Hello everyone, I would like to thank NinjaKillerCat for giving me the opportunity to write this guess post.
This post is about my mother. It is not a heartwarming story, or one of extreame hardship, It is simply the story of my relationship with a lady with mental health issues.
Let me introduce my mother, her name is Sheila. I won't post a picture of her here, but if you take the time to look at pictures of me on my blog I am a carbon copy of her.
I know very little about mothers early life. I believe she spent time in care due to her own mothers mental health, but this is not something I can corroborate with evidence.
She married my father in the late 1960’s and it was a very happy time in her life. My dad adored her. There were issues however. My mother has always suffered from severe mental health issues. She was bi-polar disorder and suffered from schizophrenia. While in the grip of the illness she experienced dramatic mood swings, hallucinations and extreme paranoia. However with the support of my father and her medication, she managed to live a happy normal life. She became pregnant and had my brother Stephen not long after getting married and three years later became pregnant with myself.
This is where her story takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
My father drove for a car hire company. He went all over the country dropping off cars for clients. One August bank holiday, just a month before my birth he took a car to Scotland. He drove there, dropped the car off and drove straight back to the deopt. If he had taken a nap before going home, this story may have been quite different, but he didn’t. He fell asleep at the wheel less than a mile from home and crashed into a tree. He died in hospital a few days later.
This sent mother into a mental decline that she never truly recovered from.
For the first three years of my life, Stephen and I lived with foster families and mother. She tried her best, but her failing mental health meant she couldn’t care for us properly. The last time social services took us away from mother, they found Stephen and myself in a terrible state. Mother had smashed most of the crockery in the house and we were walking bare feet over it. Stephen, then only 6 years old himself cared for me the best he could, feeding me stale cereals and cups of water. I had significant developmental delays, and for quite some time afterward they thought I would grow up to be a little ‘simple’. Mother was moved to a high security mental hospital called Oakwood, Maidstone, Kent and Stephen went to a local childrens home. All this history is what I have learnt over the years from various different people, but we can move forward now a few years now to a time I can remember.
My earliest memories of mother come from a time when she was considered to be quite well, and was actually living in the community. She shared a house with a gentleman called Don. I guess Don would be called her boyfriend, but they lived more like brother and sister. It was a complicated relationship as he too had mental health issues. They both wanted to be looked after and neither one would properly care for themselves.
I was around 9 or 10 at this time. I was happy living with my foster family, but liked my visits to my mother once a fortnight. If i'm honest, it was Stephen I use to really like seeing, but I was fond or mother and Don too.
They were odd visits though. Mother was vacant a lot of the time. The medication that treated her condition made her slow and a little confused. Getting a meal at her house was impossible. Every time, without fail she would ask Don what he wanted to make me for lunch. He would say ‘ l don’t know Sheila, what would you make her’ she would reply ‘I don't know Don, I asked you’ and so the conversation would go on ALL afternoon. I never had a meal there. Stephen use to steal crisps and sweets for me from the local shop. But it wasn’t bad. I had toys to play with and she was always very loving to me. Thinking about those visits makes me smile these days.
I remember the day it changed. She had stopped her medication again. When I got there in the morning she was my loving, slightly drippy mother, but about mid day she changed. At the drop of a hat she became enraged banshee woman, shouting and screaming at Don, Stephen and myself. I hid in the garden all afternoon, terrified she was going to get me. When my foster mum came to pick me up that evening, I told her, and she informed the social workers. Mother was taken back into hospital and stayed there for the remainder of my childhood. I felt a lot of guilt for her going back to hospital, as if I had grassed her up. I think of all the emotions i have relating to mother, guilt is definitely the top.
I visited her after that, but less often. Every school holiday and twice in the summer, we would go to the hospital to pick her up (me, my brother and our social worker) and go to town for a McDonalds. They were good trips. Everyone got something out of it. She had contact with her kids, and because l was getting a treat, l was happy too. That makes me sound very selfish doesnt it. She never seamed like a mother though; unlike any other adult I had met. She was almost too nervous to talk to me, and I didn’t know how to talk to the slightly strange lady who just happened to be my mother.
