My Mother with Mental Illness
My mother with mental illness died last week. She was 85 years old. Here I share my recollection of being raised by a mother with mental illness.
I didn't know my mother had mental illness. I learned of her illness five years ago when she was hospitalized because of an apparent manic episode. She was put on various psychiatric medications and stabilized. My dad and I became close via email as my son Bob was diagnosed with bipolar disorder around the same time.
Mom gained weight during the time she took psychiatric medication. Consequently, dad stopped giving her the medication because she was unhappy with the weight gain. After attacking a caregiver where they lived, mom was taken back to the psychiatric hospital.
Last year my father died of pancreatic cancer. Because my parents were married 58 years, my mother's health deteriorated quickly after my father passed. Not surprisingly, my mom died peacefully last week, the anniversary of my father's passing, with loved ones around her.
Mother's Mental Illness Was Life-long
After my mom's death, the stories of her life-long mental illness emerged. I was number five of seven children, so chaos in our home was normal. I had come to terms with my dysfunctional family. Yet I was unaware of the extent of childhood trauma my mom endured or her suicide attempt until an older sister mentioned it. As I connected the pieces, a life-long mental illness explained the puzzle.
I am not a doctor so I cannot diagnose my mother. To my knowledge, my mother was not diagnosed or treated for any mental illness until five years ago. However, during my life I witnessed many of my mother's behaviors that are typical in personality disorders.
My mother loved to be the center of attention. She was vain, egotistical and arrogant. She bragged about her children and lived to promote us. Our accomplishments were her accomplishments. She talked about her world incessantly.
When she wasn't bragging about me to others, she was verbally attacking me. She repeatedly told me I was a worthless and unlovable child. When I reached adulthood, she criticized my hair, weight, clothes and boyfriends.
Mother yelled a lot and swore often. I always felt like I was in trouble. My mother's moods and emotions were hard to predict, so I rarely brought friends over. I spent as much time as possible out of the house.
My mom had more energy than anyone I knew. She stayed up nights sewing costumes and special outfits. She vacuumed my room while I tried to sleep. She worked on home improvement projects like painting, wallpapering or reupholstering furniture. She hiked, biked, danced and shopped.
Daughter Recalls Mother with Mental Illness
My mother self-medicated with prescription drugs. I remember visits to the pharmacy and pills at night. There were trips to Vegas and Mexico for medication. Mornings she laid in bed with the covers to her lips as we left for school. Evenings the dinners burned as she slept.
There was violence. She spanked us when we were little with paddles and belts. Photos of a buckle shaped welt on my forehead remind me of the beatings. I remember them like the fog of war.
Mostly, I felt like I was never safe. I was afraid of my mother. I wanted to escape the war-zone, so I did as soon as I could.
As an adult, I tried to set boundaries on my relationship with my mother. I found little-to-no contact with her was best for me. She had plenty of support from my dad and siblings.
Eventually my mother's personality succumbed to dementia and my last visits with her were pleasant, though sad. The little old lady I met with looked like my mother. But my mother was gone.
The services were beautiful. Many relatives came to pay their respects. I wrote a eulogy describing my mom's intense pride and passions, as well as a poem about her love of dancing. Like all loss, my mom will be missed.
My mother's passing has strengthened my desire to educate others about mental illness. When I look past the now obvious signs of my mother with mental illness, I see a woman who fought a courageous and brave battle against a formidable foe.
Still, I live with the collateral damage. Education and advocacy heal my wounds and give me hope. I hope to help other families, other parents and other daughters living with mental illness by sharing my story.
Rest in peace mom.
Halli, C. (2015, June 28). My Mother with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, August 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2015/06/my-mother-with-mental-illness
Author: Christina Halli
My mother was always different than other adults, meaning her perceptions of other people, comments about them, shallowness of relationships which always ended abruptly. In short, she was sort of odd.
Her treatment of her children was markedly different. I was always the last in line, and I alone suffered her verbal and physical abuse. She was always controlling of me and my brothers. Always criticized me. Funny, back then it seemed sort of normal.
