Freedom’s Advent

ADVENT

noun

1. a coming into place, view, or being; arrival:
It is December and the world over people are celebrating and commemorating advent. They are awaiting the celebration of the arrival of Christ. But, December and advent both have another meaning for me. It is still the celebration of an arrival… or having come into place. However, this advent is not in reference to Christ. This advent is in commemoration and reflection of my arrival of freedom and it finally coming into place.
On December 10, 2001, I wrote a short and succinct letter to my parents stating that they were no longer welcome in my life. I wished them no ill will, but I was claiming my life for myself and moving forward from the dysfunction that surrounded our relationship. My life to that point had been spent within their abusive ways and feeding into their cycles of dysfunction. I had in the past tried to break away and had been unsuccessful, but this time was firm. And this time, I broke free. It has now been thirteen years with no contact as I have moved forward.
Of course, my freedom’s advent brings bittersweet tones with it. I am stronger, healthier, and able to provide for my child what was never provided for me. But, this is December and I am parentless by choice. This is a time of year when we see the dream of familial love more clearly and find this dream very close wherever we go. There is also a guilt that can pull at your core of how you are diminishing their holiday experience through your actions… a co-dependent calling card from years gone by. Almost like I have to fix everything as an adult like I did as a child. Nonetheless, I rationalize and I reflect on freedom and why I had to put that freedom into place. And I remind myself that families exist in many forms, and your true family would never dim your freedom.
There is, of course, the most important reason for me to reflect on my freedom’s advent and maintain the boundaries that I have established. That reason is my son. As his momma, I am to protect him. At his tender young age, he deserves a momma with freedom put into place and who is free of dysfunction so she can provide the most loving home possible. And this is reason to celebrate my freedom’s advent.
To you, as you read this, I wish you joy this holiday season and a reason to celebrate the coming into place of something wonderful.

The Messages

At this point in my life, my responsibilities center on being a SAHM and maintaining a routine for self-care for my stability due to my psychiatric illness. I do not work outside the home as it has been determined health wise to no longer be an option.

However, do you know what I find to be the biggest roadblock while living my current situation? The messages. The messages that have followed me since childhood are still throwing me off my path. Let me explain.

A consistent message communicated to me by my parents from an early age was that I was lazy. It was often stated that I didn’t have a work ethic or the ability and/or drive to work. I clearly remember my father once stating, “you better hope you don’t have to actually work for a living because you’re lazy.”

Of course, in my stubborn way of thinking, these comments led me to be a person who overworked herself. It was not unusual for me to hold two or three jobs, be involved in several organizations, and overextend myself to prove to someone… anyone… I could do it. I was also sure I could do more and push myself harder if I just tried. I was driven by an intense fear of truly being lazy and in the end, I did myself much more harm than good.

Now, I am unable to work as my disease has progressed. Rationally, I am fully aware of this fact and truly accept it. I am also grateful that I have the opportunity to spend this amazing time with my son. But, those messages… and that fear. It is a tape player on a continual loop that plays the words of my parents at random times in my head. Also, when you have spent your life running to prove something to someone (though, not sure who), it is hard to drop that futile campaign.

The aftermath of this is anxiety and rumination. You feel anxious that the message of laziness may win- and you may actually be lazy. I find myself ruminating on the possibility and hearing my father’s voice. To combat this, I have to talk back in my voice… my adult voice. Sometimes even just telling the message to shut the Hell up. My hope is that by standing up to the messages, I am standing up for myself. I also have to perform reality checks often. I think back to my last months at work and how I was barely able to finish… and how I even had to employ the ADA to keep and finish my job. I know if I met another person in my situation, I would never call them lazy. I would commend them for the self care they were exhibiting by leaving the workforce. So, I fight back and perform reality checks along the way.

But most important, there is a great lesson here. As a parent, myself, I have to learn from my own parent’s actions. Whether it was intended or not, the damaging messages they communicated have carried with me into my late 30s. When I look at my son, I remember that fact. I have a choice… I can impart messages for growth, positivity, and love… or impart messages that will cause him to battle himself along life’s journey. I choose growth, positivity, and love.

