Last week was spring break at my university, and as most of my colleagues and friends decided to fly the coop for the week, I was left mostly up to my own devices. I went to the opera, saw a movie or two, got a little too tipsy for my own good at the local pub, and learned a handful of Balkan folk dances. Aside from this, however, I found myself either engrossed in a good, for-fun book or browsing through Netflix.
Netflix is glorious, because it takes stuff you like and then makes recommendations based on stuff it knows you like. It’s pretty great. They’re not even paying me to say this; I genuinely believe it is awesome. Netflix told me, for example, that, due to my interest in “Shameless” and “Mad Men”, I would probably also like this:
I tried watching the first episode and had to shut it off after about ten minutes because I couldn’t keep from sobbing. It hit just a little too close to home. It affected me to the point where I felt I needed to put into words something about my life that I have never written about before, and have actually told almost no one.
My mother was crazy. No, I don’t mean, “Haha, dudes, my mom is so nutty, sometimes.” I mean, my mother was literally crazy. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mild schizophrenia, and multiple personality disorder, my mother was a walking, talking, psychologist’s wet dream of a crazy mess. A victim sexual and emotional abuse, my mother developed a number of mental disorders that lay dormant for many years, glazed over by alcoholism, which was followed by an attempt to face her demons by entering the social work field. When she met my dad, she was perfectly normal; but after my brother was born, things started to go rapidly downhill. There would be small things, like my docile, sweet-tempered mother would suddenly lash out at my equally mild-mannered father, or she would forget where she had been the whole day, or, more often than anything else, she would go through crippling bouts of depression that would leave her bedridden for days.
She started going to therapy and began a regimen of drugs that often turned her near comatose. She had a giant metal box that she and my dad kept under lock and key. The magic box held uppers, downers, sedatives, anti-psychotics…almost anything you can think of, she owned a bottle of it. Most of the time the pills worked. By that I mean I would come home after school and find her still asleep, blissfully disconnected from the depression and hallucinations that plagued her. Other times the pills either didn’t work, or she would not take them. Those were the days I would come home to her crying in the bathroom or staring blankly at the kitchen wall. Those were the days I would come home to find the car gone, with dad out searching for her. Those were the days I would come home to hear that dad had needed to take her to the hospital because she had tried to kill herself again.
There were good days, certainly. The meds didn’t always take her completely out of commission. I remember cooking with her mostly. She was a great cook with lots of fun ideas. She used to sit me on the counter and let me help. I loved talking to her; she was so funny and so kind.
On the good days, she was herself. A lot of times, though, she was somebody else, which is why the “United States of Tara” show elicited such a violent reaction in me. My mother had 21 documented personalities. God, I wish I were making that up. I took a psychology class once and someone said they thought it was a fake disorder. Would that that were true. I knowingly met a handful of her personalities, and though the concept of it was absolutely terrifying to me, I appreciated them. I knew that they took over when mom was having a hard time dealing with something; I knew that they were like teams of wrestlers, tagging out mom when she needed a break from life. Amanda was probably my favorite. Amanda was bubbly and loving. Adam was the disciplinarian, and when mom yelled or punished us, I knew it was Adam, so I didn’t get too upset. Paula was the logical one that you could have a conversation with; she was the academic. The other ones didn’t give me their names, as they wouldn’t always admit who they were or when they were there…but I knew. If you’re around a person with MPD long enough, you can tell. “United States of Tara” over exaggerates it. My mother never really dressed differently or adopted a different accent. It was never that obvious, and so, to people outside the family, she seemed like herself…but I knew. I knew she wasn’t “herself.”
Is it sad that my most vivid memories of my mother involve a psych ward? I remember her best in a hospital gown or a night shirt that she had taken with her, a small smile on her face that barely distracted one from her haunted eyes. The conversations were whispered, brief, and often through or just in front of the psych ward door. I felt like a bad daughter for being secretly thankful that she was locked behind those doors, because I knew that while she was in there, she could hurt neither herself nor my doggedly loyal and patient father.
I never felt truly safe with my mother because I was always subconsciously aware of the fact that I would need to take over in the inevitable emergency. I learned quickly how to deal with sticky situations and how to get my siblings out of the room when she started falling apart. I came to take over the situation on a permanent basis when I was thirteen and she died from a medical complication. I saw her the night before she was to have a simple operation to let her know I was trying out for cheerleading, and then later that night she was in a coma. From the depths of my soul, I hate myself for saying this, but it was a small relief to know that she was out of pain, out of torment…and that I was out of danger or that I no longer needed to take care of her.
This is a seldom visited part of my psyche, and I’m too afraid to really examine the memories I have of her or how those memories have and do affect me. A part of me says that I need to think and talk about it, or I will become as crazy as she was. A louder part of me says that if I think about it or talk about it then I will realize that I am just as crazy as she was.
Writing this out helps a little, I guess.
Anyway. The moral of the story is: Don’t watch shows from Showtime. By watching them, you’re basically paying to be depressed. Stick to NBC. It’s free, AND it has “The Office”.