A Picture Is Worth Words and A Fairy Tale Vision

Once upon a time, a beautiful mother existed in my world. Our perfect family portrait had mother holding my baby sister, Molly, my father lovingly leaning gently to one side of his high school sweetheart, and me, on the other side of him. I was the five-year-old rambunctious, but always obedient son. We were the perfect family.

Aunt Polly, mother’s younger sister, and photographer for our family event, reminded us to smile and say, “Cheese” as she prepared to take our photo.

Unfortunately, the perfect family portrait setting went from loving and happy to chaotic and frightening. Mother’s long battle with mental illness, filled with medications, therapy sessions and occasional psychiatric hospital visits, were becoming more frequent and like a devouring cancer in mother’s brain, she finally succumbed to it not long after my fifth birthday.

I will always remember the day my once beautiful and loving mother left us. Father had us all ready for our perfect family portrait; Aunt Polly was ready with her camera. Perhaps the happy event flustered mother as she fussed about with our hair, her make-up and father‘s tie that would not sit right for her, to a point when suddenly, her world decided to shut down around us.

Why did she have to start crying and screaming obscenities at us?

Why was she so out-of-control that it took a team of psychiatric aides from Aurora Residential Treatment House to restrain her?

Why did father insist that Aunt Polly take our family portrait anyway, regardless that all of us, as our mother was losing her mind, we were also “losing” something as well: Father his loving wife, my sister and I, a beautiful and nurturing mother and Aunt Polly, an older sister who was always there for her?


I can understand someone leaving a family because they died, or leave because they want to start something new, such as a new family or new career or whatever. Nevertheless, checking out mentally is hard to understand.

How do you explain this family portrait taken moments before we were to escort my mother to her “treatment” room, with her mascara smeared across her face, her salon-styled hair re-done to the wild psychotic look?

Actually, I longed, many times, to cut this photograph into a million pieces, like the way mental illness tore my mother from my life.

I hated those hospital visits because my real mother did not mentally live there. Who was that woman, after the nurse’s treatment, staring blankly with glazed eyes at my sister and me? That was not my mother.

(Have you seen her? I miss mother so much.)

Father simply wanted a family moment–one that included his once lovely wife and mother of his two children–framed into the happy, normal family portrait. Instead, he got an incomplete, bewildered, and feeling enormously abandoned, family portrait.

WHY, God! Why put the evil demons that filled my mother’s head that left my sister, dad and I broken for so long?


The longer I scream, WHY, the louder the sound of silence in my head becomes. My therapist tells me over and over, as if to put a soft blanket on a sobbing young child, that in the United States, according to the Kim Foundation, 1 in 4 families are “affected by mental illness. “ She goes on to tell me the World Health Organization states, “over a third of people in most countries report (mental) problems at some time in their life.”

Am I supposed to feel better about this news? You tell me, how does one go on living sanely knowing the kids at school whisper, and sometimes not whisper, but blatantly say awful things about your mother? Things like, “His mother is crazy. She lives in a psych house.”

My mother’s disease deeply haunts me. Sometimes I feel there is nowhere to turn because any way I turn I see the photograph, the horrid faces we had, and my mother, no, the monster being dragged away by strangers.

I fear that my mother’s handicapped mind will slowly become the beast within my mind.

How I wanted to destroy that photograph many times over the years. The one photograph that reminds me of this fear of becoming a duplicate of my own mother’s life!

What stops my bony fingers from ripping that picture apart, I am not quite sure. Perhaps I fear losing the one person who meant so much to me…my mother. If I destroy it, I will not remember and I want to remember her. This distorted family photo is the very thing that prevents me from joining my own mother’s mental demons.

I look at the photo then quickly close my eyes to the fairy tale vision I long to have.

Once upon a time, long ago in a kingdom where light, goodness and sane thinking prevailed, my mother was the perfect queen who stood by her perfect king and both raised two truly perfect prince and princess.

In this kingdom, I no longer fear the loss of my mother or my mind.

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Do you think mental illness is as common as diabetes or heart disease?

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Find more creative contributors and information here at the Weekly Writing Challenge: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words.

23 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth Words and A Fairy Tale Vision

  1. munchow says:

    It’s hard to make a valid comment after having read this story. I feel very much for you and I certainly understand the feeling of loss you describe. Mental illness is hard to deal with particularly when it affects someone really close. I think the only way to go about it is with love and compassion, but it will still create distress and traumatic feelings for those around. The picture really says it all, and despite all the agony it creates for you when looking at it, I think it’s good that you have kept it. There reality is there, and in the end the only way to deal with it is by accepting what is. I think the picture is helping you to recall the good times with you lovely mother as a contrast to what the picture really shows. Thank you for sharing this very personal story.


    • Sunshine says:

      Grateful for you kind conversation, Otto, and yes,mental illness within any family is never easy but we all manage somehow.
      Just to note, the photo was not personal but just a platform to launch into a personal writing challenge. It came from the weekly writing challenge.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  2. philosophermouseofthehedge says:

    Probably more mental illness around than anyone wants to admit. My nephew – a cute one as a child – actually covers things with foil to stop “them” from reading his thoughts and hunting him down. I can almost pinpoint the moment the illness took control. His illness has destroyed his family. His mother is managing and trying to pretend that fairy tale dream.
    Hang on to the pix. The importance, as someone said is not what it shows, but what it all means – and the memories.
    You are strong enough to go past these troubles(you managed to write this) – building a life out of fear, maybe – but mainly out of hope? Building a promise of what your mom saw in your eyes a long, long time ago. There’s light there – she was a princess then….
    You are the charmed one.


    • Sunshine says:

      Mental illness is very real and quite common but as you say, many want to cover it all away…easier that way but only makes the illness worse in the end.

      The photo was only a prompt I used to launch into this difficult subject. Good memories are precious and we should always treasure them for they do get you through many difficult times.

      I wish all the best for your nephew and family…God has His reasons…we must go on and do His will.

      Thank you for sharing, Phil…I appreciate it.


  3. babyjill7...Marilyn Griffin says:

    Having lived with a son with bi-polar disorder… I can relate so well…
    Loved the way this sad but, so true story was presented…
    It showed the love for the person…not the disease…
    which is what I feel people sometimes fail to do…mkg


    • Sunshine says:

      Hey there TinCanT. …. Finding happiness is always a great challenge especially in difficult times but truly appreciated when it arrives. So glad your Jillian gave you some time to stop by. 😉


  4. Cedric de Alicoque says:

    I waited to read this post while I was going through another of yours. I felt I would need some time to go through this one.
    Now that I’m here the only thing that I can say is that life has strange ways to teach us lessons that will influence our life for our own benefit. Which one? You will find along the way…
    Count on it.


    • Sunshine says:

      First, thank you for your time spent here & second, your kind words of advice have been committed to memory…looking forward to all the lessons no matter what form they may come in. 😉
      Happy day to you!


  5. themofman says:

    I’m glad that you haven’t destroyed that image for the very reason you express realizing why. The photo is not the disease or the cause of the disease in your mother. It won;t be the feared cause of the disease in you either. While that photo is an unfortunately physical and visual reminder of your mother at her worst, her demise and the hardship that your family has had to suffer it truly is also one of the few things that you have left, besides your memories, that connects you to her in a positive way.

    It’s so typical of life isn’t it? Many situations are dichotomies.

    Yes finally, I do presume that mental illness is as common, if not far more so, as diabetes and heart disease. Most of it is probably quite benign or latent in most people but there nevertheless. You have to observe very carefully to be certain. That probably encompasses a large percentage of any population on this planet. I imagine that instances where it is extreme enough to be obvious are the monority.


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