I finally got to know my mother after her mental illness diagnosis


The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

My mom has always been a bit of a mystery to me.

Throughout my childhood, she appeared to be the quintessential middle-class suburban mom with two kids in tow.

Soccer practices, choir rehearsals, dance recitals, orchestra competitions — my mom was front row and center for all of it. I interacted with many facets of my mother’s identity — the cheerleader, the biggest fan, the multitasker, the secretary for her children’s calendars, the nurse — but I never truly knew her.

Behind the “Best Mom” badges, school field trip permission slips, and to-do lists, there was a woman I didn’t really know.

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I am told that, as a small child, I was a mama’s girl.

But once my tumultuous teenage years took their toll, my relationship with my mom became strained.

The older I got, the closer I became to my dad. A love of sports, books, and music connected us. My teenage years warred on, and fights with my mom grew more common.

I was a rambunctious teenager, always wanting to get out, explore, and press the limits. I colored outside the lines. I spoke my mind. I didn’t have a problem sharing my opinion. I questioned why I always had to do “girl chores,” like setting the table, doing laundry, or vacuuming, while my brother got to sit and watch TV. I questioned why it was “wrong” to wear my hair natural. I questioned my parents’ views on drinking and tattoos.

My mom was followed the rules. She tried to keep everything perfect, to keep everyone within her control. If anyone came by our house to visit, even if it was just a quick hello, then the house had to be clean from floor to ceiling. Sometimes, during rides to church on Sunday mornings, we’d argue — but in 10 minutes or less, my mom’s face would be powdered and made up to perfection, ready for her Sunday morning hellos. I would sulk and reluctantly enter church, unwilling to pretend I was okay.

I couldn’t wear my mom’s mask.

My mom wanted pristine perfection, or as close to that as she could get. She wanted a good Christian home, a loving, picturesque marriage, and two outstanding kids — or at least the appearance of those things. I never understood my mom’s obsession with seeming like she had it all together, all the time.