In writing about my experience as a motherless daughter here on the blog, I've connected with many others like me both in the online world and in my everyday life. It's comforting to know that I'm not alone and share so many of the same questions, fears and sadness as other women out there. Today's guest post is from my friend Rebecca who I met at nutrition school and felt instantly more connected to once I learned her story. I know that we were both surprised at some of the similarities. I am so proud of everything that she has accomplished since we were in class together and am thankful she offered to include this post for Life is Sweet month.
I don't know what she was like as a little girl. Was she playful? Silly? Wild like me?
I have no idea who she was as a young woman, or what her wildest hopes and dreams were.
Did she want to work at the bank? Or did she have bigger things in store for her life?
DID SHE EVER DREAM OF THINGS THAT FELT IMPOSSIBLE? AND IF SHE'D HAD THE CHANCE, WOULD SHE HAVE TAKEN THE CHANCE ON THOSE DREAMS?
Did she like to travel like I do? Did she ever have the urge to leave the country on a whim, to see what else was out there for her in the wide open world? What would she have done with her life, if she'd known her story ahead of time?
I'll never know how she felt when she found out she was pregnant with me, her first child. Or how it changed her life when she saw my face for the first time. Was she excited? Was she scared?
She never taught me how to cook. Or clean. Or how I was supposed to deal with heartbreak. And we never went for tea and talked about boys, or chatted into the wee hours of the night about what it really meant to be a woman.
We never talked about the idea of getting married. Whether she thought it was a good decision she'd made at the young age of 23. Did she believe in everlasting love? In the idea of a soulmate? Did she even think about these things?
I have no idea how she felt about all the demons from her childhood. The ones I never learned about until way too late in life.
And I have absolutely no idea how she felt when she went to see her first therapist. Did she know it was the beginning of the end?
And when she and dad divorced, and she took me to therapy every week to talk about who I wanted to live with, did she know that this was too much for a child to take on? Could she see that deep down, I knew that she couldn't take care of me? Did she know that I never once said this out loud?
I'm not even really sure when her illness started. I'm guessing it was within her from very early on. But we never can be sure about these things, can we?
I often wonder whether she was as aware as I was, that the fact that she never ate anything couldn't be good for her. Watching her be fed through tubes on the psychiatric ward - the most aggressive treatment at the time, the doctor told me years later. Why didn't she just eat normal food, like everybody else?
And why did I have to go visit my mom in a hospital anyway? Surely this wasn't how most kids spent their Saturday afternoons. My 7-year old self couldn't quite process it all.
BUT THEN HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN EXPECTED TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES.
And when it got to the point when she actually lived in the hospital, did she realize how sad it made me to not have a mother?
I'll never know if she ever had the urge to talk about her illness with me. Maybe she didn't want to bother me with it. Or maybe she just didn't even recognize she was ill. Maybe her anorexia distorted any kind of self-perception that she had. Does that happen? I don't know.
Maybe she had no idea who she was anymore.
And when it got really bad, when all the other shit started to get worse - I wonder how she felt about being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD? Was she told that these were now the labels she was to live with? Did she notice how the meds made her act?
And when I was away and travelling and doing anything I could to NOT have to deal with my "crazy" mother, did she miss me? Did she blame me? Did she still love me?
I wonder if she ever wanted to reach out. To ask for help. To have a heart-to-heart, as I've heard mothers and daughters sometimes do.
AND I WONDER IF SHE HAD, IF I'D HAVE HAD THE COURAGE TO SAY YES.
I'll never know.
Those years I lived away in Australia, and Korea, and Thailand, and Vancouver, if I'd known they'd mean not seeing my mom again, would I still have stayed away? And all the times I worried about being embarrassed about her at my wedding (should I ever choose to have one) - would I have changed the way I felt if it meant I could bring her back?
I don't know. I don't know.
I wonder if that last phone call I made to her house, out of the blue on a Friday night before we went out to the bar, was my intuition telling me that I had better call my mom. It's really too bad she didn't pick up.
And when she moved out of her apartment just the month before, packed up all her boxes, stored everything away, and moved onto my uncle's couch because she had too much pride to go to the women's shelter, I wonder if she knew she was packing up for good. If it was her way of cleaning up years of clutter. Years of reminders of a life unfulfilled. Her way of helping make the whole thing just a little bit easier on us.
Hell - I sometimes wonder how she really died. Sure, the coroner explained that her heart just stopped - one of the not so pleasant side-effects of many years of not feeding her body, combined with a combination of cigarettes, wine, and god knows how many prescription pills.
But I mean - how did she really die? Was she in pain? Did she know she was dying? Did she want to go? Was she as ready as I think she was?
And when we could only afford to get her the most basic of boxes, the one that's pretty much only meant for the eyes of close family before they burn you in it, did she know that we had always wanted better for her? That we did the best we knew how to do?
Does she know that all those times I was harsh to her, that I got frustrated with her, that I hurried through our visits and rushed off to hang out with my friends, does she know that it was simply because I didn't know what else to do?
No one teaches you how to live with a mentally ill family member or friend. We’re not taught in school how to relate to someone who doesn’t even know how to relate to themselves.
Guilt, frustration, anger, can all sweep in when we feel like we should be doing more, but don’t know what, or how.
My mom died. She would have died either way, I think. I did the very best I knew how to do, given the circumstances.
Did I feel guilty when she died? Yes. I cried for days, beat myself up, and blamed it all on me.
“I should have done more. I should have done more,” I wept.
But it was NEVER about me. Mental illness is a complicated, messy thing, and the very most that you can do when you are living with someone with a mental illness in your life, is to just do the very best you can do.
On some days, your best might look like a lot. On most days, your best might not feel like anything. And that’s ok.
It’s all ok.
Their path is not your path. Don’t take on guilt for something that was never about you.
I have a stronger relationship now that I ever did with my mom, and I’m sure it’s because I’ve been able to see past my guilt, and I really feel that she knows that I did the very best I knew how to do. I know she understands.
Do your best. And know that it’s always enough.
As a Life-Switch Coach + Professional Adventure Instigator, Rebecca Tracey of TheUncaged Life works with people who want to do something big, like travel, quit their job, or start their own business, but who need help creating a plan, staying on track, and beating out nagging resistance and fear. If you’re ready to take your top-secret, rule-bending, crazy-town dream, and bring it to life, Rebecca can help you tell your excuses to suck it.