As a young girl, I thought that my mother was very tired and very sickly. She would sleep from the moment she got home on Friday night and not get up again until time for work on Monday. Was she sick? Super tired? Avoiding me??
She missed a lot of my school functions, and even our church Christmas program every year. My dad would show up and explain that Mom was "not feeling well". Having her miss my functions made me cry in grade school, but by middle school I was used to it and didn't expect anyone to show up anymore.
When I was 8 or 9, I remember Dad saying that Mom needed to see a doctor. I'd suggested that he call my friend's dad (a general practitioner), and Dad replied with "Not that kind of doctor." He mumbled something about needing to see a doctor about her mind, her thoughts... I didn't understand. No one ever explained it to me.
When I was 19 - after watching her moods shift from deliriously happy to unable to get out of bed, and listening to her version of my childhood, her childhood, subsequent marriages, and our home life - it began to dawn on me that something was actually wrong with my mom. I figured it was one of three options - she was a sociopath, she was mentally ill, or she was just plain mean.
As I was wrapping a very typical "granny" gift for my mom from my boys last week, I remembered something I'd long ago stuffed away... When I was 14, my dad took my younger sister and me shopping for a gift for Mom. We picked out a Christmas sweatshirt and some leggings (it was the 80's). We LOVED it and thought Mom would too. She didn't. In fact, as we sat around the beautifully decorated Christmas tree opening gifts, she yelled at us. I can still hear her saying "Did you really think I would like this? When have you ever seen me wear something like this?" On December 26th she took us back to the store to return it and made us hand the cash over to her so she could buy her own gift. I was forever scarred by that... I never bought a gift for her again without a specific wish list.
For the last several years I've suspected bipolar... She has a ton of personal issues to work through, but she is more than just troubled. Last week, my mom shared with me that she quit counseling in June and that she was diagnosed bipolar a long time ago. She's taken various antidepressants, but a doctor has never even offered her lithium. I thought lithium was the most effective way to stabilize the effects of bipolar?
She has seen dozens of counselors and doctors over the years, resulting in diagnoses of PTDS, anxiety, psychological shock, chemical imbalance, depression, and now bipolar. And every time she walks away from those treating her, and ultimately the meds too. She has made so much progress over the last couple of years. I hate to see her get swallowed up again by old thoughts and patterns that continue to chip away at what is left of fragile relationships, her job, her LIFE. When she is not overcome by the things that plague her, she is wonderful.
I heard the other day that children who are raised in volatile homes have higher incidence of mental illness, drug and alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and low academic achievement. Looking back over the generations in my family I see this pattern played out over and over again. It breaks my heart to look out at my extended family and see all of the children who were destroyed by ill parents, and in many cases have become ill themselves and are now caught in the cycle.
I pray for those effected by mental illness. It is far reaching, for generations and generations. I pray that we can rise above the circumstances in our childhoods when we have the opportunity, making wiser decisions than those who went before us, and knowing the hope and freedom there is in dealing with our struggles instead of being defined by them. I pray for comfort for those whose loved ones are slipping away, and for strength and wisdom as we try to help those who need it. For those who are in the grip of mental illness, I pray for a long enough pause in the turmoil that they will seek treatment and that their doctors would have the wisdom and know-how to treat them effectively. I pray for an end to the suffering caused by mental illness, and for restoration to become common among families impacted by these devastating diseases.
"May the Lord bless you and keep you." Numbers 6:24