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Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Aunt Nutsy"

I was bloggin' around today and found a couple posts on the subject of Bipolar, so thought I would chime in as I'm somewhat of an expert on the subject myself. After all, my big "welcome to adulthood" incident occurred only a couple weeks after my 18th birthday, in which I became my Mother's guardian after her suicide attempt, and my signature placed her on a 72 hour hold and nearly got her committed.

Terry commented in his post,

Most of the people I’ve known are incredibly talented and highly intelligent. Their suffering seems to have provided them with keen insights into human behavior, and as I always say, they were a hoot to be around when they were going into mania, or, as in the case of one friend, when she over-medicated. (Another trait is that they never share their drugs!) However, sometimes the medication produces side effects that are no fun at all.

He's right; many of those who suffer from this disease are highly intelligent. In the case of my mother, when I was in 5th grade, she went back to school, and although she hated the class (Women's Studies), and thought the professor was hitting on her (she was a militant lesbian - the prof. not Mom), Mom studied her butt off and got a 4.0. She did the same thing when she finally got her LPN license...she excelled academically.

And yes, she probably did have keen insights into human behavior at one time, but now, due to all the drugs she's been taking for so many years, her mind is no longer sharp, and in fact, she almost seems senile at times.

But let's back up a bit so I can give you an idea of what it was like to grow up in a house ruled by Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde.

Mom flipped her lid around the time she and my Dad got divorced. It was summer, July, I think, and it was hot and humid and we were looking forward to our last day of swimming lessons that morning. But we didn't get to our lessons, because Mom was pacing up and down the livingroom and into the kitchen, muttering to herself. If it were regular pacing, that would have been one thing, but she had a pace like that of a bridesmaid in a wedding. Right foot forward, feet together, left foot...both feet together. Pause. Repeat. She did this for hours.

Then a neighbor came to get us and take us to her house, and Mom went to the hospital, and a couple days later, an Aunt came to stay with us, and then Grandma. I can't remember how long Mom was hospitalized, but I still remember going to see her in the hospital a couple times.

We moved up to Minnesota a couple years later, and I think by then she'd been hospitalized once or twice more. I think by then our whole huge family realized my brother and I were going to be messed up for life, but that's another story.

So fast forward to Jr. High, when Mom's bipolar really revved into gear. It didn't happen all at once so my brother and I just became accustomed to the fact Mom was nuts, irrational, and no matter what the infraction, there would be much screaming and possibly broken glass to clean up in the kitchen. We actually thought this was normal. And in fact, we were pretty well convinced we must be horrible children because from the time we arrived home from school until we got up in the morning, Mom never ceased screaming. That's how it seemed, anyway.

I can't remember all the details from all the years, but a few things really stand out.

Mom didn't like our next door neighbors, so they became her target for awhile. They were squatters, a family that would move from place to place, would not pay the rent, would be evicted....and go somewhere else. They had done this for years. Mom got the idea that at one time they had lived in our basement (which, by the way, was not a liveable basement, was not finished, and was full of spiders and centipedes. This family usually did MUCH better than that!). Mom would not let go of the idea. She would go down and check the windows and doors, and went so far as to place old pans on the basement door into our kitchen, and glass jars, so that if they came upstairs we'd hear them.

Then Mom's manic psychosis took another step. This was around the time my brother left for college so was home only on weekends and vacations. She decided that the people living in our basement were breaking in every night and drugging and raping us. Seriously. She was absolutely convinced of this horror and saw "evidence" of it everywhere.

I was also preparing a report on drugs for a class, and she used this as "evidence" that I was using drugs myself. Around this time she forced me to go to counseling with her, which was fine. I was just as close-lipped yet joyful there as could be. If she wasn't going to show her true evil, I certainly wasn't going to be anything other than a sweet teenager.

Until, of course, she pulled my diary out of her purse. Yup. My diary. Where I wrote my deepest and darkest thoughts, where I vented and explored ideas I had no intention of carrying out. She also read of my suicidal thoughts.

The psychologist told my Mom in no uncertain terms that to take my diary was a HUGE breech of her parental "rights" especially since she had not broached the idea with him before doing it, and only her manic psychosis made her think I was using drugs. She tried to justify her actions by stating that I knew so much about drugs I must be using them; the psychologist disagreed, coming completely to my defense here. He did ask me about my suicidal thoughts, which I denied as being serious, and given that Mom was sitting right there, I certainly was NOT going to tell the truth. And in fact, for the rest of the session, the only time I spoke was to deny what I had written as being anything serious, and the psychlogist let it go. He also realized that with such a breech of trust in a household already in an uproar, well, I wasn't going to speak frankly.

He did ask me to take a personality test, and I came out as perfectly normal. And with every question with regard to suicide....I denied it. Consistently. (See? These tests CAN be manipulated when you know what they are looking for.)