For Him

Some days, I just tire of taking medications. I tire to my core.

Other days, I think I can manage my dosages, maybe skip a dose here or there, or just go raw.

Of course, not taking my cocktail of medications has drastic repercussions. And I have witnessed some of these repercussions in myself and in others.

One person whom I witnessed living with an untreated severe mental illness and who left massive repercussions in her wake was my mother. A woman who lived in paranoia, a manufactured reality, obsessive behaviors, narcissism, and mood swings, my childhood with my mother in her untreated state was Hell. She could not mother and she  was abusive. Her behavior was erratic and unpredictable. There was no trust, no connection, and a bond was never established.

I remember the confusion when she would report back lies about my behavior to my father (he also was untreated, but that is another story for another time). She was so certain in her reporting of falsehoods that doomed me to punishments. Now, I see it was part of her skewed mental chemistry left to its own devices. Also, she wouldn’t provide for me the basics, such as clothing, so my grandmother would buy me clothes for school or dresses for me to wear to church. I will never know her reasons, but she would either give away the clothing or take them to consignment stores for money. I was not allowed to keep to the clothing. Nothing was permanent- anything could be taken away. Add in her issues with Munchausen by Proxy, and my childhood became a shell. I counted down the years until I was eighteen.

Now, I am here nearing forty and I am a mother. A mother of an eighteen month old boy. An innocent little being who relies on me, trusts me, and is fully bonded with me. So, while I tire intensely from my medication cocktail; I push forward, not just for me, but for him as well. While I sometimes think I could alter my medications to gain a little more energy or handle things “better”; I don’t, for myself, and for him as well. I can be a true mother living with my illnesses, but I have to learn from the lessons I have witnessed.

So, for him I take care of me.

Down the Rabbit Hole

As I became a mother, a phrase entered my mind about the experience: “I was falling down the rabbit hole.”

I need to explain.

I did not attach to my own parents. In particular, I did not attach to my mother. In fact, part of my own work through the ten plus years in cognitive behavior therapy was to deal with my own attachment disorder. In addition, I have not had any contact with my birth parents in fifteen years. They have not met my child, nor will they. When he is an adult, he can choose whether or not to initiate the contact. But for now, I will not allow that happen out of protection for him.

My mother was not a woman meant for motherhood. When I was born, due to her untreated mental illnesses and various physical difficulties from my birth, I was given to various family members for care. Up until approximately the age of two, I was under the care of grandmothers and aunts.

In particular, one aunt provided extensive care for me. Later in childhood, my birth mother told me this aunt did not like me and gave disturbing details about my personal flaws that bothered this aunt. It was extremely confusing as I had imprinted this aunt as a caregiver. In fact, even the smell of grape juice reminded me of her. During communion at church when the smell of grape juice wafted through the sanctuary, I would think of this aunt as she served grape juice at breakfast. She always had it available. I would smell it and see the flower pattern on her carpet and think about the texture of her table. Then my mind would condemn itself for not focusing on God during communion and thinking about a woman my mother had told me hated me so much.

I know the truth now. This aunt was pained to see the situation I was in with both my mother and abusive father. But, families keep secrets.

When I decided to become a mother, I was certain that attachment was a priority due to my own pained journey. But, when you have not attached to your own parents, how does attaching to your child feel or happen? Simply, it is like falling down the rabbit hole.

For my journey attaching to my son, there was a pivotal moment. I remember my son being approximately two months old and I was changing his diaper. He looked up at me with his big, sweet eyes. And my heart stopped. I scooped him up with tears in my eyes and took him to lie down together. I cuddled him and softly cried. He fell softly asleep, secure that his momma had him. My heart felt so big and I felt so small.

Despite everything, my son and I are securely attached. We cuddle. He naps on me. He comes to me with his concerns during his toddler activities. He celebrates his discoveries with me. He expresses his frustrations at me. We are attached and continue on the attachment journey.

