The Cycle

It starts again. The cycle. The never ending punch in the gut, jolt to the heart, baffling cycle.

The first stage:

Denial

“Have you talked to mom?” The question I hate to hear when one of my four brothers calls.

“Yes.” I close my eyes before I ask, “Why?”

“She just seems,” sigh, “Out of it.”

“No. I haven’t noticed.” I lie.

Then I end the call and pretend it never happened. I go about my day. I play with my children. We do homework. I cook dinner for my family, a mediocre, limp mess that we call a meal. I sit in my chair at the kitchen table, fork some food into my mouth, chew, and swallow, all the while trying to push her illness away from my reality. I smile at my son as he tells me something really important about one of his Lego Star Wars characters and nod my head feigning undying interest. I wipe my daughter’s mouth and ask her to use her fork and listen to her hum a song she learned at preschool. We all sit and eat, and I pretend it’s not happening. Again.

It’s not happening again.

It’s not happening again.

And so on until she reaches the next stage … everyone’s favorite.

I’m back!!!

My phone rings. I look at the name. “Mom” lights up. I want so badly to hit the red Decline button, but I can’t. I cannot ignore her call. I long to hear her voice, to feel her, to hold on to just a little bit of her normal, so I answer.

“Hi, mom,” I say and hold my breath.

“You’re coming to see me Spring Break, right?”  She says, rapidly, faster than her usual Southern drawl.

“Um.  I haven’t thought about…”

“I’m cleaning out my closet,” she interrupts, “Do you want that brown suit that I bought with you at Dillard’s? You could use it for work.” Flight of ideas. Keep up. It’s not always easy.

“No, mom. I don’t work anymore.” I haven’t worked in 7 years.

“Oh.” She pauses, trying to make sense of that in her head but only briefly.Onto the next thought. “I’m so alive right now. I’ve never been better. Did I tell you? I’m back. I’m back, and I’m better than I ever was. I have so much energy. I stayed up until 6:00 this morning, organizing my closet. Organizing my cabinets. Organizing the laundry room.”

I picture my childhood home always tidy and neat, immaculate actually, and then I picture her organizing, her new way of organizing.  Her clothes drape over her bed and litter the floor next to her closet. The plates I ate so many meals from stack on top of each other on the kitchen counter next to the silverware and her cast iron skillet, the one that she used to make me fried okra and French fries anytime I requested. Her prized teapot collection no longer collects dust in her antique display cabinet.  Pieces of it scatter all over the house, unmatched. She uncharacteristically went on a catalog shopping spree and spent almost a thousand dollars on junk. My parents’ formal living room couples as an advertisement for the As Seen on TV store. I imagine my dad rubbing his lips together, kneading the soft wrinkled skin on his forehead back and forth with his fingers, trying to ignore the mess … the clutter … the illness.

“I’m glad you’re feeling well.” I lie. She’s not well. We all know it, but she feels great. Some synapse in her brain rapidly fires over and over and sends her on a temporary high. A high that she feeds on, that she enjoys, that makes her look “crazy” to the outside world, but just fragile, porcelain plunging to tile about to shatter in a million pieces, to me. She will break. Soon. So I brace myself. And I hold onto her happy, to her synthetic high with all of my force from behind my phone.

“I love you, mom.” I say, swallowing the huge lump in my throat.

“I love you, too.”

“I know.”

I know.

I know.

And I do, which is why I can handle the next stage:

Anger

Her name lights up on my phone for the eighth time today. I sigh. I can’t do it. I can’t pick up and hear what I know she is going to say. I can’t, but I do. Every time. Because I can’t ignore my mom.

“Hi, mom.”

“I don’t know what your problem is.” She spits at me.

“I don’t have a problem.” I say, grinding my teeth.

“You and your dad are assholes. Do you think I’m a child?” Says the preacher’s wife who rarely uses profanity. Sick Mom has no filter. Sick Mom uses words Well Mom would never, ever say.

She heard a conversation that took place between my dad and me, one where we were trying to decide what to do with her. She’s abused my dad to the point where he can’t stand it anymore. She hates him, hates the way he smells, the way he looks, the way he breathes, the way he walks, the way he sleeps, and she tells him this. Every minute of every day. I fear for him. I know that she would never hurt him, the well she, but the sick she hates him, and the sick she often references things like butcher knives and frying pans, so I speak to my father every morning when I first wake up to make sure that he’s still alive.

That’s what sickness does to a family. It makes it doubt the legs on which it stands. It makes it doubt the heart that makes it beat. It makes us doubt our mom. And it’s terrible.

