Imagine you grew up in a seemingly ideal home. Your dad worked Monday through Friday and was home for dinner and weekends. Your mom stayed home, cooked the meals, and handled the domestic duties… always there when you came home from school, or needed something to drink. Your dad was the king of the castle, but your mom was the queen of everyday needs. The only thing missing from Leave it to Beaver was Wally.
Imagine there was something abnormal about your childhood, slowly poking its way through the facade of utopia; something that made your childhood less than ideal: your mother was metally ill. Partially from the illness, and partially from her upbringing, your mother was emotionally fragile, childish, moody, and ill-prepared for any kind of change. Your mother couldn’t make phone calls, or handle anything but routine business without emotional upheaval. Your mother could be meek and timid one moment, then unexpectedly burst into a barely controlled rage at the slightest perceived slight by a clerk in a store… much to her children’s horror (and embarrassment). She was hospitalized after a breakdown when you were very young. Neighborhood kids would pick up on her being a little “different,” and pick on her as if she were just another neighborhood kid (and not in a jocular way). When you were in middle school a group of kids (your age) ran through the house, undaunted by your mother’s screams (which were equal parts fearful and angry), taunting her and the rest of your family (when your father was away, of course). She had to stop driving for a while when you were in high school because she was having paranoid hallucinations. She couldn’t attend your wedding reception because of a nervous breakdown at the wedding.
Imagine that after you and your siblings left home, she grew more dependent on your father, and could no longer handle some of the more mundane tasks in life without assistance… like grocery shoppping, gassing up the car, or making a deposit at the bank. She became a hermit, never venturing out unless absolutely necessary; or unless she had your father along as a chaperone.
Imagine that her condition rapidly deteriorated over these last six months, spending prolonged periods of time in the hospital, trying different medications, having multiple courses of ECT, and generally loosing what was left of her mind in the process.
Imagine that your mother is now mostly unresponsive. Questions go unanswered. Comments go unheeded. If she leaves her bed at all she walks around as if on a leash, following your father where ever he goes. For months the only words that came from her mouth were: “I’m not doing well,” or, “I can’t go on.” Now she just doesn’t talk, or if she does it’s seemingly the first thing that comes to mind. Language spills from her mouth, a veritable salad of words. Unprovoked she calls out… “compass, phone book, Grace Kelly, two fingers, red shorts, man.” You look around the room, startled, wondering what provoked this odd outburst; but find nothing but the crazed, glazed gaze of someone you have trouble recognizing.
Imagine that you’ve completely forgotten what your mother was like when she was happy. How would you keep from crying at the thought… that someone could be so unhappy for so long? Would you wonder if mental illness was the cruelest of all diseases? It never kills directly, but it seemingly can torture for a lifetime.
What would you do if confronted with this? If you were a religious person, how would you reconcile this with your belief in God? How would you respond to the common “truisms” offered by the pious as “reassurance?”
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
“It’s all part of Gods plan.”
Could you hold your temper long enough to keep from swearing? Clearly, a person such as this (your mother) has way more than any person could handle. Mental illness doesn’t boil down to a deficit of faith. This may smack of heresy, but if bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or psychosis are part of the plan, then it’s crap.
You’ve been around. You read things. You know there are people out there like this: people with profound mental illness. You know that a few of them out there are mothers. Society is mostly bereft of answers; and their family… their kids, the children of the lost, are left with the hopeless task of caring for a shell who’s mind has fled.
What do you say to these children of the lost? Do you have any answers?