I am the daughter of a schizophrenic mother. Because of this I have been raising a child without a village. It has been a long two years. Two years full of unanswered questions, uncertainty, and a lack of physical and emotional support. When my baby was up with her first fever in the middle of the night all I wanted to do was to call my mother and ask her what I should do. But I knew that was not an option. There was the chance I’d get the loving, eager-to-help mother I needed, but equally likely I’d get the mentally unstable mother who would turn my child’s fever into part of the crusade that she believes has been waged against her.
We all, at some point in our lives, scream out My mother is crazy! Or something similar. And yes, to a certain extent all mothers are a little crazy. It’s what happens after years of sleep depravation and chronic whining and screaming from the little terrorists we hope to turn into responsible, well-mannered adults one day. But, what’s it like to have a mom with a mental illness? It’s unpredictable. It’s never knowing what is okay to talk about and what might set-off the alarms. It’s knowing exactly what’s going to happen next because some poor soul walking down the sidewalk happens to pull-up his pants, or wave to someone, or touch his ear. It’s making excuses for your mother’s yelling and accusations while trying to calm her at the same time. It’s never talking about work during family gatherings and not inviting coworkers to your wedding or baby shower because they are part of THEY. It’s rocking your screaming baby through another excruciating episode of pain due to her food allergies and not being able to ask your mom to hold her for just one minute. Just one minute so you can recharge and be the best mother you can be for your child. You can’t ask your mother about cradle cap without a lecture on the doctors who signed her up for experiments without her permission. When you are the daughter of an unmedicated schizophrenic mother is means never saying I love you. Because you know she will just tell you to fuck off.
My mother does not receive help for her condition. She believes it to be a problem with the people and agencies out to malign her and destroy her life rather than a problem within herself. A person cannot be treated involuntarily for a mental illness unless that person is a danger to him or herself. My mother doesn’t want to hurt herself. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. She wants to be left alone by the people who are after her. Because of this my mother has gone from job to job and rented-room to rented-room trying to stay afloat. She does not receive any government aid because there is “nothing wrong” with her.
Over the past several years my mother has learned to count on me for help. From leads on jobs to paying her phone bill for 3 years to listening to her scream and sob on the phone almost daily. I was her advocate, her friend, her court-ordered-supervisor when she had visitations with my younger sister. Constantly running from a force that never gives up has got to be terrifying, exhausting and lonely. I love my mom and I want to make things a little easier for her. But, now I have a daughter.
My daughter will be two in May and I am just learning what it means to protect her and give her the life she deserves. I’ve realized that living under an unpredictable and sometimes scary mother has taught me to be a nervous person who feels like she doesn’t deserve a calm, predictable life that includes things like self-care. I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to expect others to talk to her respectfully and to know how to leave an abusive situation. I want her to understand that she is just as good as anyone else and that she deserves all that she can make for herself. I want her to know that she is not responsible for any one else’s feelings. I want her to be able to let her guard down and have trusted people in her life. I want to take care of my daughter instead of having her take care of me. So, I’ve begun to set boundaries with my mother.
I’ve started three major areas of boundary setting with my mother. Number one: When she starts to scream or rant on the phone I now hang up on her. I was terrified to do this initially. I thought she would have no one else to turn to and she would kill herself. She is still here. Number two: I schedule less time with my mother than I used to. It helps that she moved off the island I live on, but even when she visits I insist she stay with my grandmother. Number three: I refuse to become involved in any legal/family drama. When she starts going on about getting custody of my sister back I tell her I am not involved and will not become involved. Which results in screaming. Which results in the use of technique number one. One of my mother’s greatest attributes is her persistence. Unfortunately for me this means continually reestablishing boundaries I’ve already thought were pretty solid.
For now this is working. For now this feels like I can breath and raise my daughter in a healthier atmosphere. In the future I may have to establish more boundaries or even cut my mother out of my life completely, but I still struggle with the need for my mother’s love and approval. I wish I could look to her for advice and help raising my daughter. This won’t ever happen unless my mother seeks help.
If my mother ever read this (or any of my blog) I’m not sure what would happen. I’m worried that she might never talk to me again. I’m worried she might scream at me. But mostly I’m worried she would hurt herself. I’m worried she would be hurt. She would say it was all untrue and I am part of what is trying to destroy her. I’m worried I’d loose what little of my mother I have.
Breaking the stigma of mental illness is a cause that’s been championed by mental health advocates for decades now. It’s not working. Maybe with depression and anxiety, but not with schizophrenia. My own schizophrenic mother doesn’t understand that having a mental illness does not make someone a bad person. If she could see that mental illness is just like any other illness maybe that would make it less scary to consider that the people out to get her are just in her head.