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Breaking into My Life

Breaking Into My Life chronicles the impact that growing up with a mentally-ill mother had on author Michelle Dickinson-Moravek, and how she finally reclaimed herself and the life she deserved.

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Separating the Person from the Illness

Separating the Person from the Illness

I was recently asked how I found the ability to separate my mom from her mental illness.

The answer is this. For the longest time, I just could not do it.

In the book, I share how my uncle tried to tell me that my mother didn’t mean to be cruel. He would tell me that it was her illness that made her so volatile. I completely discounted him because I believed that he was clueless as to how hard it really was to live with her. I mean, he was not there. As a caregiver, I was so wrapped up with how I was feeling and the impact of her abuse.

It took years for me to get where I am today and it took a lot of self-reflection, self-discovery, and therapy to shift how I feel about my mom. And, unfortunately, I never reached this level of compassion and understanding before she died.

I think the real turning point for me was when I did The Landmark Forum. Until that point, I was so attached to the resentment and anger that I could not see how it was impeding my happiness. For example, I harbored a lot of resentment because I had to put myself through college many years later because mom just did not want to support my dream of going away to college because she wanted me around. Being angry and resentful was no way to live. Yet, there always seems to be a payoff in carrying that around. The payoff for me was the sympathy that I could collect from people when they heard what I endured and how unfair my life was. In my mind, nobody could have ever experienced how horrible my childhood was. “It was ten times worse than anything you could ever imagine.” As if I was given an award for having the crappiest upbringing.

The Landmark Forum really had me step outside of myself and realize life from the perspective of my parents. After all, my mom did not have a choice to have bipolar disorder. We seem to have a silent expectation that our parents are supposed to be perfect and do everything right. Children don’t come with owner’s manuals. And guess what? Our parents endured their own share of dysfunction in their childhood too. They just do the best they can with what they have.

The magic really resides in pressing pause from our own feelings and stepping outside of our perspectives to look at things from the lens of others. And, realizing that any chronic complaint we carry with us has a payoff which is why we stay attached to it.

So, what chronic complaint are you attached to that is robbing you of your joy? What could you give up for the chance to have peace in your life? Maybe you have an expectation of your loved ones. Or, maybe you are consumed with how they leave you feeling instead of considering what life might be like for them which could be the very cause of how they treat you. If they have a mental illness, perhaps they are trying to just navigate this thing called life the best that they can.  This is just some food for thought.

With love,


6 Responses to Separating the Person from the Illness

  1. Interesting. I’m reminded of a Madonna song which always resonates with me. “Oh Father” describes how Madonna’s father was abusive but “never wanted to live that way”. “You didn’t mean to be cruel, somebody hurt you too”. We usually are too busy looking at the impact on ourselves rather than considering the other person’s perspective. Very profound. Thanks for your insight.

    • Let’s face it Ben, it is really hard to pause our feelings when we are hurt. It is just human nature. My situation was different than most. I am not sure how I would have managed loving a bipolar sibling. Tony Robbins always says to come from your heart and not from your head. I think there is some real truth in that. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Your insightfulness is so on target for me. I will step aside from the discussion of my outlook of my parents for now. Rather focusing on how this insightfulness, acceptance, once acknowledged, tremendously changed the dynamic of living with a chronically ill partner, not taking it personally. Also, how to impart this to my children to minimize the scarring.
    I look forward to traveling further with you in your story.
    💜 MC 💜

    • Thank you Mary Catherine. You raise such an important point about demonstrating acceptance through your actions. That is incredibly important. You are amazing. Thank you for reading my story.