My mother was bipolar. I don’t have the paper trail to prove this, but know in my heart she was. My educational background is in psychology and I started my career and continued to work with the mentally ill before resigning to stay home with my young children. I share that not as if to say I know what I know because of my educational or work history. It’s relevant because I’m starting to understand that my focus on furthering my education and understanding of mental illness was really a quest to love my mother, not a career choice.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw my Mom in the tired lines imprinted on the female patient’s faces I worked with, both on a mental health unit and of those I worked with in their homes. It’s like they were all pieces to the puzzle that was my Mom. She was in and out of my life so much through out her life that all I really have is pieces. I became a motherless daughter in 1997, when I was 15 years old. The stories from my older siblings, all of whom are at least 10 years older than me, are a part of figuring it all out. Understanding where she came from, what she went through and the decisions she made is another.
It’s both a beautiful and some times disparaging thing when a daughter idolizes her Mom. Especially when, despite the mother’s best efforts, she could not be the kind of Mom that she needed to be. It’s so conflicting to want to be like your mother both because of and despite her faults.
I have had my own bouts with clinically diagnosed depression. At times, I have questioned whether it is actually the uncompromising pulls of high and low that strangle me and not just the low. Either way, the force that is my entangled brain has, at times, left me fighting the urge to run away. To escape and embark on an anonymous life. A life free of my current self. In a sense, a life void of authenticity that allows more choice in how I can be perceived. My mother did this.
According to my sister, Mom would sometimes be gone for weeks at a time only to return wearing a waitress uniform adorned with a name tag that read Alice. My mom’s name was Connie.
A few years ago, I googled my Mom’s name because I was that desperate to find clues about who she was. I surprisingly stumbled upon an arrest record in North Carolina from January of 1985. At that time, Mom lived in Florida and my oldest sister was due to give birth to her first child. My Mom had been arrested for larceny, impersonating someone else and somehow ensued a police car chase.
I was conflicted with anger and jealousy. Her choices hurt her family. Still somehow I craved to go on my own “adventure”. That is the problem with glorifying someone. Their actions are excused. Especially when that person is your Mom and part of you is her. I know that it was her untreated illness that helped fuel her disappearances. I just wish I knew where she was on that polar line that ran through her mind, when she would choose to leave. And just how much of it was a choice.
When I first considered starting a blog, I thought about using an alias. I finally decided it would defeat my purpose. Writing is a cathartic experience for me and I no longer want to experience that in hiding or alone or in search of answers I have no real way of knowing. I can’t keep chasing the missing pieces of the puzzle. It’s best left unfinished but placed in a frame and hung to be honored anyway. The whole picture isn’t really necessary to me anymore. The love is in the pieces that are connected.
I am finally seeing Connie for who she was – the un-romanticized version of her life as a child, a daughter, a sister, a woman, my Mom.
24 thoughts on “Alice In Her Own Wonderland.”
This is a really interesting story. I am a mental health nurse and have worked with many people suffering from Bi-Polar and find the illness fascinating. I’m glad that you are feeling comfortable and are understanding of who your mother was. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading. I’ve seen the disorder right in front of me and from afar and have been greatly affected by both. This was kind of borne out of that. I’m still kind of sorting it all out I suppose. I’m glad you found this piece interesting and really appreciate you telling me so.
Growing up with a mentally ill mother is very difficult for a child to wrap their head around. Like you said you love her no matter what, but you spend most of your time wondering why mommy acts like she does and why she hasn’t been home for the last week and why daddy is so upset…it is something you learn to deal with or pack away in the farthest reaches of your brain so you don’t have to think about it and live life like it is all good. Not only do I believe she was Bipolar, but she also had paranoid tendencies to go along with that (usually brought on by alcohol or drug use).
We take what life gives us and use it to make us stronger, more educated people and continue to love our mother for everything she was and was not, because she was and will always be our mommy.
So very well said. Thank God I have you to truly understand where all this “stuff” comes from. Mom and dad, for all their faults, made up for it when they created us…we’re kind of awesome. (=
This is a very interesting article, and beautifully written. I would love to read more accounts like this, I love to see people being so open about issues surrounding mental health. Thank you for writing this!
You’re very welcome but I should be thanking you for reading and appreciating it. I wrote a post early on about my struggle with being a Mom and having depression. I swear it set me free in a way. Since then I’ve been able to write about my life being enmeshed with metal illness as long as I can remember. You just don’t realize that as a child. Check it out if you’re interested…would love to hear your thoughts.
It is always hard when our parents fail us – whether in small or in large ways. I always tell myself that I won’t be like my father – but still, bits and pieces leak in. How can we not be like the people who formed and shaped us for so many years by both their presence and their absence?
Thank you for sharing part of your story. Your children, whether or not at times they seem a burden, are lucky to have you as their mother. HUGS!
Thank you for your very kind and supportive words. Hug accepted.
I am sorry your mother couldn’t always be there for you and glad that you can understand her better now. It must be so hard.
Some things have gotten easier as I’ve gotten older and some things harder. Being a Mom now, I think about her so much but in such a different way. Both in a positive way and more realistic way. Either way, I miss her. Thanks for the feedback Stacie.
What an experience, to grow up with someone with a mental illness. I myself didn’t, but my children will, and I get nervous for these future children.
Growing up, I had no idea there was a mental illness involved. Not just with my Mother but others around me as well. I just created excuses in my head why she either was or was not there. Ugh, deep shit.
Don’t be scared. It’s a different time and you are smart enough to take advantage of the help available now. This generation will grow up knowing about depression, anxiety, etc. Because of women like us. Thanks for commenting Natalie 🙂
It says a lot about you that you want to understand Connie. Less brave individuals would sweep her into the past.
Thanks. I think I’m at the age when most women get to know their Mom as a person. I just have to dig a little deeper, on a few levels, than most.
Beautifully written. I handle civil commitments for the dangerously mentally ill and it’s a bit of a necessity to emotionally distance myself from the job in order to get through my day but your piece is a great reminder that I need to get a fresh perspective now and again.
Having worked on the psych ward, I completely know what you mean. Manipulation is a dangerous weapon, especially for thin skinned, slightly gullible people like me. I just always want to help…it’s a blessing and a curse. Thank you for the lovely comment on this piece. It’s one I find myself going back to and re-reading a lot. I feel connected to my Mom with this one.