The visits worked well until my social worker left and was replaced with another lady. This woman had very different ideas about how the visits should go. I should point out mother never gave up the idea of having us back to live with her, although this was never realistic. This new social worker previously worked at the hospital and had been mothers social worker. She therefor approached my care with mothers interests as top priority. She told me all children should have as much contact with their natural family as possible. I had by then been living with my foster family for 9 years, and they were my proper family. So when she suggested I live with a different family near the hospital so I could visit mother daily, I reacted very badly. In my mind, the person at fault here was mother. If she would just leave me alone, no one would try to take me away from my family. To show the social worker she was wrong, I refused to see mother. This decision damaged our already fragile relationship. I didn't see her for several years, and eventually only did because the social worker refused to let me see Stephen unless I first saw mother. This was my only visit to her before my family moved away from Kent, to the Forest of Dean. She was so happy to see me, but to me she had become a stranger. The nervousness was still there, so we spent the whole time sat in an awkward silence.
I only saw mother once since the time I moved. She came to visit me for a weekend one summer when I was 16. I was a total bitch, there is really no excuse for my behavior. I knew it was a big thing for her, travelling so far to see me, but the awkward silences and the feeling that I should do something to make her feel more at ease because she had made such an effort actually just made me feel bad, so I pouted and stropped all weekend.
After that visit my life changed. I got married, and had kids of my own. I use to write very occasionally and less frequently she would call. They were always very disjointed calls. She would ask how I was, how the kids were, I would say fine, then ask how she was. She would say fine too, and that was the limit of our conversation. She use to talk more to my boys when they were little, but as they grew, the calls became less, and the last time we moved, I didn’t give her our number.
This remained the situation for many years. My adult self saw and understood the type of life she had had. How her illness has stopped her being a mother to all her children (she had two boys by a previous husband too) and this made me feel very sorry for her, but I never felt able to show her the compassion I was able to give to other people with similar stories. Thinking about her, our relationship and what I should do to be a better daughter just made me feel icky, so I chose not to think about it.
Four years ago one of my half brothers tracked my mother, Steohen and myself down through the Salvation army. Our other half brother had found us some years earlier as well. We got to know each other slowly, and obviously our conversations included our mother. That icky feeling slowly faded as we spoke more about her, and three years ago, I got back in contact via phone. We planned to visit her together the following April for her birthday. It would have been the first time we had ever all met. It wasn’t to be though. I got a call from Stephen one Saturday morning to say she had been taken ill. I rushed down to Kent to see her, but was hours too late. The first time all her children met was at her funeral.
When cleared out her flat following the funeral, I expected to find records and mementos of her life, photos, letters etc. There was none of that though. He flat was almost devoid of any personal effects, just a dozen or so pictures of her wedding day and us kids when we were very young. It broke my heart, the thought that this poor lady had spent a lifetime alone and lonely, and that I could have made her life less lonely if I had just made more of an effort. I was not a good daughter to her. Whatever started the distance between us, I have to acknowledge it was my own actions that made that distance grow.
In the last few years a lot of changes have occurred in my life. Many have been good, but one thing that causes me much pain is the breakdown in my relationship with my youngest son. I have not seen him for two rears now. There was no big disagreement, just a gradual decline in the number of days he stayed with me, until he stopped visiting altogether. From what I can gather largely caused by the interference of his father following our divorce, but in truth I don't know his exact reasons, as we only communicate now through his elder brother.
This makes me think more about mother. There is an ironic symmetry in our experiences as a mother, some might even say its karma. I wonder now if she felt the same pain as I do. Did she hate mothers day too, because it reminded her too much of what she lost or was she more accepting of the situation than me? These are questions I will never be able to answer because I didn't take the time to find out when I had the opportunity to.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope if you take anything away from it, it will be that lives are short and you never know when someone else s misfortune might befall you too, so be kind to people, empathise with them and don't let petty issues get in the way.