I teach at TCU, and this semester, I asked my students to write an essay about love. I told them they could write about anything: loss of love, romantic love, love of self, or even love of place. But, I encouraged them to dig deep emotionally and really challenge themselves to write about something that mattered a lot in their lives. The essay below does just that. The student who wrote it didn’t want me to share her name because she wanted to protect her mother. But she wanted to share her story.
She grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head into the full-length mirror hanging on the wall. As the mirror shattered, I felt myself shatter, too. I looked up at the person who had caused so much pain in my life — I called her mom.
I was not always an array of shattered pieces; I was once normal. I was once whole. The same could be said about my mother. She too was once normal, or at least she presented herself to be. We used to go to shows and amusement parks, we would watch movies together, and we would spend quality “girl time” together.
Everything changed after I turned twelve-years-old. My brother, mother, father, and I took a trip to California to see my grandmother whom I had only met briefly before. I remember her lying in the hospital, legs amputated due to diabetes, refusing to eat. I didn’t realize it then, but those were her final days. After she passed away, my mother’s former self passed away with her. It was like lightening; it happened so fast that I almost missed it. She irrationally quit her job, and began abusing drugs and alcohol. I guess that’s when she took her sadness out on me.
Her words turned into venom. I remember her fierce look and sharp tongue when she told me: “You don’t have a soul, and even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. You’re going to hell.” I felt the first crack.
Her stability turned into dependence. I remember how her breath would always smell like alcohol and her eyes would be dilated from taking unneeded prescriptions — she couldn’t live without them. I felt the second crack.
Although my mother drastically changed, remnants of her old self remained, like a ghost who could not say its final goodbye. She told me she loved me and believed in me. She praised me as I excelled in school. She opened up to me late at night as I struggled to find myself. Many times during my teenage years, she was my motivator. She was my rock.
For the longest time, I could not understand how the same woman who loved me so much could cause me so much pain. My answer came when my older sister told me in confidence that my mother had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression.
Bipolar disorder causes extreme and sudden changes in mood and energy. A person could be happy and laughing one minute, and the next he or she is furious or depressed.
Some bipolar patients, like my mother, turn to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate. Violence is not a symptom of bipolar disorder, although it can occur in cases like my mother’s, due to the inability to control extreme emotions. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, but experts believe that possible causes include genetics, brain structure and function, and environmental factors.
My mother was genetically predisposed to have bipolar disorder since her mother had it. Being raised by a person who suffered from this disorder caused my mom to have a tough childhood that left lasting scars. She suffered from physical and emotional abuse, lack of financial security, and the loss of her brother during her adolescent years. My grandmother’s death, although later in life, was the breaking point; it was the event that triggered my mother’s disorder.
Her diagnosis changed the way I perceive my mother. I no longer harbor hatred for her actions, but rather love and sympathy for her as a person. I understand that when she says something hateful, it’s because she is feeling an extreme amount of anger. Instead of retaliating and making her feel worse, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and offer words of encouragement. When she shoves me, trying to instigate a fight, I tell her I love her and that I won’t hurt her. When she turns to pills or alcohol, I subtly ask her to slow down.
I am no longer the scared and confused twelve-year-old girl who cracks at her mother’s words or actions. I am now a strong and confident young woman who does her best to stay together. My childhood was not easy and parts of me remain broken. I’ve learned that when you break, you don’t leave the pieces on the floor. You pick them up and make something beautiful. From broken glass to a mosaic, I have been transformed into something beautiful.
As always, please write to me with your questions on love, relationships, and life at: email@example.com.