my mother is still mentally ill #schizophrenia #sexualabuse #recovery #mentalillness
June 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
I finally went over to my Mom’s group home to play a game of Scrabble this afternoon. She lives in a supported living situation where her meals are made, her medications are taken care of, and she has a bedroom of her own. She has been in some sort of group home since 1982, when I brought her into my home after her second hospitalization. That was the year my third child was turning one year old and I ended up so depressed I could not get out of bed. It was the same year I sought help from a professional therapist for the first time. I have been struggling to figure how to make sense of my family relationships, the strength of the drive I feel to make a connection, and the fear I feel of being triggered or even re-injured by any one of my family members.
My mom was first committed to a psychiatric hospital when I was about 9 or 10 years old, in 1965 or 66. She was wrestled into a straight jacket by my Uncle and Dad in a psychiatrist’s office. She was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and given shock treatments. I have no idea how many times she was given these treatments. I do remember that we had a babysitter come to look after us kids while Mom was in the hospital. There were six of us kids, my sister would have been about 12 or 13 years old, my younger brothers would have been 5 or 6, 7 or 8 (twins) and 8 or 9. Mom came home on a weekend break, and then refused to go back to the hospital. My dad gave up trying to get help for her and for the rest of my childhood, youth, teen and adult years she was very, very ill.
I don’t want my life to be governed by my family member’s attitudes or behaviours, remembered, imagined, or real. With my mother, there is a very strange combination of effects. First, although I felt abandoned by my mother due to her mental illness, I also came to realize later in life that she never, ever, put me second in her heart. Even at the height of her illness, she continued to try to parent me, and she has never stopped. She is now 83 years old. For the most part she has mellowed with age and consistent medication. She lives in stable housing and is a pretty happy person. She never could provide real parenting, in the form of guidance or rational problem solving. On the other hand, she never turned me away, behaved irresponsibly toward me, or ever showed me that she didn’t love me. However, her mental illness did cause deep and significant damage to my own mental and psychological well-being.
One of the areas that was deeply damaging to me was in the area of sex and sexuality. My mother’s boundaries about sex and my sexuality were not well managed. For example, I remember as a teenager, she went out grocery shopping in a crocheted vest. You know how crocheted vests have a pattern of see through holes? Well she wore one like that, but with nothing on underneath. In her mind, she was wearing appropriate attire, but to anyone else she was wearing a see through top and everything was showing. As a child, I could not have told you what was wrong when she went out in that top, even though I knew there was something icky. I just couldn’t put into words how wrong it felt.
Today, when I arrived at my mother’s group home she greeted me at the door. She was dressed in a pretty pink party dress, with a full 3/4 flounce skirt. She had her hair pinned up with pink bows and was wearing a collection of bracelets and rings. Very festive. For our Saturday afternoon Scrabble game. Well, it was kind of fun.
We went downstairs into the basement recreation room and set up to play the game. It was warm, but not particularly hot. After a while, I noticed Mom had hiked the skirt of her dress up over her knees and was sitting with her legs spread wide and the skirt draping demurely in front. As soon as I noticed it I felt uncomfortable. I wondered if she had just hiked her skirt up because she was feeling hot and what I should do about it. Just then her dinner was called and she left the room while I took my turn.
She came back down after dinner and we resumed playing and then she hiked the skirt of her dress up again to bare one knee. I waited a minute and then said, “Mom, cover up your knee. I’m not comfortable.” She covered it up, and said, “Well, women wear shorts you know.” and I said, “I don’t want to see that.” After that she left her skirts alone and we finished out our game to a pleasant conclusion: Mom 197 Me 333.
As a child, this kind of incident caused deep scar tissue. It led me to seek therapy for incest and sexual abuse 10 years ago as I became aware I had all the symptoms of a sexual abuse survivor but I could not figure out who had done the damage and how it had occurred. Through therapy I came to understand how my mother’s inordinate interest in my body, and her inappropriate exposures of her own body, had been deeply wounding.
Now, as a 58 year old woman, I am still filled with shame as I recount this incident. What it shows me is that I am still subject to these kinds of encounters. If I am going to have a relationship with my mother, I am going to have to deal with these situations like a clinical nurse rather than an impressionable traumatized child. Can I do that? I don’t know. Can I explain the drive for connectivity that would put me in that situation? Yes I can. Can I make sense of this family relationship and come to terms, come to some sense of peace about it? That is what I am working on now.