Mom had other events of paranoia as her disease escalated. She had gone off her meds, doing the typical thing; she assumed everyone was poisioning her. Oh, and she was being raped everywhere she went, especially at the hospital. But she only "remembered" the alleged rapes when questioned about taking her medication and the possiblity that hospitalization was needed to get her back on track. She refused to go. And so, predictably, got worse.

One Saturday after evening Mass, I went to spend the night at my best friend's house. Mom was disapponted, she had ordered a pizza and wanted to "hang out" with me. Of course, I wanted nothing more than to get away from her unpredictability. Had I been home, I would have been locked in my room. She did let me go to my friend's house. Well, at 6:30 the next morning, Mom was pounding on their door. My friend came to get me and I went upstairs to chat with Mom in my friend's room while the family gave us some privacy. Mom explained that, the night before, the pizza she had ordered was delivered by an ambulance and they were looking for me. And then she wanted to check me for evidence of rape and wanted me to disrobe.

Um, no, Mom. That didn't happen. Ever.

I was horribly embarassed...I had just met my friend's parents and was pretty certain that they would never let me near their daughter again. But instead, her Dad drove Mom to the hospital and I lived with them for two weeks. I think I went to stay with my Aunt and Uncle for another two weeks.

And, of course, that's when I realized how weird my home life was. Because, at my best friends' house, and at my relative's house, whenver there was a disagreement, they worked it out. Sure, voices were raised at times, but rationality prevailed and not a single one of their glasses, not even the crystal, shattered. Things didn't fly through the air.

The peace in those homes completely unsettled me. I didn't know what to do in the face of rationality and normal behavior. It was completely alien to me.

Another thing Mom did...I'm not sure when this happened, exactly, but I remember my brother lived at home and it was summer. Mom became convinced that someone was stealing the car at night and bringing it back. Every night. She, of course, first blamed my brother and I, and then when we pointed out that we were home when this allegedly happened, she blamed the ever-guilty neighbors.

She took us out to the car to point out the mud on the tires. My brother and I directed her to the recent rains, the muddy driveway, and the fact that the mud on the top of the tires was dry, indicating that NO ONE HAD DRIVEN THE CAR OVERNIGHT.

Mom called the police anyway to report the theft. My brother and I went and hid in the house, wanting nothing to do with the person we began to call "Aunt Nutsy."

Things escalated when my brother went to collge, and immediately before. Mom loved to scream at him, blame him for everything, and even throw things at him. But after he went to college, she turned her anger to me. I was the devil incarnate, as far as she was concerned.

During my Senior year of high school, I left home twice, and went to live with my best friend. Her family, having actually made me a semi-adopted daughter, accepted my presence in their house without question. I went to school, I went to work, and thank God they were there for me. I was prepared to live in a box, though...anything to get away from Mom.

When I graduated, my Mom's sisters did their best to defend me from her anger and her irrational limits. The closer I got to graduating, the earlier she wanted me home at night. On the night of my graduation, she didn't want me to go to Northfield to visit my boyfriend, who had a wonderful family. She wanted me home by 8. At the time I was leaving, it was 6 pm. My aunt intervened, and told me, "Don't worry, I'll handle this. Be home by 10. That's the city curfew, right?"

I turned 18 a couple weeks later, and a couple weeks after that, it all came to a head.

My brother was home from school for the summer, and for some reason, Mom was going off on him all night. She was in a complete rage, screaming at him, throwing things at him, and finally he crept into my room and laid down on the floor, just trying to keep out of her sight. She was up all night.

I had to be at work at 5:15 to open the pool because I had the 5:30 am lap swim, and really needed to sleep. Given all the noise and screaming from the kitchen, things breaking and the like, I didn't get a lost of sleep. A neighbor from upstairs came down to talk to Mom, and literally sat with her all night long, just talking.

So when it was time for me to leave, it was the neighbor who gave me permission to take Mom's car. I already had permission, but given Mom's state, I wasn't sure what to do. None of us wanted her to have access to her car.

So I took the car and left for work. Mom didn't acknowledge me, thank God.

I was back home at 8 or so, and as I entered the communal foyer, I stopped, shocked. It was full of our belongings. I opened the door to our apartment, and junk was nearly waist high. Books were thrown off of shelves. Papers were everywhere. Keepsakes were broken.

As I entered, I could see that Mom was sleeping. The dog was nowhere to be found.

Immediately, I turned and fled the house, returning to work to use the phone. Our phone had been ripped off the wall. Somehow I got ahold of my brother, and he explained he'd grabbed the dog and took her to a relative's home for the day. When he left, the neighbor was still there.

