When I was little, I fantasized about my mother’s death.
Other kids cared about who to invite to their birthday parties, whether buying name brand clothing was worth the money, or how to tell their crush that they liked them. I wanted to wake up knowing if I would be abused that day. I craved the simplicity of a normal reward system: that good would be praised and bad would be punished, an unrealistic world colored in with black and white. I did not desire my mother’s death in and of itself; as a child, I wished that the crazy part of her would disappear, the part that took her from one emotion to the next within seconds.
Every day I see the damage. She has done horrible things to my brother, my father, and my grandparents. She has hurt me in ways I might not ever share, though reading some of my old entries on this blog can provide a starting picture. Even now when she has an episode, I find myself hating her and wishing I was somewhere, anywhere, but home.
Now, though, as a nineteen-year-old who has read more about her condition, I ask myself: is it okay to hate someone with bipolar disorder? Am I a bad person for not forgiving my own mother, even though she has pushed me closer to choosing death over life so many times in my childhood? Is accepting that I don’t have the answers to these questions any different from giving up on finding them?
My mother has taught me about the complexity of human emotions. Despite how many of the bad memories I have written about on this blog, there were rare days when she would smile and act like she cherished life. Through adjusting to her mood swings, I have learned to recognize other people’s feelings on an instinctual level, without having to think at all.
My mother has taught me about appreciation. After being threatened with a knife at the age of nine, I have come to cherish days filled with classes, or work, or the less volatile drama that comes with healthier relationships. Through surviving my mother, I have learned to look back as a reminder of how far I have come and how much more I am capable of doing.
My mother has taught me about acceptance. I do not know whether I will ever completely forgive her or her actions. But I know that I need to accept myself and all of the feelings – both good and bad and inspiring and depressing – that come with being my mother’s son. Through the compassion I try to practice with my mother and others, I have learned that perfection does not equate to happiness: it is the pursuit of becoming a better person that should make me happy.
I will follow that path to becoming a better person. Because I know a small part of my mom, deep down, wants me to be happy too.
Anyone have any similar experiences or know of friends or family members that do? My family life has taught me other lessons too, like learning to rely on my friends as a second (and in some ways, first) family, but I tried to capture the main ones in this post. You can also read my reviews of Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom here, here, and here respectively.