Friday, August 22, 2008

she's lost her mind.

I have wanted to write about this topic for quite some time, but I've always come up with excuses as to why I can't/shouldn't/won't. And then, like the Blogger Gods always end up causing me to do, I was smack dab on the front door step of Petunia Face's heart, being reminded that writing about the difficult stuff is often the most important, most theraputic, and most full-of-grace thing a Blogger can do. Or a human can do. And I knew, right then and there, that my story needed to come out. It needed to move from my heart, down my arms, into my hands, and out of my fingertips. Because it is My Story. And it is my belief that it might be someone else's, too. And what more beautiful reason is there than that: to share a story, with and between others. Friends. Fellow travelers on this trip of life.

And so, I share this story--My Story--for Petuina Face, for you, dear reader, and for me. (Petunia Face: If only you could be here with me now, holding my hand, helping me through this, telling me I'm not alone...Why, oh, why must you be in California?)

(The tears have already begun...they sting my eyes...they blur my vision...)

When I was 10, my mother came to me one day and announced that she was going to Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia. We were a middle-class, Midwestern family. Members of it didn't go to Yugoslavia. Yugo-what-ee-ah? I thought she was crazy. She said that she wanted to be a part of the phenomenom of the Virgin Mary appearing to a group of young people there. Again, I thought she was crazy.

She went to Medjugorje, and when she returned, she returned a different person. She locked herself in her room all day, she wrote in notebooks--so many that they lined the perimeter of my parents' bedroom, in stacks and stacks. In those notebooks she wrote to Jesus. Or she wrote the words Jesus spoke to her. She claimed she was a prophet. My mother. The Prophet. She went to Mass every single day--sometimes twice a day. She prayed the rosary from sun-up to sun-down. She became obsessed. She stopped keeping house. My parents' bedroom became a mess. Something was wrong. I was young, but I wasn't dumb.

A couple of years later, we moved. Same city, different house. Mom got worse. She didn't get out of bed. Except to go to Mass. Or pray. Or write in her notebooks. Again, housekeeping took a backseat.

A year and a half after that, Dad got a job in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. So, we moved again. I was thirteen. And Mom? Yes. She got worse. My brother and I used to make bets on the busride home from school.

"I think she'll still be in bed," I'd say.

"I think she's asleep, too," he'd say.

We weren't really making bets with each other. We were just coming to terms with what we knew was the truth. Our mom was weird. And we hated it.

By the time I was sixteen, I was the woman of the house. Mom spent all of her time at church, or in her room praying, or writing, or sobbing to Jesus. And the house was disgusting. I was so embarrassed. I hated when people stopped by unannounced. I only invited friends over if 1) I had time to clean, and 2) Mom was at church or in her room.

Then the hallucinations started. Demons in her bedroom. Voices in her head. The random screaming. Even if I had friends over. The time I had a boy over for the first time--a boy I really liked. We sat in the living room one Christmas, enjoying the tree. And then the screaming started. Upstairs. From my mother's bedroom. My heart. Breaking.

And there was the weird behavior: Locking herself in her bedroom. Pushing furniture in front of the door. Dousing the car with holy water before she went to get groceries. Inviting friends from church over to lay prostrate in front of the nearly life-size Virgin Mary statue we had in our living room. Making my brother and me pray the rosary with her and my dad every night after dinner. (Disclosure: My dad didn't like it, either. But he did it to keep her calm.)

I hated her.




And, finally: at Christmas of my junior year in high school, she went into a mental hospital. But it wasn't a normal mental hospital. It was a Christian mental hospital. Could we possibly add any more fuel to this fire that continued to rage and rage out of control? I remember visiting her with my dad--my brother wouldn't come--and on the carride home, I put my seat back, turned my face to the passenger's side window, and cried silently, so my dad wouldn't know how much it hurt. How much I wanted a mom. How much I hated this woman I didn't know.

In college, it was much of the same. My twenty-first birthday was one of the worst memories I'd had up to that point. She and my father drove to my campus, a mere 30 minutes away from home, to take me out for late-night dessert after my theatre rehearsal. Mom was acting funny. We arrived at the restaurant too late: Kitchen Closed. I was disappointed. We were going to try another place, but I said, "Nah. Take me back to campus, please." I sat in the front seat--the Birthday Girl Seat. My mom rode in the back. And then started to yell incoherently. As if in tongues. I was terrified. My dad continued to drive as if everything was as normal as could be. When they dropped me off in front of my dorm, I bolted from the car, crying. It was a Friday night. Students were outside everywhere. My mom opened the door of the car, and cried out, "Laura, please. Take my gift!" I didn't want it. I wanted to get away from her. My dad said, "Connie, get back in the car. Connie, please. Just get back in the car." Everyone was staring. "Laura, please!" she yelled. I grabbed the gift bag as fast as I could, hugged and kissed my dad, and ran towards my dorm's front door, sobbing the entire way.

The present? Padded hangers.

Happy 21st birthday.

And then the hospital visits became more frequent. Sometimes she'd be there for a couple of days. Other times it would be for a week or so. The nights I'd get calls from my dad while I was at college: "Your mom went to St. Francis again this afternoon. Just thought you should know." Or, "I took your mom to the hospital and didn't even have time to pack her bag. Would you mind running home, packing some stuff, and meeting me at the hospital?"

Do you know how painful that is? To go home to your parents' empty house, rummage through your mother's dresser, select underwear, socks, some pants and tops--and make sure you get her slippers--all so that she'll be comfortable while she's in a psych ward?

(The tears...the tears...they blur my vision...)

