My mother suffers from undiagnosed and untreated anxiety and depression. Everything in her life is catastrophic; in her world the sky is falling every day. For years I’ve unsuccessfully begged her and fought with her to get help. And every day I answer the phone and allow her to fill me up with all of her worry and sorrow. It’s exhausting. I’ve never denied her, not even when I had cancer.
When Robin Williams died I thought to myself, “Suicide is the greatest and most final defeat for those who love someone who is mentally ill.”
I wrote the following to a friend. “I can’t get out of my head how defeated his family must feel. I run a thousand miles an hour on a daily basis, I tilt at windmills, I grasp at straws, and I fight every day to make my mother better to no avail. Suicide is absolute defeat for those who love the mentally ill.”
To which they replied, “But that’s just it…it isn’t your fight.”
And this, my friends is where I search for the line. Isn’t it my fight? She’s my mother, shouldn’t I try to help her, fix her, change her? Does preservation of my own sanity equal being a bad daughter? I confess; there are mornings when I don’t want to answer the phone but I do anyway because I can’t bring myself to not answer the phone.
Dad’s sick now and every day mom tells me how sick dad is, and that he’s failing, and that he’s dying. And in her defense, this is what he tells her every day. Every morning I’m faced with tears, and sorrow, and the daily medical report. Mom is the daily bad news report. I talk to mom first thing in the morning and it’s hard to not let her sorrow become my sorrow. It’s hard to not let this derail my day.
I’ve come to the point where I’ve stopped trying to change the subject. I’ve come to the point where I just listen. I’ve stopped trying to get her to see a psychiatrist or change medicines or add medicines. All that is left of mom is a deep well of depression and me without a rope long enough to pull her out. I’m helpless.
I’m not a doctor, I’m not a counselor, but I am her daughter. Isn’t it my job to make her happy? Isn’t it my job to make her life better? But I don’t know how and it’s been 30 years of trying to no avail.
I have mornings when the house is quiet and cool and still and I’m at peace quietly enjoying the quiet around me and in my head. And then the phone rings and I know that peace is over and done with for the day. Mom lives at full-scale, five-alarm depression, anxiety, and panic all day every day. I can’t live that way, I have to be happy, and I can’t wallow. I can’t get anything done if I wallow.
I’m trying to fight my way through my own fears about dad dying. I’m trying to carry my own burdens and deal with my own life and worries without falling apart. I’ve stopped trying to fix mom, I’ve stopped trying to carry the conversation with something/anything else. Each phone conversation ends in defeat, mom in tears and me unable to do anything about it. I lose to the depression and anxiety every damn day. I can’t continue to fail on a daily basis, but I can’t find it in me to not answer the phone or tell her that I don’t want to listen to her troubles on a daily basis anymore because she’s told me I’m the only one she has to tell her troubles to. How do I stop being that outlet for her? How do I stop absorbing her sorrow every day? Where would it go if I didn’t? Where’s the line between selfish and self-preservation?
My heart breaks with the knowledge that while mom’s alive she’ll never be at peace. I can’t fix her and I’m at about capacity for absorbing sorrow. I can’t save her. So again I ask, where’s the line between selfishness and self-preservation?