“No, mom. I don’t think you’re a child.” Even though we sort of treat her like one. My dad unplugged the stove to keep her from catching their house on fire. He disconnected her car battery so that she can’t drive away when he isn’t watching. We whisper behind her back and tiptoe around her, not wanting to strike her ever ready match. We make plans for her without her approval. But we don’t think she is a child.

“Mom.  Please stop being mad at me.”

“You know what?”

“What mom?”

“Your husband should leave you. He should take your kids and leave and never look back. Those kids deserve better than you. And so does your husband. You don’t appreciate him at all.”

“I know, mom.”  Because agreeing makes the conversation shorter, and I’ve heard this at least four times today. She’s also told me that I’m a whore and a piece of shit and the worst mother on the planet.

She’s angry with me because last time this happened, I made the decision to put her in the hospital, the one she calls “the loony bin,” the one she refuses to go back to, the one that did nothing but make her worse. I hate myself for making that decision, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. My brothers weren’t brave enough to do it, and she became too much for my elderly father to control, and frankly, I didn’t want her to kill him in his sleep, but that I don’t tell anyone.

She also does not understand why I cannot visit her, why I won’t allow my children to see her this way. She can’t understand. They need to remember the well Nana. The Nana who always kept candy in her pocket and secretly handed them a piece each time I turned my back, the Nana who sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” off key but with joy and giggled every time the song ended, the Nana who would sit and hold them on her lap, rocking in her chair, reading them books, content to have the chatter of children all around her, who played hide and go seek, who threw the baseball in the back yard. The Nana whose laugh was contagious and the best sound on earth.

“I’m sorry that you’re mad at me, mom.”

“Sure you are.  You don’t care about me.”  And with that, she abruptly ends the call.  I put down my phone. And I cry. Because my mom is sick, and nobody can answer the question:  “Why?”

She’ll call me at least twenty more times this day, and I’ll answer every time. And I’ll listen to her assault of words because she’s my mom, and I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

And I brace myself for the next stage. The worst stage of all.

The lights are on but nobody’s home

“Mom” hasn’t flashed on my phone screen in days. Yesterday, on her birthday, I called her, and we spoke.  A simple, “happy birthday, mom,” conversation. I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you, too,” and we ended the call. That was yesterday.

Today is my birthday. On normal birthdays, my mom calls me and recounts my birth. She tells me for at least the 35th time that she went into labor with me at her birthday dinner, two days late. They rushed to the hospital where she continued to labor with me over night.   “Everyone from the church was there, and all I wanted was to be left alone,” I hear her voice in my imagination, her normal well voice, tell me, “My room was full of people,” and she goes on to tell me who was there.  She labored all night and then finally, with no aid of medication, she delivered me at 9:35 the next morning. The doctor announced, “It’s a girl,” and the room fell silent. A girl after four boys. “If you would have been another boy, I think I would have told them to put you back in,” her normal well voice tells me with a chuckle, normally.  Normally, on my birthday, my mom and I talk about her going into labor on her birthday with me, “the best birthday gift she ever got.” Normally, but not this year. And not last year. Because my mother forgot my birthday. Again. It’s not her fault. It’s because of the illness. It’s because of the sickness in her brain that we cannot explain.

But it doesn’t hurt any less. Because it’s our thing. Our birthdays … our birthdays are … special.  I’m the best birthday gift she ever got. Remember, mom?

Remember?

Remember?

But she doesn’t. Her brain has checked out. And she doesn’t remember.  She doesn’t even know if she brushed her teeth this morning. She stands at the sink and pours herself a glass of water, forgetting to turn off the faucet as water pours over the side of her glass and splashes her hand …and she doesn’t know it.

I’ll check my phone a thousand times today, and her name won’t appear.  She forgot. It’s okay, I tell myself.

It’s okay.

It’s okay.

She’ll get better. She’ll come back. She always does.

Until then, I’ll ferociously go through my card box and try to find one from my mom. A card with her voice, where I can hear her, the real her, the well her. And I’ll read every card she’s ever given me. And then I’ll find a little gem in the box, a note that she put in a pile of mail she sent me when I first moved to Dallas thirteen years ago. And there she is. Just like that.  Two simple sentences.

“Here’s your mail, sweetie.  Sure do miss you so much. Love, Mom”

I miss you, too, Mom.

So much.

hands -The Cycle

 

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290 thoughts on “The Cycle

    • Wow, thank you so much for such kind words. I don’t know that I’m really worthy of admiration as my mother was the muse for this post, but I appreciate it still, and I hope that in writing this post, I can bring awareness to mental illness and how it effects the entire family. Thanks again for reading and for commenting.