I called my best friend...she was leaving for work, but her Mom was home. I headed there immediately praying someone would still be there when I arrived. I was speeding, even hoping to be pulled over so that someone else could take control of this mess.

When I got there, my friend's Mom had to leave so she gave me a key and told me I could stay as long as I liked, but I should probably take Mom's car back. I refused; she did NOT need her car, not in that state of mind.

Not knowing what to do, I called the psychologist my Mom used to see. I wasn't aware she wasn't seeing him anymore, but he was aware of the doctor she was seeing, and, after hearing of her behavior, he said he could help. He told me what time to be there, and we'd have to get a 72 hour hold if Mom didn't go willingly to the hospital.

So I swung by his office at the appointed time, and we took his car first to Social Services for the hold forms, then went to the police station where we met with the on-duty Captain. I'd spoken to this captain on the phone when arranging ride-alongs; I was known to this department and many of the cops there for that reason, but I'd never met this Captain before. He explained the form to me and what they would do...but hopefully Mom would go peacefully. He was very sympathetic, and I was terribly embarassed at the pus of my home life being exposed to so many people I respected.

We went to our house, where a squad and an ambulance had arrived. The front door was impassable so I told them how to get to the back door. I walked up with the doctor to try to talk Mom into going to the hospital; she immediately began screaming at me, so I melted into the background, out of sight. Our neighbor was still home, so drove me to the ER as Mom did decide to go peacefully.

As usual, when confronted by authority, she pretended nothing was wrong and explained she was "spring cleaning" by throwing the sewing machine into the back yard and destroying everything we owned. They didn't buy it.

In the ER, I went into the examining room as directed, and immediately Mom began accusing me, told me I was the one who should be there, I was the sick one, I was crazy, etc. I turned around and left. And so they brought the hold order out to me and I signed where directed, on the line labeled "legal Guardian".

My first act as an adult.

Mom did actually agree to be hospitalized, and went to a hospital to which she had not previously been sent. And we actually had to have them take away her phone privileges because she made threatening calls to me. My brother would wake me up in the morning, early hours, because "The devil is on the phone" or "Aunt Nutsy is calling", and Mom would sit there, speaking low so as not to be heard, "You're the one who's crazy. You need to be locked up. You can't get away with this. This is all your fault. There's nothing wrong with're crazy, not me."

I would actually hang up on her. Then my brother and I would set about cleaning the took nearly two weeks, and he did most of the work.

Mom was hospitalized for three months, and then spent another six months in a half way house. We lost our apartment, so there I was, my first year in college...homeless. I lived in the dorms, when when it was timem to go "home" for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had nowhere to go, so my friends and relatives took my brother and I in. I changed my driver's license and other documents to my friend's address, knowing it wasn't really home.

Mom is doing well now, but the drugs have take their toll. She doesn't have a quick mind, she doesn't understand a lot of things, and she has a hard time speaking due to a combination of having a dry mouth and likely some neurological side effects, all drug related.

The neighbor who had spent so much time talking to Mom that night worked in a local psych facility, a residential hospital for teens and children. A year later, I actually accepted a position there as well, and did well, perhaps because nothing those kids could do was shocking to me; I'd grown up on the battlefield, but now it was different because I didn't have to live on it anymore. And when I did have to deal with Mom, I used techniques I'd learned on the job. When she went off on me for some small infraction, I treated her like an acting-out teenager and didn't engage in the argument. She, being treated at that point, would realize her irrationality, calm down, apologize, and we'd have a discussion about what infraction had or had not occurred.

Life has never been rosy. For years, Mom would call me for advice, and when I was starting out in life, when I really needed a Mom, I didn't have one. I was too busy being her Mom and giving her advice and taking the role of the wise adult.

I hated it, because I knew it was wrong. I couldn't keep my own life could I give her advice? But yet, if I didn't give her advice, people were going to take advantage of her.

To this day, I do not have a great relationship with my Mom; it's a struggle every time. Yes, I dearly love her, and the woman is a Saint. She really is; she has suffered greatly, and her faith has ALWAYS remained intact. But I can't confide in her because that trust has never been able to be restored. I don't know when her faculties will go. Yes, her disease is under control and she is doing well, but she is not capable of understanding anything but the simplest things, usually.

This disease is horrible, and it affects far more than just the one suffering directly; it disrupts entire families, and can do so for generations.

I am terrified of being a Mother; because this disease robbed me of my mother. Bipolar has so disrupted my own life, it has made me terrified that the effects will be passed down to my own children, if I ever marry.

My brother is not married, nor am I, my brother doesn't want children at all. I suspect he suffers the same fears as I.

I will never have this discussion with Mom, because she already feels enough guilt. She does not need to know about how this has affected me because it was not a behavioral choice. As it is, she spent years apologizing for things she could not control.

