Chasing Yesterday’s Rainbows

Mom & Bonni

I took this photo of my mother and my sister during one of our many visits to a mental hospital in northern Virginia, many years ago now. It was a lucky capture of something increasingly fleeting – tenderness, trust, and a smile, between a mother and her daughter. I haven’t been secretive about my mom’s descent into severe mental illness. It is highly stigmatized, which is stupid, because that makes it far more difficult for all of us to bear. So I will always speak up.

Mom battles Delusional Disorder and Paranoid Personality Disorder, which have no cure and no trusted form of treatment, due to the patient’s inherent suspicion and lack of insight into her condition. We’ve seen her through psychotic breakdowns, hospital stays, suicide attempts, jail time, and homelessness. As hard as that is, the reason it’s most excruciating is because Mom was our best friend growing up. She was a loving and energetic person. But her delusions have transformed Bonni, my dad, and I into the enemy, causing her a great deal of fear, anger, sadness, and pain – which causes her to lash out. And now, it’s hard not to hate the manipulative and abusive person she has become. Continue reading

Remembering Mom

Happy Mother’s Day! Since it is already Sunday in Japan, I sent both of my mothers an e-mail, wishing them a very special day. I fully expect that my wonderful Mother-in-Law will have a lovely day surrounded by family, and I wish Chuck and I could be there to celebrate with her, as she is one of the greatest mothers I know. On a less joyous note, however, I always take some time on this day to think about my own mother, from whom I am mostly estranged. Of course, it’s also a good and relevant time to remember that May is Mental Health Month across the country.

ImageFor me, the hardest part about Mother’s Day is watching everyone update their Facebook profiles with pictures and memories of their moms. I’m fairly notorious for being an “ice queen”, and have managed to conquer many of my emotions and move on with my life, but Mother’s Day photos (and wedding day photos), always make me a little sad – especially because I feel like I lose the memory of my own Mom more and more every day. As the gap widens between the Mom of yesteryear and the Mom of today, it is increasingly difficult to remember her when she was happy and healthy. Not only does this make me feel incredibly guilty – it makes me concerned too. I don’t have the best memory as it is (which is why I love pictures so much) but I don’t have access to many good photos of her, either…

…But I do have a few! These were actually taken after she became ill – and there is lots of history and drama behind each one – but they capture glimpses of light that were becoming so rare in those days. Such glimpses are mostly nonexistent now, but I hope that photos like these will at least help me remember her smile.

 

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My sister, Mom, and I with her crazy devil-kitty “Sugie” at her home in Winchester, VA. Mom is now homeless and Sugie developed temperament issues and had to part ways…

 

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One Christmas, Mom bought us matching pave diamond rings to signify our bond. A couple of years ago, she stopped wearing hers and gave it to me to sell.  I can no longer find mine, but hers still sits in my jewelry box.

 

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I love this shot I took of my mom and sister at the in-patient facility in Virginia. It is a soft and genuine moment, yet it captures how lost and changed she was, too. If I ever complete my memoirs, this photo will grace the cover.

I apologize for the downer, but I need to write about my mother once in a while, and it’s as good a time as any to help appreciate the precious gift that is mental health, and mourn those who have lost it.  But now… back to travel, food, shopping, and kittens 🙂

Hope Springs Eternal

I have long been considered the writer of the family, but I recently stumbled across my sister’s personal statement essay for admission into graduate school, and it kind of blew me away how eloquently she summarized our story… Some excerpts below.

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“I grew up in a military family. The nomadic lifestyle made long-term relationships difficult to establish, thus making strong family ties essential. Year after year, one military base after another, my sister and I were taught the adaptability, resilience, and interpersonal openness required by those who are always meeting new people. In addition to these qualities came a unique bond with my parents, especially with my mother. She was everything you would expect from an exceptional person: warm, loving, open, perceptive, gentle, humorous, joyful, and extremely intelligent. She had an incredible love for my sister and me and devoted her life to providing us with the best opportunities she could. From her came my ability to retain a childlike glee in life, as well as the desire to establish a personal value system that would allow me to live my life with the same dignity I saw her display every day.

My highschool and college years marked a terrifying and dramatic transformation in this loving relationship. The changes encroached subtly at first, then rapidly and severely. Space limitations make it impossible for me to describe this process in its horrifying reality, but the final outcome was the onset of a ruthless and life-altering mental illness. The incredible person I described earlier became callously eaten alive by a mental illness that countless professionals cannot name, explain, or treat effectively. This unrecognizable person would be described as cruel, inhumane, abusive, and dangerous. She became manipulative and narcissistic, and suffers debilitating delusions. She has attempted (but survived) suicide numerous times and spent many months committed to in-patient facilities…

My undergraduate years were spent as the primary caregiver for my mother. This meant constant management of suicide attempts and threats; interventions when my mother would end up with the police, or scared and confused on a roadside somewhere; frequent conferences with medical teams; active navigation of the mental health system; and the day-by-day challenges of trying to conduct your life efficiently while living with an individual who can turn on you—or herself—without warning.

