I am not my mother

This is most likely going to be a different post than would traditionally be expected from the title. I am very lucky that I do not need to defiantly declare that I am different from my mother, that I have refused to let her unfavourable characteristics grow in myself. Of course, we are different, very different, but it is not that sort of post. I am not defiant. I am in awe.

My mother is a force of energy, purpose, creation. My mother is currently downstairs preparing every tiny detail and arranging the house immaculately for my grandmother’s 90th birthday party (held later today). My mother is strong in ways I am not, ways I most likely will never be. This is not meant to dissolve into a discussion of mental health, because people have a lot of differing and incendiary opinions about what a person who is mentally ill “should” be able to do, what, in fact, everyone “should” be able to do. That sort of argument can occupy another post, and I would in fact need more than evidence of my own illnesses to create a convincing argument that mental illness robs you of the abilities, energy, desires, and motivations of people who are emotionally or mentally healthy (which is to say, biologically their brains are chemically balanced and their moods are not extreme) –  which is what, in fact, I do believe.

This is not what this post is about. It is hard to untangle what is your character and what is your mental illness, like pulling the wool out of a sweater, figuring out which parts are your own failings and weaknesses and which parts are your illnesses taking things away from you. (In order words, which parts are your fault?) Where do you put understanding and self-compassion, and where do you put the need to take personal responsibility?

I believe both of these factors differentiate me from my mother. This beautiful woman has given birth to four children, cared for and lost an infant child in a hospital crib, a remarkable little baby with ginger-blonde hair who could have been everything my mother is now. She has cared for her ailing father (who had deteriorating dementia), lost her mother and the only other mother-figure she had ever known in quick succession, been through chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer- and that same woman has been exhaustively cleaning the house, organizing the furniture, setting the immaculate table settings, arranging tablecloths, chairs, decorations for DAYS. All of this for her mother-in-law. I have spent the last few days enduring rather severe physical symptoms that are a result of my psychiatrist disappearing and my having to go several days without my normal medications. This was genuine, not faked, but also impossible to communicate to family. Unless you give them visual evidence, they will not think of you as suffering.  Yesterday the only thing I could manage to do was go to the dollar store (and my father had to drive me) to pick up decorations. My mother worked exhaustively all day, and continues to do so this morning. I hear her downstairs and I want to tell her that her strength is immense, energetic, remarkable, her resiliency, her bright face continuing to do whatever needs to be done. I would like to apologize for having illnesses she cannot understand, that make me seem, perhaps, spoiled or lazy or entitled because I cannot (through personal failings or mental illnesses), so easily complete the tasks that she does, tasks that both my parents are capable of doing so easily, almost without thought. Of course we’ll do this, they think. It needs to be done. 

I’m sorry you could not pass this beauty onto me, the beauty that is strength, the strength to do whatever needs to be done. I will not put all of my failings on mental health, although that is certainly still a chaotic mess I cannot completely understand, and I am still looking for answers, reasons, an explanation. I am sorry I failed, but I want you to know I do feel ashamed that I cannot at the moment reach the heights of your energy and work ethic, your tenacity, your large eyes looking up and still managing to smile at my father or gently punch him on the arm when he is being a dick.


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I'm a former student of English literature, an editor and a creative writer who has been attempting to live with body dysmorphic disorder as well as severe anxiety and a recent diagnosis of Bipolar II. I believe that struggles with mental health are often lifelong and people in these situations need comfort, support and occasional moments of peace granted to them in order to survive.

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