Monday, May 30, 2005

Mothers, mumbles, and mental illness

My mom and I have always had a weird sort of relationship. In many ways, I'm very like her. Not surprising, since I had to learn most of my bad habits somewhere, eh? But we definitely don't have the kind of mother-daughter relationship that I see in my friends families, or even in between my sisters and my mother.

I think it has a lot to do with me being the oldest child in the family, and with the fact that my father is nearly 16 years older than my mother, and that he used to be a rather extreme functional alcoholic. So I was more partner than child to my mom, especially after my baby sisters were born. And not to put any pressure on me (:cough cough:) my mother likes to tell the story of one night when I was 11 and my father had been on a particular rampage, how I came to her after he'd stomped off to bed and hugged her and told her that I was sorry Daddy was being so mean and that it just wasn't fair. She credits this comment with making her realize that he wasn't treating her fairly and that she didn't just have to sit there and take it just because they were married. To her credit, she was barely 33 at the time and had been married to my dad for 13 years. (Sometimes it blows me away to realize that my mother already had three kids at my age.)

So while my mom was on her path of self-discovery... just another reason I've never been in a rush to get married... and also busy raising young babies, I pretty much got to raise myself. I never had help with school projects because my mom didn't realize that she was supposed to (or perhaps, allowed to) help me. We never talked about girly stuff, because I had already read enough in books and elsewhere to know more than she could tell me when she finally got around to trying.

I don't really know how she feels about this, but I've realized that I carry a certain resentment for my absentee parenting experience. And perhaps I know it isn't fair, but her occasional flares of guilt only make me angrier. I've said before, I don't have much use for guilt. If it's something you'll feel guilty about, either act so as to avoid the guilt or just accept the mistake and move on. I know that she did the best she could with what she had to work with at the time. What is harder to forgive is all the times that I was feeling good about myself and she found cause to remind me that I wasn't as great as I thought. I think she views it as keeping me humble. I view it as Catholic backwash.

I also know, looking back, that I was a very compartmentalized kid. I had my family life, my gymnastics life, and my school life. Later, I lost the gymnastics life after my back injury, and was pretty much off-balance for the next five years or so. Rarely did I allowed any of them to mix. I didn't date in high school, because from my observations, dating made my friends stupid and unreliable. Not to mention emotional and overwrought. I know that most of them considered me cold and unhappy. I probably was.

I like to think that I've worked out most of these lingering neuroses over the last decade. At a wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends in January of 2003 (Hey, Dev!) one of our other friends from high school remarked that he'd never seen me look so happy... or happy at all... "glowing" was the word he used. I think that was when I realized how deeply depressed I had been for so long. And even then I wasn't completely out from under it. Summer 2003 was my rock bottom crash.

Depression runs in the family on both sides, along with bipolar disorder... is it any wonder I've struggled? One of my mother's brothers has gone through many long stretches of dark despair, yet refuses to seek medical help for the problem. He claims that studies have shown that taking those drugs permanently alters the structures in your brain. Well, isn't that the POINT? I clearly had something wrong with me - something that I couldn't fix by "toughing it out". I asked for help - finally - and as a result spent four months taking Wellbutrin SR. The change was amazing and immediate. I could smile, I could think, I had energy and desire again. And after four months when I stopped taking it, I still felt better than I had ever felt, mentally and emotionally. So, yeah, I'll buy that those drugs can alter your brain structure. But I'm not sure that isn't a good thing.

Anyway. I have a short story to write for the Writing Monkey's current contest.

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