June 23, 2007

What happens when you don't get help

For the last week my mom has been in a locked-down psychiatric ward located in a major hospital. I was stunned when I got the news because long ago I completely gave up on the possibility that she would seek or receive help. At 66, my mom has lived with bipolar disorder, perhaps OCD and other mental issues for her entire life. However, she has never been diagnosed. Somehow, by some miracle, she has managed to compensate, traveling through life while sliding up and down her manic roller coaster.

Now, she is emaciated, down in the darkest depths of a crash, and unable to function. She must weigh about 90 pounds. Tears stream down her face and neck. Her sentences are loose, jagged. She says she's confused. She has officially been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (at last!), schizophrenia and paranoia. She is on 5 different medications.

When I spoke to her psychiatrist for the first time this week, I found my voice. It rumbled up from a terrified little girl who walked on egg shells and hid in her bedroom. Give me the podium please. Finally, I am heard! The psychiatrist very patiently listened as I recounted bits and pieces of my life as my mom's daughter. My stories confirmed her diagnosis.

On the one hand, I'm so relieved that my mom is getting help. On the other, I'm beyond frustrated that it took till she was 66 years old to get there. I'm told it's never too late, but after all the sick programming that her brain has undergone, I just don't know. I guess I can only hope. All I ever wanted as a child was a healthy, stable mom.

Growing up, I thought my mom was "crazy." I couldn't understand why people didn't see the person she really was. In retrospect, I can see how well she hid her mental illness behind a wall of denial, taking great pains to reveal it only to my brother and to me. My dad would come home from work each day and suddenly Mom morphed into the perfect mother and wife. When my brother was killed in a car accident at the age of 15, a part of me was actually envious of him -- he got out. I wanted so badly to follow him. Instead, just months after his death, I went away to the college on my acceptance list that was geographically the farthest away from home. I still have a hard time going back to my home town, even at the age of 41, because images of the abuse from my childhood come rushing back.

My mom may have had PPD as well, although I really don't know. What I do know is that she was a mom with a severe mental illness who never got help. I'm sure there are women who suffer from PPD and other mental disorders who never recover for whatever reason. It's their kids who end up suffering -- they're the ones left to pick up the pieces.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that after reading your story, I'm amazed that you survived your childhood. I have a girlfriend who's father has bipolar disorder and she's been in and out of a mental hospital herself because of dealing with her father's problems.
My hat goes off to you for staying healthy even with a mom who is ill.

Kristin said...

Thanks so much for your comment! I was really lucky to have had a wonderful role model, my paternal grandmother, who was the stablizing healthy force throughout my life. Without her influence and unconditional love, I know I would have been totally messed up. I appreciate you visiting my blog.