My hands are sweaty, and my stomach is twisting. My heart sinks as I reach for the doorknob. Oh no, I whisper to myself as my hand trembles with fear. I know that I am trouble. I am ten minutes late. I missed getting home on time today. Why did I walk so slowly? I ask myself. At the age of 13, I know the rules all too well. If I don’t get home from school by 3:15, Mom locks me out of the house… I know that I could be spending the next hour or so sitting on the cold pavement of the driveway in punishment for being late. I take a deep breath and turn the knob. Crap! It’s locked! I say to myself with a heavy sigh. What’s my excuse? I need an excuse. I ring the doorbell. Mom comes to the door. She pushes back the window drape and looks at me through the glass. She draws her freshly painted red lips back into an angry scowl. Her make-up is done perfectly today, and she is wearing her favorite paisley shirt.
Today is her bowling day. She opens the door and points her pink manicured finger in my face. “You are late,” she says in a direct and very accusatory tone. I follow her inside the Lysol smelling house. She walks through the kitchen and into the dining room giving me her back the entire way. Everything in the dining room is perfectly situated in its proper place and the dark green carpet is vacuumed. The wood dining room table is shining from being polished and has a freshly starched crisp doily running down the center beneath a silk floral arrangement.
The afternoon sun spills through the lace curtain dressed windows and louvers of the wooden shutters. “Mom, I am sorry. My teacher asked me to stay after school to help her so I did.” I plead with her. “It doesn’t matter Michelle. You know that you are to be in this house by 3:15” she says firmly to me. And in that moment I realize that how I choose to respond to her either will set her off even more or actually temper her bad mood. How I react will dictate how my entire afternoon will go. Michelle you had better say the right thing this time. Think, think, think! I say to myself. I need to say the right thing. Fortunately for me, I have come to learn how to manage her moods. “Mom is that a new craft you are making on the dining room table? Can you show what it is?” I say to her. Her face slightly relaxes and the anger seems to fade. Whew! I managed to play it right this time. Close call.
Yesterday I was late but her reaction was completely different. I got home at 3:45 and the door was unlocked. “Hi honey”, Mom said greeting me with a smile. Even with that smile I was skeptical that she was going to scold me for being late. But she didn’t and I could see that she was happy to see me. “Why don’t you run real quickly to George’s to get some chocolate marshmallow ice cream and Snickers candy bars?” she said. I love chocolate and I knew that she was going to share these treats with me. I wish I would get that reaction every day. But I don’t. Every day after school that back door looms over me. I never know what to expect. Is she going to be in a good mood or bad mood, I wonder the entire way home.
This single thought consumes my walk every day. It is amazing how many times you can repeat that question to yourself. If she is in a good mood, I will talk to her about my day at school. If she is in a bad mood, I will try my hardest not to do or say anything stupid that will irritate her even more and cause her to be even meaner to me than she usually is when she feels this way. I also know that if I act up or do anything to irritate her that I contribute to her nervous breakdowns. As I get closer to the house, my stomach twists even more. I want to throw up. Which mom will I be coming home to? Please Lord just let her be in a good mood today. This was my experience loving and caring for my bipolar mother. To say that it was challenging is an understatement.
That journey shaped the woman I am today. And, it ignited something deep within me to be a force for change in how we all relate to mental illness and be a massive contribution to others. I didn’t always have love and compassion for my mother. I was far too caught up in being the victim of her abuse. Reaching a space of forgiveness and empathy has been a long journey. It was only then that I was able to sit down and put the pen to paper and dig deep within myself to find the courage I needed to tell my story. That journey Since releasing my book and openly talking about my experience and how it continues to shape me, the good, the bad and the ugly, my heart has truly been ignited. I never anticipated this would happen when I began writing my story.
I feel incredibly connected to my dream of touching as many lives as possible as a healer and an Inspirational Speaker & Mental Health Catalyst for Change. So, as terrifying as it is, I have decided to follow my intuition and chase my dream of helping people which I am crystal clear is my life’s purpose.
Having a mental illness can be daunting and isolating. Caring for a loved one with mental illness can be incredibly challenging and at times punishing.
Going through either journey alone can be scary and it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to help ourselves and our loved ones and there are tremendous tools and resources available to help.
I envision a world where sufferers of mental illness never reach a space of hopelessness and that workplaces don’t experience the horrific shock of suddenly losing a dear colleague to suicide.
My mission – empower people affected by mental illness and foster empathy and compassion in others to extinguish the mental illness stigma once and for all!