And then The Big One came. I was living in the Midwest. As if the pain wasn't enough. She was admitted to the Torrence State Mental Hospital. A state institution. Two hours from my parents' home.

For a year.

And my dad, God Bless Him Always, drove to see her several times a week. Four hours roundtrip. Because he made a committment in the eyes of God. In sickness and in health.

And then I came home for 48 hours that Christmas. Because that's all my retail job would allow. (Because nothing--NOTHING--is more important than retail at Christmas.) And my dad and I drove to see my mom. In the psych hospital. On Christmas Day. Without my brother. Because he refused to come. And there were bars on the window of the room we got to meet her in. And the staff had to inspect our presents. To make sure nothing was sharp. Or had glass. Or could be used to hurt herself.

Merry Christmas. But not merry at all.

And I sobbed the whole way home.

And two months ago she attempted suicide. A story I cannot share with you quite yet. But she was on life support for three days. And do you know what I did?

I prayed that God would take her.

I prayed so hard. As her blood pressure dropped. As the ambulance raced to get her. As my dad's shaky voice on the phone got shakier.

I prayed. God, please take her. Take her from this pain--mine, hers, my family's. Take her.


But He didn't.

(the tears...the tears...they blur my vision...)

And when she woke, she went back into the hospital. For a month.

He didn't take her.

And now she's home. Again. And I don't know what will happen next. The meds have stabled her a bit. She has learned how to use email. She even text messages me sometimes. There are moments in which She Has Her Mind. But I wonder when she will lose it again.

And my father...the sadness I feel for him cannot be put into words. Not here. Not anywhere. God Bless Him. God Bless Him.


This is schizophrenia.

This is what it looks like. What it sounds like. What it does.

And I wish--oh, how I wish--that she'd had cancer instead.

There's an end with cancer. Either the sweet release of death for the body, or the death of the cells and then a cancer-free body. From chemo. Radiation. Pills. The suffering eventually ends. Yes, it is terrible--I have watched ones I love suffer from it. I have watched bladder cancer, brain cancer, and skin cancer claim the lives of three of the greatest loves of my life. But that suffering, for me, for my family, was never anything close to what we've felt as we watch my mother suffer. Twenty years it's been.

TWENTY YEARS. No release. Just suffering.

With schizophrenia, there is no sweet release. There is no cure. There is no way to make her mind healthy. It is continual pain.

Pain, pain, pain.

Oh, how I wish she'd had cancer.

And I miss my mother. The one I never had.

I will never know what it's like to have a mother-daughter bond. Her mind doesn't allow it. She bore me. That is all.

(the tears...the tears...they blur my vision...they cleanse my soul)

with love from Pittsburgh,

12 lovely bits o' feedback.:

Rachel said...

This story is powerful and heartbreaking. Schizophrenia is a devastating illness. I am sorry you have to go through this.

Ross said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Petunia Face said...

Oh. I am so so sorry. What a terrible horrible sad story. For your mother who probably feels such confusion, fear and rage and possibly moments of clarity which have to be the worst of all. And for your father for being such a patient kind soul to take care of her even when that means recognizing he can't do it himself. And for you--for not having the mom you should have, need to have, want to have.

I hope writing this helped to some degree. I've found that putting words to these things that seem so horribly unspeakable helps me take a bit of the power back from a situation over which I have no control.

Anyway. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. And yes, here I am in California holding your hand and giving you a hug on a beautifully raw, honest post.

p.s. Incidentally--I saw in your profile that your dad's middle name is Clay? So's mine. :) Seriously.

Julie said...

I f*ckin LOVE you!!!

Meg said...

You are beautiful.
And you are brave.
And you are such a blessing
To everyone you know
And everyone you touch,
Which is everyone you've ever met.

I love you so much, you are my sunshine...

Be the change..... said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. I hope everyone's prayers and your confessional is a help somewhat. I cried along with you and now I pray along with you.
With love from DC

Anonymous said...

I came over from Petunia Face, and I want to say that I'm thinking of you...all the way here in Colorado. Stay strong!

Jody Reale said...

I have no doubt that it's exercises like this that will bring you a great deal of relief. You're a brave girl; thanks.

Anonymous said...

Found you via K*rtsy. Much love to you. I have a parent with a mental illness, too, although not half as severe as what you've been through, I know what you mean. I've wished for cancer (or something fight-able) too. I know. I know. I know.

You are not alone. There are many of us out here who have lived the same roller coaster. You are strong and brave for sharing it.

Love, love, love,

Tobi said...

With love and prayers from Fort Worth. You are amazing.

Rita said...

Your story is a beautiful blend of tragedy and hope because it is a Story of Survival. You and your father have survived this illness, and in some strange way, it's forged an incredibly unique bond between the two of you. Amazing. You are brave, and I applaud your ability to look Pain in the the face (and the heart) and write it so compellingly. Sending you today and always, lots of love, prayers, and hope.

Lauren said...

Hi. This is an old post, but I thought I'd comment. I stumbled across your blog, and I must say it is very raw--which is wonderful. I was so blessed to read this story--your family's story--and I am incredibly thankful that you are open about your pain...there is a great deal of stigma surrounding severe mental illness and the brunt of that stigma falls on the family.

I'm only 21, but I have spent some time as a patient in a mental hospital. The stories are heartbreaking, but I always feel some hope when people share them openly. Now, I'm nearly done with my psychology degree and I've started this summer as a research assistant, and most of my time is spent listening to stories of those with SMI.

All that to say THANK YOU for writing about this. You an incredibly gifted communicator. I'm excited to continue to peruse your blog. :)