Since I started my series, A Day in the Life, I have thought a lot about the impact my mom’s illness, paranoid schizophrenia, had on her and our family. Yesterday I was contemplating what to post next, and I remembered how often I felt like I was on my own as a child. For years I have carried around this sense of regret about decisions I made that I thought were “bad” and only now am I realizing how ill-equipped I was to handle the situations that led to those decisions.
When my mom was having a psychotic episode, and even during her ongoing paranoia, I didn’t know what to do. My main goal was to avoid her at all costs. This meant I would spend a lot of time in my room by myself, or when it didn’t feel safe to be home, I would spend most of my time at my best friend’s house. In fact, sometimes my mom would lock me out of the house. That was when she thought I was the devil.
Other times I remember going into her bedroom and trying to talk to her and rationalize with her. I naively thought I could somehow change her mind or convince her that she was ill, not realizing I was only making her feel worse and more suspicious of me.
My dad spent a lot of time away from home at work. There were times when I was at school and would get summoned to the office by a phone call from my frantic mom, asking me to come home because she thought she saw my sister in an explosion across the street.
I was faced with a lot of decisions back then. Do I tell anyone? Do I call my dad and ask him to come home? How can I shelter my sisters? I felt responsible for them when mom seemed too unwell to care for them. I remember walking to the store with them to get away from my mom, and feeling terrified that I might somehow lose them. The responsibilities weighed heavily on me, and I had little time to concentrate on school, which I managed to somehow get through without much effort.
I only told my mom I hated her one time, and that was the night before she was committed for the first time. She had locked me out of the house on a school night, and I had figured out a way to use a screwdriver to unlock the door. When I opened the door she greeted me with rage, and told me to get out. I decided to try to push through, but she was too strong and pushed me back out. I screamed, “I hate you, you bitch!”
The next day when I got off the bus, there was a sheriff’s car in my driveway, and my brother came running towards me, steering me to the woods behind our house, where we waited until it pulled away with my terrified mom sitting in the back, headed towards the state institution where she remained for several months.
My dad stood in the driveway and bawled. I will never forget that day.
The thing I remember most about how I felt was not anger, or hatred towards my mom, but sheer helplessness. I wanted to help this woman whom I had idolized, and yet I didn’t know how. I felt fear and terror whenever I saw her rushing about the house unplugging appliances,unscrewing light bulbs, pounding her head against the floor, or standing within inches of my face yelling “you are not Amy, you are the devil”.
I never believed it was her fault. I knew there had to be something wrong, and nobody seemed to have the answers about how to fix it.
Today I give these flowers to my mom, for all the times she was treated like a criminal when she was really sick. See the previous post here.