Monday, June 1, 2009

My mother was mentally ill

Please bear with me; I decided to write a serious post today! Don't worry, we'll be back to happy and light tomorrow for Tea For Two-sday! I don't write serious posts too often, but if you want to see some of the serious, you can check out the posts about my son, my mom, and my sister.

The month of May (yes I know we just started June - I always run behind!) was National Mental Health Month. I thought I would share a little of my background growing up with a mentally ill mother. You'll get to know me a little better; I'll get to put my thoughts in writing; and we'll let others know that they are not alone.

I was wondering just now why this was on my heart to write about today. Suddenly it hit me - June 1st is when my mother died, 8 years ago. It may sound strange that I didn't remember the day, but I wasn't there when she died and none of us even knew that day that she was gone. I tend to think of her birthday as a more important date to remember.

My mother was mentally ill. I can't remember at what age I realized that. I think I started to realize it in second grade. I have fuzzy memories of different events - my grandparents and priests talking to Mom and then Mom going away for a few days; Dad mentioning a few things to us; Mom acting a little strangely more than once. And then after my parents divorced (Mom's decision), I have clearer memories - Mom throwing things at us and yelling/crying, Mom acting hyper while telling us we were going to get all new appliances and furnishings on credit, a psychiatrist giving us his card telling us to call him if Mom was acting strange - which I think we did do. At that point, I was aware that she had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and needed medication.

My family knew of her mental illness and the priests at our church and maybe a few other key people. I do not recall talking to people when I was young about Mom's problems, even with friends. When you are already one of the few kids in class with divorced parents and you also have a Downs Syndrome sister, adding a mentally ill mother to the list isn't exactly appealing. When I was in elementary school, I was mostly confused about it and a bit embarrassed.

By the time I got to high school, I wasn't getting along with my mom and insisted that she let me live with Dad. She finally did and then I worried no more about mental illness - I was too concerned with finding my own spot in the socially awkward world of high school. What I didn't realize then was that Mom got worse during that time while my sister still lived with her. My sister never told me or my Dad what she was going through - she was too confused, scared, and ashamed.

The timing of events gets all blurred for me around this time, but I can tell you a few things without going into too much detail. Mom's problems had gone far beyond Bipolar Disorder. She left her job. She started hearing voices and created an imaginary man that she was supposed to meet. She was on and off of different medications and was committed to a mental institution more than once. Mom really struggled during those years.

Please don't think that I had a terrible childhood because of this. There were plenty of good times - board games, root beer floats, Little House on the Prairie, singing, piano playing, cousins, concerts, picnics, swimming, and reading stories. The Lord protected me and brought me through it all and has blessed me by keeping me free of the problems that Mom had. He also blessed me with a sense of humor as a coping mechanism!

When we talk about mental health - we tell people with mental problems to reach out and get help and we tell people to look for signs of mental illness in children so that they can get the proper help. But do we ever say anything about the children who are living with mentally ill parents? Do these children know to speak up and reach out? Do they know that they're not the only ones dealing with these issues? I certainly felt that nobody else I knew had a mentally ill parent.

I just want you to know that if you grew up with mental illness in the family or are living with it now, you are not alone! I pray that you have somebody to talk to about it, but please know that you can always talk to the Lord and He will listen.

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Thanks for listening today. If you have friends struggling with mental illness, please pray for and encourage them, but also pray for, encourage, and support their children.

Have a beautiful blessed day!


  1. Okay just to be fair, I in turn will write a serious comment.
    I love seeing your heart my friend. Don't be afraid of the serious side of life. I too have to pour it on (with a warning at the top) sometimes. It's good to do. I love you my friend and wish I could have known you back then!
    Big you are who you are because of where you came from and I wouldn't change a thing about you size hugs to you.

  2. Beautiful post...thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I love the way you remember the good times along with the not-so-good ones. And isn't it nice to know that the Lord is always there, no matter what?

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa. It's so important for kids in these situations to have a trusted adult to reach out to. I can relate to parts of your experience. I didn't know the Lord at the time that all of it started, but I'm blessed to know Him now and He has given me peace.

  5. Lisa,
    Thank you for your transperency with this post. I know that there is someone you wrote this for... that there is someone it will really help.
    Be blessed,

  6. GREAT post. don't ever be afraid to be real! Even those who won't admit it have "something" in their past or present that keeps us all "normal" together. Did that just make sense?:)

    I'm so glad you felt God's protection through it all.

  7. Lisa, my heart does go out to you and for how brave you were. I had a grandmother with mental illness. She was caught by the police late one night running down the street naked. Now as a police officer I remember getting calls like that and how the others would laugh. I always thought how sad. I always had so much compassion for people with mental illness because of my own grandmother. It is a terrible illness for people to deal with, and no one truly understands it unless they have been there done that or seen it! Life is full of challenges, thank goodness God is good....ALL THE TIME!

    Thanks for sharing a little piece of your soul!

  8. I'm sure that was such a difficult thing to go through, especially as a child! I hadn't ever considered the dynamics of a mentally ill family member from the perspective of a child before...this post was enlightening!

  9. Great post my friend! This is definitely a topic that you do not hear much about. Thank you for sharing your heart with us and thank you for opening our eyes to what it is like to have a loved one suffering.

  10. I know it was hard to post from such a personal side. I have no words, just silent prayers...


  11. How amazing of you to write this post. People do need to know they are not alone, and thanks for being vulnerable enough to share this.

  12. I came upon your site on google. My sister and I are both in our sixties..I am sad to say we are still trying to cope with a mentally ill mother in her 80's. I know that there are many daughters or sons who were in the same position as we were. We don't have many pleasant memories of her and on an a weekly basis deal with her paranoia and anger at us, her son in laws, (who don't have a clue!) and her grandchildren. We are both so sad and depressed at what we missed in life not having a normal mom and have tried to be one to our precious adult children. Dealing with a mentally ill mother affects your whole life and psyche. We have been intimidated all of our lives by her and just now, at our ages, after our father died two years ago, are we able to say that we cannot and will not continue to take the abuse from her...

  13. your story hits home. you can read mine here:

    you couldn't have said it better - there truly are very few resources for kids with mentally ill parents. when i was a teen, i had no idea who to talk to other than some of my friends, and they rarely "got it." i thank g-d for my brother every day.

  14. What we call despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.


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