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  1. I started to read this and teared up. Not only for what you are dealing with but because of my own memories. My mother had a mental illness.The ups and downs, the phone calls, The normal times always to short. There is always the longing to make them well. Great post and best wishes and strength for you.

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    • Thank you so much. I am sorry that you had a similar situation with your mother. I hope that you had lots of good memories too. I know I have to remember those times when she’s harsh and outside of her mind. Thanks for reading and for you nice comment. Best wishes and strength for you, too.

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  2. Beautifully written…but so, so sad. I sense that you’re the caregiver and that your brothers and father just don’t know what to do…or how to do it. I can feel the love between you and would like to think that love trumps everything.

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  3. I am a new blogger and I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post. It was very well written and I can just sense how strong you are. Thank you for sharing this story, even though it must hurt to write about it. I don’t know you, but I will pray for your mom and for your family. I wish you happiness, good health, and the best in absolutely everything. Hang in there and continue to be inspirationally strong.

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  4. Keeping the love alive in your heart is such a valuable gift. Even in hardship there can be love. This is such a beautiful post. Hauntingly sad, but full of tenderness. Hold tight to your memories, especially on the tough days. So many tough days. It took courage to write this post, and I wanted to take a moment to stop and honor your courage.

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    • Thank you so much for reading and for leaving me such a nice comment. I could say that it was courageous to post, and in fact, it was quite difficult to hit “publish” on this one, but the truth is, I’ve gotten so much support for me that it has turned out to be quite cathartic.

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    • I’m so sorry you know the feeling. I sometimes envy my friends who speak to their mother every day, or even the ones who get annoyed that their mom wants to be such a part of their lives. I miss those days when I could just call my mom and ask her for parenting advice or for help on a recipe that I can’t seem to get correct. At the end of the day though, you and I have to protect ourselves from what ever might be on the other end of that call. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  5. What you are doing, keep doing it. At the end of the day, you will remember that you never gave up being kind. You will become a better person (if that is possible). One day, she will shine like a bright star and all the former (rotten) things will be forgotten and love will flourish anew. God bless you and keep you, and May His face ever shine on you, giving you courage and hope.

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  6. Beautifully written. It brought back the memories of my own mother’s debilitating dementia. She was a very head strong person and my father consequently refused help until it was well advanced. A lot of procrastinating by family members went on because no one wanted to interfere with their independence. In the long run it turned out to be detrimental to my father’s health. Anyway, I hope things work out for the best in your situation.

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    • Unfortunately, I feel that my father is doing the same with my mother. She has periods of “normal,” and every time she does, my father thinks it’s gone. He gets overwhelmed when she goes through her not so normal cycles, and then it’s too far gone to do anything. I don’t really know what to do to help him realize that it’s not just a random thing and that it is only going to get worse. Our problem is that when she is normal, she “passes” the dementia tests and is told she doesn’t have it, but we can’t seem to get her in with a neurologist when she isn’t normal. It’s extremely aggravating, and I still have no idea what to do. I appreciate your reading my post and commenting. I apologize it’s taken me so long to get back to commenting. It’s been yet another interesting couple of months with my mother. I hope things work out for you, too. Thanks again for stopping by my little corner.

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  7. Your post touched my heart! In fact brought a mist toy eyes! Reminded me of my late Daddy! May Allah be kind to our parents! All we can do is pray for them. If you can spare the the do read my blog Reversed Roles!!! Your comments would be appreciated

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  8. Your writing is wonderful. I could actually picture you on the phone and could visualize everything you wrote. I pray that you can find comfort in writing and that you are able to continue to rationalize every thing that happens. God bless your family and I hope you get relief from this disease. I’m very sorry that you all have to deal with these things.

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    • Thank you so much. What’s they saying, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Luckily, my mother is the strongest person I know, and she handed that down to me and my brothers. As much as we don’t like or want to deal with his, we will hold strong for her and continue to love her through all of this confusion. Thanks again for reading and for your very welcome and humbling compliment on my writing.

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    • Thank you for stopping by and for reading. It’s so unfortunate to have to deal with a mother with mental illness, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. I do believe that writing out these words did help me in understanding my side of things more. I really do appreciate your comment.

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      • Thanks, I’m glad my words could help, it was a little difficult to convey properly over media form but it is a difficult situation for anyone no matter what side of the fence we are dealing with it.

