This piece, titled “Losing Your Mother to Mental Illness”, comes from the incredibly brave Ariana Hegarty, who reflects upon her mother’s bipolar disorder.
I’ll never forget our shopping sprees and laughing until our stomachs hurt in the dressing room when something I thought was adorable, looked ridiculous. But as the years go on, the good memories fade away while the bad ones continue to stand out. And I’m not sure if it was the bipolar disorder or her mere disinterest in raising children, but on my 14th birthday my mother moved out and I would never see her again.
There was no casket, no funeral was held, and you won’t find an obituary anywhere but by all other definitions, my mother is dead. She is simply a shell of a woman who was once married to her high school sweetheart with two daughters who loved her endlessly. But now, I don’t know exactly what she does on a day to day basis, maybe she’s still drinking, and perhaps she stills spends most of her days in bed. Its five years later and I can’t help but worry about these things, because at one point I thought I could help her.
I found a journal of hers once when I was cleaning, written in 1997, very shortly after I was born. At first she wrote a basic day to day with an infant and it was interesting to read about her being a functioning, productive human because with the mother I knew, that was a rarity. But then she dove into her depression, and the way she wrote about it was almost eerie, I never knew the way she felt about her depression because she was always too deep in it to talk about it.“Trouble within your own four walls of your head that’s scary, unpredictable trouble. The kind of trouble you yourself don’t even see coming…” she wrote. The words I was reading, in her oh-so-familiar handwriting, were giving me goosebumps.
I was unraveling a piece of mother I never knew, the one who cared for me as an infant. But then I stumbled upon a letter written to someone I had never heard of, but she talks about her brother who had died four years prior and how she truly believed he was trying to reach her and that she could sense he was worried about her. She says, “I have decided to wait a little longer before I join him…I’ve got a family to raise first, wedding gowns to shop for with my daughters and grandchildren to cuddle.” I paused; the beating in my heart had an abrupt jump, because at some point between me being a few months old to being fourteen years old, she gave up on that, she simply lost interest in something that was once what kept her alive.
But the woman who laughed with me in the dressing rooms, the woman who baked with me, the woman who once dreamed of shopping for a wedding gown with me just simply doesn’t exist anymore. And my love for her was strong and I like to think her love for me was strong, but her depression was stronger. And it took my mother’s soul. Yet it is not all dark and gloomy, because I’ve been able to move past the abandonment. I’ve come to the realization that losing my mother is what will prepare me for the rest of my life; it has made me the strong, independent woman I intend to be. And if I take anything away from my experiences it is that one day I want to be an amazing mother to my children, and prove to myself that despite the absence of that example I will be able to do exactly that. And if I can thank my mother for anything it is that she gave me the motivation to pursue a life contrary to hers.
But five years later, she still has the power to make me cry. Five years later and not a day goes by where I wonder “what if?”, what if she was never sick, what if she took her medicine like she supposed to. But the “what ifs” will eat you alive, wondering about things that will never happen is pointlessly harmful. So instead of dwelling on the things I don’t know, I trust the things I do know, which is as difficult as it was to let go of such a prominent relationship, I am a happier, healthier person without her, and that’s the most important thing in life.
Remember, you are not alone.
And you are loved.
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