I drove alone across Minnesota this weekend. I passed through rain showers, bouts of sun, road construction and traffic jams. I sang along with music blasting until my throat grew sore. I listened to Joel Osteen Radio until I was in floods of hopeful tears, though I’m not usually a fan of televangelism. I even drove in silence with nothing but the tarmac to invade my senses, but my mind still wandered the entire 9 hours, into areas I’d learned to forget. I indulged in dreams long since cast aside. My thoughts went to dark places. To hopeful places. On and on I drove.
I embarked on this solo trip to visit my mom in her care facility. It’s not a stereotypical group home for the mentally ill. It’s a house of Somalian women, one rotating staff member, and my mom. The state of Minnesota is providing, but I still feel sad every time I see the grot in her bathroom. The dank darkness of her bedroom. Her very few possessions, all lined up in a few rows along her dresser and night stand. A cell phone without a charger (which she doesn’t have the eyesight or memory to use, anyways). A clock radio she can’t work properly, stuck between stations with static intercepting the music. Half used bottles of body spray….so much lotion, and greeting cards and photos. These take up most of her space. Photos of her family members making memories. I’m one of those. I send her pictures of everywhere fun I go, and here those photos sit amongst the rest, reminders of all she’s not doing. The limitations of her life.
I visit my mom a lot, but she’s receiving ECT treatments which mean she rarely remembers my visits. It doesn’t deter me, but the way she treats each visit as a fresh treat from the heavens, a joy beyond joys, makes me wish she were able to hold on to the memories a bit longer.
On this visit I decided to take her somewhere I’d want to go with my mom if it were a ‘normal’ circumstance. We embarked on a day trip to the scenic town of Stillwater, MN.
I tried to reason with her paranoid comments, always left not knowing what got through. I tried not to feel the weight bearing down on me, the pressure she imposed by extolling every aspect of my existence, my visit, my role in her life.
It’s so hard to be somebody else’s everything, when you aren’t even enough for yourself.
We found a nice beach to park by and walk. I felt soothed by the sand and the sun, but my mom wouldn’t join me. She was happy to sit on the bench in the distance and watch. I tried not to cry as I watched her sitting there, so frail and small. Lacking any autonomy or choice in her own life. She reminded me of a little child in a grandmother’s body.
I loved being with my mom, but I missed my old mom. My ‘real mom.’ I’d catch glimpses of her as we spent the day together.
Why did bipolar have to steal her from me?
This is what I’ve been asking for years.
But I got a strong impression this time that I’ve been wrong. I’ve been….giving up, so to speak. Is it to prevent myself getting hurt by her setbacks? I’m just not sure.
It was while we were ordering food in this gorgeous waterfront restaurant. She sounded just like my ‘old mom’ and as she looked over at me, I saw it in her eyes.
“Don’t give up on me.”
I won’t, mom.
Upon reflection, it’s obvious.
I’d become such a fatalist over the past six years; hardened by life’s troubles. “You have it so hard,” people would say to me. “You have so much responsibility for someone your age,” my therapists would tell me. “You’ve had to give up so much for others,” they’d all say.
And I heard it all, and instead of blossoming from it, I turned it into armour. Not to be strong, because I hopefully already was. But to become hard.
Tomorrow doesn’t matter, I’d think, because there may never be a tomorrow.
I’ll stop planning for the future now, I’d reason, because we never know if the future will come.
I’ll just live for now and not think about later, I’d decide, because ‘later’ is scary and unknown.
This translated into all areas of my life. I just stopped planning long term. It made it easy to gain weight, because the future didn’t exist. It made it easy to be lazy in my marriage, because I didn’t see a forever in my future. It made it easy to treat my mom with tenderhooks, because any time she got ‘better’ I was just waiting for her to get ‘worse’ again.
I’d given up her, and I’d given up on myself.
Over the past few months, as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been doing a much better job at self-care. The future is still murky, but it’s no longer opaque. I’m making choices that will effect greater change in the long run – such as working out six days a week. A few years ago I wouldn’t care about a work out because the results were too far in the future.
I’m not going to give up on my mom. Or myself.
I know that change and healing is possible.
Mighty change is waiting for me, for us…as Joel Osteen might say.
NOTE: I’m very honest about my past and present struggles in this blog. I have had some readers express worry about me. Please be assured I’m taking all necessary steps to keep my own physical and mental health in order. I see a therapist, I’m being treated for GAD, and I practice holistic exercise and medicine, including EOs, aromatherapy, mindfulness and meditation, yoga, and nutrition supplements, all of which I’m happy to share more about if asked. 🙂