“I heard he was just diagnosed with a mental illness. Can you believe that?” My neighbor is laughing so hard she can hardly get the words out. “That sure explains a lot.”
The two women sitting in the pedicure chairs next to me are now both laughing. My heart sinks as the anger starts boiling up inside of me. I can feel my heart start to race in my chest as my jaw clenches. My muscles tense up. I find myself staring intensely straight ahead at the television on the wall as to prevent myself from looking over at them.
I think to myself, oh my God, they are sitting here belittling something that impacts so many people’s lives and is incredibly painful to so many, including me. They could have been laughing about my mother.
In some ways things have not changed over the past 30 years. They have absolutely no clue how hard it is on those suffering from mental illness or on those wrapped up in the lives of the mentally ill. No wonder why I kept my story a secret. To be honest, I feel a little bit vulnerable sharing it now, but it’s time.
I wonder how many of us are confronted with this insensitivity day after day. I wonder how many of us, whether we are one of the 14 million Americans or 450 million across the globe who suffer from mental illness, or one of the millions of loved ones forced to care for them, suffer even more challenges in our already difficult lives due to this level of ignorance.
My personal story starts with me revealing what it was like to grow up as a child of a bipolar mother and how I learned to care for my mother, a role that wasn’t a choice but one that was rather imposed upon me. How I seesawed between having to stay home from school helplessly watching my mother chain-smoke all day long and cry relentlessly as dishes piled up in the kitchen and our house was completely ignored to experiencing her mania in the form of anger, nervous confusion, and even acute joy and happiness. Either way, nobody, I mean nobody, knew what was going on at home. At school, I always put on the perfect front.
In Part 2, I share how I struggled to create my own independence during my teenage rebellion years against the tyranny of a manic mother. I found an escape to my imposed role of caretaker to my mother and homemaker the best way I knew how—through marriage. Unfortunately, I married my mother.
Ironically, Part 3 was supposed to be about coming to terms with all of this. But, in the writing of this book I realized that coming to terms isn’t enough. I want more. I want the life that I deserve. So I took a risk and I am reclaiming it.
I am hoping to bring more compassion and understanding around mental illness and the affects it can have on loved ones. I wrote this book to help the caregivers find a little more compassion for a painful illness that punishes those forced to endure it from the sidelines. I wrote this book to help equip everyone with the ability to make a difference and end the stigma of mental illness.
My story is about the healing and lessons that I have learned as a result of loving my bipolar mother. I hope my message will convince even the most skeptical reader that the current way many still relate to mental illness must change.
Finally, I include a resource guide to empower us all to help identify the signs and signals of mental illness, while providing recommendations for support and treatment. I also share ways that we all can impact our own communities to help progress an understanding and acceptance of mental illness.