Most of those who suffer from bipolar realize that they are not the only victims, but I wonder if they really understand the havoc wreaked on those around them, and if they don't, it's a mercy to them. It is better that they don't know. They suffer enough.


Terry Nelson said...

I hope you weren't offended by my post. I would say more, but will save it for when we meet or an email.

Adoro said...

Terry, I wasn't offended...not a bit. Your post was very sensitive...our experiences were different, and God gave you the grace to see humor. That's amazing to me.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Wow. I am so sorry for all that you and your mother have gone through. Thank you for sharing, though. I'm not very familiar with BP and it's good to hear these stories so that I can better sympathize when I meet people who have this cross to bear.

Anonymous said...

Whew! I'm exhausted reading your post. Dealing with your mom's disease--probably made you the strong person you are today--nothing like trial and suffering to teach a person compassion and caring.

Michelle said...

Thanks. You just helped me gain some perspective on what my MIL probably lived through as the daughter of a bi-polar mother. She herself was a good mom, but never felt adequate, never felt like a good mom. And, unfortunately, she still feels she has nothing to offer me, "the perfect mom", because she was such a bad mother, she's probably a bad grandmother too (she thinks).

I grew up in a loving, nurturing home, and loving babies and children comes "instinctively" having watched that behavior all my life from my mom, grandmothers, aunts, etc. Had I been raised under circumstances like yours, I can believe that those "instincts" would be terribly stunted. I've always been frustrated (and sometimes angry) by my MIL's awkwardness and unwillingness to be a grandmother. How hard can it be? I thought. Really hard, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Bless your heart, Julie. This is a beautifully written piece, so frank and honest. I often wonder if "bi-polar" is just the "easy" diagnosis these days, since it seems I meet SO many people who were "diagnosed" with this and are on drugs for it. And maybe it is, but in the case with your mom, there is no doubt. My heart goes out to her, you and your brother.

It is a miracle that you survived such a childhood, and testimony to God's grace that you have become the strong, functional, spiritual person that you are!

God bless you always,

Melody K said...

I'm so sorry you and your mom had to go through that. You never really had a chance to be a child. It is said that what doesn't kill us, makes us strong. But most of us would prefer to be a little less strong and a lot less traumatized. By the way, I think you would make a great mom. You already have demonstrated the qualities that a mother needs, such as faith, maturity, selflessness, empathy, and much more!

Warren said...

The trouble is that everyone needs to believe the psychologists and psychiatrists have a handle on this, but the reality is they don't. I lived for years with a bipolar type-2 person, and it was (in my opinion) just as difficult an experience for me (the person in contact with reality) to live with an insane person, than for the person with mental illness (sorry did I just say insane back there? dear me, how insensitive of me) as it was for her to be that person. The difference was I could put distance between us, and that made me all better. She's still the same. So now, instead of being consumed by what she was capable of doing to me, i can feel some sympathy, but only at a distance.


Hidden One said...

Wow. I won't even pretend to truly and fully understand what you went through, Adoro, but I'm very glad that you made it through. A young life like that - it is a miracle you made it through, or rather, a long series of miracles.

As much as I don't understand because neither of my parents have bi-polar, I won't claim to be entirely naive to the subject of bi-polar and other mental illnesses, being no stranger to everything from ADD to bi-polar to manic depression. That level of understanding, though, only serves to give me glimpses it to what it must be and have been like, and more than that serves to remind me just how little those glimpses are.

I'll be praying for your mother, Adoro.

Sincerely in Christ,
Hidden One.

Hidden One said...

ahem. Clinical depression. I was thinking one think, and lo, upon rereading, find I typed another.

Anonymous said...


What a challenging post for me to read. I grew up on different "battlefield" but thank you for writing about growing up on the battlefield. As a write this I have tears running down my face. I think I will find a Mass to go to. It was so good of you to share an aspect of your growing up.



Adoro said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

God has indeed been wonderful to me, but believe you me...I'm a mess of a human being, just, perhaps, not as MUCH of a mess as I could be.

I do think there are a lot of mental illnesses that are over-diagnosed, but on the other hand, there are different levels of severity also. Mom's illness was obviously very severe. But there are people who have bipolar and never have to be hospitalized. That's not to say they don't suffer, though.

Tippy said...

I think this kind of home life (or some lesser variation on the same theme) is surprisingly common. Or maybe my home growing up was just crazy too. I also grew up in a single mom household. I have to think that our current divorce epidemic is making these kinds of situations much worse by removing potential sources of support and sanity. Keep your chin up.

Adoro said...

sh ~ It is fairly common, to some degree. In our case, however, had my Father been in the home, it would have been worse; he was an alcoholic.

Small blessing for us that he wasn't around in the home.