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  9. This post was so touching and emotional. It drew me in right until the very end … even though I knew what was coming next for the most part. Alzheimer’s is one of the cruelest diseases on the planet. It locks on to our loved ones and never lets them go, leaving us to brace against unexpected use of profanity and violence even while hoping for precious moments of recognition and love. Our family is currently walking this very hard path but the one good thing is being able to share with others – like yourself. Here are my personal thoughts below and love to your mom.
    http://galeweithers.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/at-church-they-said-she-had-an-odour-part-i/

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  10. I understand and sympathize with every word here. My mom is bipolar and schizophrenic. She went from being the most well-rounded, single mother, to one of the craziest and most violent people I’d ever seen or met. She locked my brother and I in a house for two years, pulling us out of school. By the end of it I was living alone with a mother that was attempting cry-for-help suicides, and hording the keys to the doubled-sided locked doors.

    After I escaped the house, she would call over and over telling me of her delusions, and what a horrible daughter I was. “I hate your haircut. It looks stupid on you.”
    “You don’t love me anymore, you’re just like the rest of them.”
    Me- The only person that tried to help my mother and stay with her.. Sure, I don’t love her.

    After nearly ten years with countless acts of vandalism, being evicted from her home, and made homeless she is finally institutionalized. The only way I’ve ever been able to stomach any of it was to realize that it’s not my mother. That the mother I knew and loved is dead. That this walking, breathing human that looks like her is just an empty shell- One that can never be full of the person I used to idolize and mold myself around.

    It’s a lot less sad now, but some days.. Days when I see other families and other friends of mine with their parents.. It’s those days I feel my life was so unfair. So cruel. But it is what it is. I can’t change it. The only thing I can do is learn from it, grow, and move on.

    I am stronger than my mother’s disease.
    And my only hope is that I can still become as wonderful as the person my mother was meant to be.

    Thank you for sharing. ♥

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    • “I am stronger than my mother’s disease.” What a powerful statement, and from your response seems to be very true. It sounds like it’s been a helluva relationship with your mother, and yet, you still love her. That says so much about YOU and your character. I applaud you for knowing the limits to the relationship and letting it go. I’m sorry your mother suffers, and even more, I’m sorry you have to suffer a loss. I understand what you mean about seeing your friends with their parents. I feel the same way. I envy my friends whose mothers take their kids for a week every summer. I can never let my mother do that, even though I watched her do it for my nephews just a few years ago.

      Hang in there. Your strength shines through your writing, but I know how hard it is even when we’re strong.

      Thank you for the comment.

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      • Da, it is hard seeing something you know you can never have like that. I remember my boyfriend (now fiancé) invited me over for thanksgiving at his parents. And his mother was so wonderful to me. She purposefully made a mostly gluten free meal so I wouldn’t get sick, and even made me my own dessert. It was the first family interaction I’d had in ten years.

        The second we got in the car to leave I started crying because he’d just given me something I never thought I’d get again- a feeling of family.

        I do love her on some level, but I will admit there is also a level of hatred towards her. I go back and forth between the two, but ultimately I know deep down it’s just sadness.

        I’m sorry for you as well. Because I know what it’s like to get those phone calls, and I’d never wish that on anyone… But it’s hard, if not impossible to ignore them. It will get better, though. Just remember the person you see and talk to is not your mother. The mother you know and love isn’t here anymore, and she never will be.

        You know she loved and cared for you. Don’t let her disease ruin the memory of the her- Your mother, a person who if she saw you now would tell you not to let anyone ever treat you that way, even if it’s herself.

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  11. This was a wonderful way to tell this. My mother in law has gone through the same exact thing. My mom is in the starting stages, but she knows, because she went through it with her mom. I guess I need to do every thing to help myself. Thank you for sharing.

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that your family is affected by this illness. It is so baffling and heartbreaking but more than that, it’s exhausting. I wish the best for you and your mom, and mother-in-law. I think the hardest part is mourning her time and again and knowing that one day I will mourn a mom who will never return but who is still breathing. It’s a morbid thought, but it’s the truth.

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    • Oh no, to have it on both side must be so hard. I wish there was something we could have done to prepare ourselves for what was/is ahead. I hope your mom is able to get the medication that at least might slow down the deterioration. Thanks again for reading this and for leaving such a personal comment.

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  12. Wow-what a powerful story of your life-I was married to someone with mental illness and a drug and alcohol addiction, but with a spouse, no matter how bad it hurts and what you lose, you can divorce them and move on-you can’t do that with a parent. My heart goes out to you-and thank you for writing this.

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    • I still can’t imagine how hard it must be to live day in and day out with a spouse with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse. That takes serious commitment, and I think it’s a whole new level of hurt. I am sorry you’ve had to deal with that, especially if it had to end in divorce. Divorce is so hard. I can’t move on from my mother, but I can not take some of the calls and avoid some of the pain.

      Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading this post. I appreciate it more than I’m able to express. Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to this comment. I didn’t realize it was in here unanswered.

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