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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