I have traveled down the rabbit hole… I have found aspects that have made me so small… and have been bigger than big.

You can attach to your child when you have not attached to your own parents. But, you have to be ready for that journey as it is a journey into an unknown world and down a rabbit hole.

Stepping Out in Faith

It has been one month since I transitioned from college professor to stay-at-home mother. This decision was the best decision I could absolutely make for my son and I’s well-being.

I have always been one who drives myself hard. I vividly remember the summer before my sophomore year of high school and attending the Kansas State Student Council Conference. The speaker was discussing motivation. He stated we should always strive for “harder, faster, higher, stronger.” I took that in to my core. I actually took it in to my detriment.

What many don’t know is that for me to finally admit to myself that my psychiatric illness has progressed to a point I can no longer balance my academic career with parenthood is a monumental achievement for me. To finally put the mantras of doing just a little more aside, is an achievement my psychiatric health providers thought they would never see.

There is also another aspect to this astounding achievement. I finally began to quiet the childhood messages I had been harboring for thirty years. Throughout my childhood, I was told how I was lazy or wouldn’t be able to work for a living due to my laziness. The repeated messages drove me to destruction. I would often work two or more jobs, teach overloaded semesters, or even drive ninety miles one way to work at a particular university just to prove to the universe that I was not lazy.

But, I finally said no to this self-sabotage. My illnesses were rapidly progressing, my cognitive decline was gaining momentum, and the most precious soul in front of me was growing faster every day. My doctor stated she respected me, but that my work ethic was my detriment and was hastening my demise.  And truly, at the end of the day, I had to ask who I was trying to prove my worth to… myself or the messages?

So, I stepped out in faith.

I now spend my days with my amazing child. I am also able to set up a routine for myself, which is so important for anyone with a schizophrenic disorder. There is not a lot of money rolling in; but, there never really was when I was teaching. Sometimes, the rewards of faith carry value that cannot be counted by dollar bills.

The Isolation

The stigma, the isolation…

There are numerous writings chronicling the loneliness and isolation that can accompany new parenthood. It happens. It is a part of dedicating one’s self to another human to ensure their survival. It is the giving of one’s self.

However, there is an isolation and loneliness that we often do not touch on and one that many will not share for fear of judgment, assumption, or even worse. That isolation and loneliness comes from the stigma of living through your mental illness and the challenges that illness places on your new status as parent. You are now balancing your symptoms, medications, doctor appointments, blood draws, relationships, and caring for a truly dependent human being that is trusting in you completely. The cost is high and the isolation can be deafening.

When I state that the cost is high, I am referring to how others perceive a parent who lives with mental illness. I know I may be overly sensitive, but I also know that voices of many of my critics carried far and into my hearing range and the whispers of how many felt that someone with my diagnosis should never be a parent in the first place were stated rather openly. So, if I was to ask for help or reach out of my isolation, how would others perceive that? Truly, when my medication needs adjustment or I need extra time to see a doctor, I am highly hesitant to ever ask for assistance. I will isolate myself and my needs in order to prove all naysayers wrong. In addition, there are very few occasions that I will truly state how I am ever truly feeling, as the risks are too great. I will not risk my son and my status as his mother for assistance.

Of course, what we are talking about, at its core, is stigma. Even at this time, fifty years after the Community Mental Health Centers Act was introduced by the Kennedy Brothers and sixty years since we began widely using antipsychotic medications, many still perceive someone with a mental illness as unfit to parent. And therefore, many will take any chink in that armor as evidence to that flawed thought process of who is a fitting parent.

Here I am, feeling as if I often need to live to a higher standard than I would ever hold anyone else and I find myself isolated and experiencing a loneliness that is unique. It is not that I am without others in my life. It is that I need to hold back to protect my most precious child so stigma cannot touch him and an archaic belief system will not invade our relationship.

So, for now, I will push hard and isolate and loneliness may come. As anyone who has lived with mental illness can attest to, this is standard operating procedure.