaws, my mental illness — the works. I don’t really like limes like my aunt did, so he doesn’t have to do a 180 in traffic to get me a lime aid, but what he has done since the day he has moved in with us is far more important.
He has sat with me when I’ve had PTSD flashbacks. He’s stayed up late at night with me when I had nightmares, even when he had to get up at 3 a.m. the next day to go to work. He’s made coffee on weekend mornings and sat on the balcony with me as I cried my heart out while you were sleeping in. I’m not sure you’ve ever known. He did it so you didn’t have to know.
I did this for you. I did it for us. I did it because that’s the kind of love I want you to find some day. No matter how your life turns out, I want you to remember you are worthy of finding a healthy and loving relationship.
I can’t give you a life with a mother who is free of mental illness. But I can give you a life with a capable and worthy mother. So, that is what I’ve done.
All my love,
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Thinkstock photo by Claudio Ventrella