Trigger warning: This post deals with mental illness and suicide.
Our mother’s mental illness is something we have always known. Its ebbs and flows have been our normal. We have known the days where she hid from the world in her bed and escaped into her dreams; and the days where she had no sleep, believed she was in contact with her dead mother and had to be reminded to eat, drink and shower. Our mother may have lost the ability to sleep without medication, but she has never lost the ability to love and raise her two daughters.
Pivotal to us now as young adults is the fact our mother is not ashamed of her illness. Her honesty about bipolar and her experience means we do not fear it and for the most part we can laugh about her “mad” moments. There are the times however where Mum is overwhelmed with guilt over what we have been through and times we can’t reassure her enough that there is nothing to feel guilty about.
When my sister Madeline and I were little, we would often lay on each side of Mum and sing to her to drown out the voices she was constantly hearing in her head. We knew the song You Are My Sunshine off by heart at the age of four. Where those voices went is anyone’s guess but they no longer plague our mother. I hope this reassures others who might be going through the same thing.
Our mother has always acknowledged us as young carers and this is how we have always seen ourselves. Mum says I have been a carer since the age of five as I needed to “manage my little sister” when she wasn’t coping. When Madeline got older we shared responsibility about how our house operated when Mum was unwell. It might sound bad to others but my sister and I also share a sense of pride that we are mature and independent and have compassion and understanding of what it is like to struggle with a complex mental illness… Something that affects four million other Australians just like us.
The times we have hated the most have been when Mum has gone to hospital. This brings her great distress and worry and it’s traumatic for all of us. We often believe that we can look after Mum better than the professionals, as “there is no place like home.” During these times we have had the support of our extended family who have stepped in to help out, staying with our grandfather (Goog), while our Uncle liaises with the school and our Aunty helps with running us around. We try and visit Mum as much as possible and when we do she has said how proud she is of the compassion and kindness we show for other patients.