I suffered through adolescence and I used to think that I was defective. I was headed down a dark path because of her. I married at 21 just to move out. As I got older and learned more, I attributed her condition to paranoia.
I got lucky with a decent job and was able to retire. In my 60's, I stumbled on a website from which I learned that her predominant illness was Narcissism, but she also had features of Borderline and Paranoid personalities.
She died about 5 years ago, but I am not saddened by it. I do however mourn the loss of a normal upbringing, better career, and relationship with my younger brother, all of which were stolen from me by her. After she died, I resumed contact with my oldest estranged brother, who confided in me that he had similar experiences. That's why he fled at 18 y.o.
I recently realized that my mother has a mental illness. She hasn’t been diagnosed and would scoff if i suggested it, but it explains my whole life including my parents divorce and her beliefs of people doing things to her that never made sense (my dad stealing her clothes and returning them, someone putting sugar in her gas tank, her thoughts that someone is on her roof listening to her in every place she lives and then moving to escape it, and her thoughts that my husband and/or his mom is sexually harassing our kids). I’m struggling with how to deal with it. I don’t think it will ever be resolved unless I push, but if I do that she will not trust me and I will lose whatever relationship we have. She never accepts her role or responsibilities in things, and I don’t know how to handle it anymore. I feel like it will die a family secret; one that takes its toll on me.
My mom's has mental illness too. Her behaviour also was unpredictable. I feel like an orphan with a mother like her.
It's a rough road to travel. I hope you have support from other family or friends. We all need support, but I can tell you as another person who had a mother with mental illness, that it's even more important we have stable people in our lives who can help us through things that our parent cannot. Best wishes to you!
Wish we could talk
My birth mom abandoned me as an infant, she also abandoned 7 more kids. I’v always wondered what type of mental illness she had. As a child she popped in couple of times every six years. Never stayed longed. Wasn’t really focused on us children but more on making an impression with my dad. Didn’t see her again until I was 14 and needed a place to stay and she said I couldn’t stay with her. At age 18 she knocked on my door and ask to sue my phone. She calls my dad and says she spent the day with me. She had just walked in and after the phone call walked out. Ten more years past and I decided to find her and ask questions. She lied to me repeatedly and I knew she was lying. When my Dad died she showed up to claim the home, But my dad bought it ten years after she left. Then when my brother died she calls all mad cause she wasn’t told about the funeral. She goes on and on about how she feels. I realize the few times I’v spokent to her it has always been about her. She never asked about us. I told her your son died and Your not even sad. You haven’t even asked how I was doing or how his family is doing. It’s all about you again. My Dad and family members said she Frankie’s alit when she was pregnant with us. She carried whisky in the baby blankets. When my dad left for work she would dress up and go out to sleep around and brought men home while my dad was gone. She always wanted attention of men. Even had an old women talking to her she bragged how the men all love her. She was fixated on getting attention of any man. She cheated on all her husbands. Spoke with a brother whom she had after she left us and he told us that at the age of six he came home from school and she was not there. He spent a week in the cold on the porch and trying to get in the house. He had no food. A neighbor saw him and took him in. Two weeks later she came home and had been a man she met at the bar. She abandoned me in a hotel room as an infant for a man also. She left me inside he hotel by myself and I wasn’t even a year old. When she was in her late 50’s I thought maybe she was calm down and could explain why she did all she did. She never took responsibility for anything in her life. Every choice she made was someone’s else’s fault. She told me she raised children that she did not raise. She told me she was close to certain siblings that I knew it was untrue. When I asked her why would she leave so many children for a one night stand with men. She never replied. When I told her I remember being in the truck with my Dad and him taking me to the ER for a heart condition and it was pouring down rain and my dad saw her in the corner and stopped to ask her to get in the truck to go with us and she said no and asked my dad to take her to see another man. She didn’t care if I was dying. She only cared about what she wanted at that time. Same thing when my brother died.she didn’t care that he died only that she wasn’t notified. She didn’t even as how he died or when he died, only about her. What kind of mental disease it this?
