Often, when I speak of my experiences growing up, I see in people's eyes the disbelief, and sometimes they voice skepticism. The mythical expectations that all mothers are caring, loving people who have the best interests of their children as their main focus means that disbelief is always a response experienced by those whose experiences are outside of the "norm".
So, what is it really like to grow up with a mother who is unavailable because of her mental illness?
She is unable to be available as a mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, or wife...never mind friend, sister, or daughter.
In my house, the unavailability added up to a lot of isolation from outside influences, from extended family. It meant that she was unavailable to be emotionally available to me, as a child, teenager, or young adult. It meant that she often "checked out", escaping from reality into books. It meant that her expectations of our behavior were to make HER look good...to reinforce her personal appraisal of herself as brilliant, the perfect mother. She was unavailable to transport us to any events, unless those events made her look better.
It meant that any infraction was met with harsh punishment. Humiliation, beatings, kicking, pulled out hair, further isolation....all were on the table as regular punishments. No matter that the punishment didn't actually fit the crime...if I were in the wrong, I made her look bad, and that was unacceptable. She was not in touch with what it meant to have an actual long-term relationship with her children.
As an adult, this unavailability has played out to mean that none of her children spend any time with her...she has chased us all away with her unrealistic expectations, attempts at control, and over-the-top negativity.
While others have mothers that they can ask for help, can be friends with, can discuss their lives....I have none of that. She is unavailable.
She has refused to take care of herself, so not only is she unavailable emotionally, but she is unavailable physically. She is slowly killing herself, all while attempting to portray herself as the victim. She has allowed her anxieties around other cars, and fear of my father's driving isolate her further. She no longer can drive herself, but refuses to go any distance with anyone else at the wheel.
My mother is currently 73 years old.
She has Type II diabetes, had triple bypass surgery, and (by dint of her refusal to eat healthily or take her medications for the diabetes) has developed some form of dementia.
I am currently 49 years old.
I have been working toward healing from the abuses of my childhood for more than 15 years.
I recognize that she can no longer hurt me. The sad facts of the matter is that a mother's mistreatment lives on in the head of the children they raise, and come back to haunt them for the rest of their lives. The words planted in my head that said so much about what she thought of me have formed the base upon which my lack of self-esteem was based. The terrible names she spat at me in times of her rages live on in my head. NONE of them are true, but they are part of the fabric of me.