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A Mother of a Time

These last few weeks have been hard on me, really hard. I haven’t written about what is happening with my Mother for a number of reasons (including the fact that I have barely had any time in the last month) but I am now feeling compelled to share a bit of our story. The shame and embarrassment that is associated with mental illness is obnoxious and unnecessary. It is hard enough to watch someone you love slowly losing pieces of themselves, if you heap on guilt and shame it diminishes your ability to help them and yourself.

I’ve known for quite some time that there is something seriously wrong with my Mother. My whole life she has been an unusual woman, eccentric and flighty but in the last decade she started to slowly shift from merely odd into clinically insane. Volatile outbursts, obsessive compulsive behaviors, anti-social reclusiveness and early onset dementia all started to creep into her everyday behavior in small bits. Our reality of ‘normal’ shifted so slowly that is was years before I was really able to pinpoint that she was no longer just ‘a little off’.

This past winter the reality of her reality hit home in such a way that I could no longer be blind to the fact that she seriously needed help. I went through the process of having her declared incompetent and awarded her guardian so that I could get her the help she needs. Now I am trying to find her a place she can live that will be able to care for her, taking her to Doctors to try to figure out what kind of treatment she needs and generally getting her taken care of.

Recently the Doctors have given her an initial diagnosis of Huntington’s disease which is a genetic neurological disorder that slowly disintegrates the brain. It’s like a hodge-podge of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and for her it includes a dash of psychosis and a heavy heap of hoarding. We are awaiting genetic testing to determine for certain but it seems pretty likely. When the diagnosis switched from psychiatric to neurological, I was surprised to have a number of people sigh in relief and say things to me like “Well, now you know none of this is her fault.” and “Thank goodness it’s neurological, that means she can’t help herself.”

This kind of attitude confuses and angers me. Whether someone has a psychiatric or neurological disorder, whether someone has lost their cognitive ability because of brain trauma or a genetic malfunction is irrelevant. People who suffer from psychiatric disorders are just as incapable of controlling their behavior as those that suffer from brain injuries and genetic disorders.

The truth of our society is that it’s more acceptable when your body breaks down then when you lose your mental faculties and this is a truth that must be shifted. There is no shame associated with struggling with heart disease or cancer and there should be no shame in struggling with psychiatric issues. I refuse to blame my Mother for her illness and I refuse to feel ashamed or embarrassed. She is sick, she can’t help it and it’s not her fault. If we are going to be able to help the one’s we love we need to be able to openly discuss the issues without fear of judgement or feelings of shame.

It’s been a Mother of a time for me but I am proud to be her Daughter and thankful for the support that I have received in getting her help. It’s not easy to take on the role of care provider for your parent and it’s made more difficult by the idea that she is somehow at fault for her condition. Mental illness is not a choice and is not a condition that should illicit guilt, shame or embarrassment and I refuse to buy into this ridiculous idea. I’m proud of my crazy Mom and I love her.

3 Responses to “A Mother of a Time”

  1. 1 Ewelina says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, much love and compassion to you and your family.

  2. 2 Jill says:

    Beautifully written, Sera – and you know my feelings on how the mentally ill are treated in this (and most) societies. I am so, so sorry to hear of your mom’s diagnosis, but proud of your remarkable strength and compassion. She is a lucky woman to have you as a daughter.

  3. 3 Waylon says:

    “God is more truly imagined than expressed and He exists more truly than He is imagined.” – Saint Augustine