I'm just a lay person, so I can't answer your question, but I noticed a striking similarity in your mom's symptoms to personality disorders. Dr. Daniel Fox is a clinical psychologist who specializes in personality disorders, and he has a very good Youtube channel:
I'm sorry for what you went through, and I hope that understanding your mother will help you heal your trauma and bring you peace.
The article described most of my childhood, my mom got diagnosed with Bipolar two years ago, I however do feel like she has been having mental health issues for far longer..It hurts to see her now, with all the life sucked out of her and we still battling to forgive the past. Reading stories like these gives me hope that one day we will be fine...It will hurt less and maybe she will get better
I am the mother of a mentally ill daughter who just recently gave birth to my only granddaughter who I have chosen to adopt at my daughters request. I hope to be able to support and supervise the mother at home until the granddaughter grows up. I don't want the granddaughter to loose the bond that they have developed with each other. The child is really attached to me at this young age as I am the main caregiver. Hope she will grow up to love and respect us both.
Thanks for everyone's comments.
Joe's posting is very similar to my experiences.
I appreciate the opportunity to read and respond to this huge issue.
It does effect me daily. Grieving the loss of my mother, now that she has died, is added to the life long grief of not having a mother, in the normal sense. I still keep much hidden from the world...about the trauma I experienced and my mother's part in that.
I wish there were support groups specifically for children like us.
Thanks everyone for sharing your painful stories.
It is impossible for anyone to understand the extensive emotional damage that occurs when you grow up with a mother with mental illness.
At 49, I am still haunted by the past. My life has been negatively affected in every way. I find that I still take the path of least resistance in life. In other words, I have so much potential, but I do not believe in myself. As such, I have always taken jobs that are well below what I am capable of. Everything from jobs to relationships, etc. is affected. I have serious difficulties with intimacy with my wife who god bless her has been my rock during the many years that we have been together. She is the only one who truly knows the emotional demons that have plagued me, and continue to plague me. Yet somehow I turned out to be a great father, but I have attachment issues. This no doubt is a direct consequence of never having the comforting and nurturing of my mother growing up. She has always basically been bi-polar/schizophrenic. So now I basically feel like a broken child in the body of a man. And I have serious panic, anxiety and depression. Lucky me.
It is almost impossible o undo all of the negative stuff from my childhood - it has shaped who I am in a very negative way. Plus I inherited the anxiety and depression from her on top of everything else. I don't want my daughter who is in high school to grow up thinking that her father was a weak cry baby of a man.
Thought please. Thank you for listening.
My mother has schizophrenia and she is an awesome mother.
My mother choose only to have one child. When I was a child she had good family support although my alcoholic father left in the first few years of my life. After being married ten years she was officially divorced by the time I was two. I lived with my mother although we both spent considerable time at my maternal grandparents home. Her last suicide attempt was when I was four.
She married a wonderful man when I was eight and I now have the greatest (step) Dad in the world.
My mother was finally put on medication that worked when I was 14 and she was 44.
My parents cared for me hen I was 22 and diagnosed with bipolar type 1. My mother was a great advocate the one time I was hospitalised. And my parents visited me in hospital every day for seven weeks.
I have lived primarily with my parents until the age of 34 (I will be moving out in less then 3 months when I get married). Even when I move out my parents will help my fiancé take care of me.
Today there is much more support for parents with mental illnesses and children carers.
As of right now, my Mom has narcissistic tendencies, and loves to create chaos. When my Mom and are talking on the phone, I still need to ask her to slow down her pace of talking. She can be hyper and intense.
My Mom admits to nothing. With my wife's help, I have become more focused on being diagnosed myself.
So sorry for that pain you endured.
"My mother with mental illness died last week". So you have more than one???
Condolences all the same. My mum has dementia. I think she was a narcissist all her life and she screwed us kids up. If she had kept going to her therapist at age 14, we might have been less screwed up...
Wow I loved your article I too am going thru the same it's harder to understand because she "My mother "was absent from our lifes for twenty something years.She is remarried and has three other children from her husband.She is so negative and I hate/care about her but. Aaaaggghhhh I hate her mental illness.I don't know if I can except it I feel I was robbed of my mom.I feel so alone I can't trust anyone and I have this huge wall up.