Though my mother remains predominately noncompliant and possesses no insight into her condition, she continues to oscillate in and out of treatment. Psychiatric professionals remain baffled on her specific diagnosis, citing everything from Bipolar Disorder with psychotic breaks, to Borderline Personality Disorder, to Schizophrenia, to Delusional Disorder, to Paranoid Personality Disorder. Many forms of treatment have been attempted; none have been successful. On more than one occasion, I have heard a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a social worker tell me this condition is permanent and the person I love and cherish is gone forever — that they have done all they can do. My reaction to this has been heartbreak and loss, but more importantly dissatisfaction and determination. My response to their declaration is: That’s not good enough…

From these collective experiences – and especially through my personal challenges – I have learned and achieved many things that will help me succeed in your program. I have learned strength, but not at the expense of compassion. I have achieved understanding – through experience, not simply theory. I have learned humility by accepting we can never know it all, but should keep striving to. I have learned that the insurmountable challenges of today can be overcome tomorrow. I have learned the basic values of organization, persistence, resilience, and hard work. Most importantly, however, I have learned that hope really does spring eternally. Even in my darkest moments of sadness, discouragement, and exhaustion, the slightest flicker of hope will bubble to the surface and give me the desire to try one more thing. It is this very human quality that keeps us all working for something better.”

What a goofy week…

1) Uncle dies. I was not particularly close to him, and his life was fairly depressing… but still. RIP, Uncle Bill 😦

2) Mom suddenly resurfaces. After 6 months of relative silence and “treatment” (aka punishment for her recent offenses), she is back on the streets of Colorado. What is even more depressing about the whole situation (besides the fact that it’s freezing cold everywhere lately) is that my Dad seems to have harbored a belief somewhere deep down that the “treatment” was going to help. He still clings to this shred of hope that perpetually leads to disappointment…

3) I got food poisoning Monday night, and while the puking has subsided, I still get bouts of wooziness and I tire easily. Damn you, expired Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls!

4) My sister’s dog basically has two bum lungs, and needs to have his chest cut open to have them fixed, at a very high cost. If not, he dies. He’s already had several liters of air pumped out of his chest cavity already. Basically, her dog is to her what Annie is to me, so… I feel Bonni’s despair.

5) I went to the doctor before Christmas for my pre-Japan medical clearance, all on top of things and ready to go. I repeatedly asked for confirmation paperwork and signatures, but was emphatically told I did not need any. Turns out she was wrong, wrong, wrong, so I get paperwork from some random source in Japan and go back this week, still woozy from the food poisoning. She doesn’t understand the papers, so she sends me home while she calls around to figure them out. As it turns out, she isn’t qualified to do medical clearances, and I’m supposed to go to some other place that does them. Now I’m trying to schedule doctor’s appointment #3, but no one will pick up their phone! Of course, we can’t finalize or book anything until we are cleared. I can’t decide if it’s the military at large that is incompetent, if it’s me, or if it’s just the Army. Ha! 

6) I have to take the Bean to the worst vet appointment ever, but you all already know about that. 180-day quarantine started yesterday (at least it’s in-home!)

Grrr. Can this week be over already? I need a fresh start.

“My son is mentally ill, so listen up!” Putting the nation’s spotlight on mental illness…

“The only time mental illness dominates the national conversation is when something goes tragically wrong. But the dialogue doesn’t last. It gets buried under arguments about gun control, video game violence, and unheeded signs of trouble... ‘There are tragedies that happen every day in this country because people are untreated for mental illness. They end up in jails, in homeless shelters – and families are torn apart.’ … It frays bonds, breaks up marriages. It steals hope.”

Good read.

“My son is mentally ill, so listen up!” Putting the nation’s spotlight on mental illness…

Worried about my mom these days…. She sounds like she’s crashing. Her voice sounds small and lonely. She is out of money, in pain from untreated dental problems, and eating meals provided by local Catholic charities that serve the homeless – but feels so guilty about it that she’s volunteering and cleaning there (so typical of her!)

She tells me stories of the other homeless people she meets, and even manages to giggle and find humor in some of the situations. I miss her laughter. She even called me “sweetie” and asked about Chuck…

The delusions are still there – I have to remind myself of that – but it’s hard to hear her say “I so wish I had a friend.”

#Hopeless.

The Insanity Virus

Absolutely fascinating theory on schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and bipolar disorders (and perhaps other mental illnesses as well?) This could provide so much hope for prevention and cure, if it’s true!

The Insanity Virus