My mom is a badass in hundreds of ways, both small and huge, and often both at the same time. Here are four of them that are specific to me:
When my parents decided to have children, they made a pact. My father had been raised by a father who believed – to put it mildly – that sparing the rod would spoil the child.
My parents did not want to pass on whatever caused the anger and frustration that fueled my grandfather’s rage toward his children. So they made a pact that they would never hit their kids, and they never have.
When I thank my father for doing this and for being such a wonderful dad, he always says the same thing: “Thank your mother; it was all her doing.”
I asked my parents to read an early draft of Hear All The Bells and write down any thoughts or memories from that time period that they wanted me know about. My parents and my brother were the main reasons that I survived the early years after my diagnosis with manic depression – they saw me at my very worst, and my mom in particular intervened several times to protect me and keep me from self-destruction.
The responses that my parents wrote are difficult to read, of course, because they depict how my manic experiences affected people that I love. The extraordinary stress I put them through. The fear and frustration, especially when I kept making the same bad choices.
And yet, early on, my family made another pact. My father described part of it in his writing: “We would never ever give up on you regardless of the number of times or the conditions in which we might find you.” And they would not yield to the stigma of mental illness – they refused to see me as “less than,” as bad or weak or flawed or unlovable. They would never shut me out or throw me away or leave me behind.
My mother talks openly about mental illness. This is a surprisingly radical act. She talks about it as a human condition that’s important to acknowledge and address and not stigmatize. Even years before my diagnosis, this was the case. It takes courage to speak out loud what other people may fear to name, but it also creates openness; when difficult situations arise for friends and family members, they seek her out for advice and comfort.
My years of active, acute illness were extremely hard on my family. My mom processed that pain, in part, by helping others. She has been much more open about my manic depression than I have (with my permission of course). While I have struggled to process my internal self-stigmatization, she has spoken in front of audiences and helped start a group at her church that supports people with various mental challenges.
My mom is a wonderful, brave, strong, powerful human being. She breaks down barriers and pushes boundaries. She is also the reason that I am writing this blog and sending the Hear All The Bells manuscript off to the printer.
I started writing the book in 2011. Five years ago. It has hung over my head a loooooong time. Whenever I talk to my folks, they ask how it’s coming. One night when I was visiting them last fall, I told them that I might just let it go. The book was basically done. Writing it had been therapeutic, but the prospect of trying to hunt down an agent and a publisher just… I just didn’t want to do it. I had a challenging job and a busy life; I couldn’t see putting the necessary time and effort into engaging with the notoriously wacky publishing industry. I didn’t know there were other options.
My mom has these huge beautiful dark eyes, and she turned them on me very deliberately.
She said, “Please,” and looked even deeper into my eyes, “Please do this.”
I can’t think of another time when she has spoken to me in quite this way – a plea that is also a command.
She continued, “When you were diagnosed, we had no idea what to expect. Everything we read was terrifying. You need to share your story.”
I remember staring back at her for a moment and then laughing: “Ok! I surrender! I can’t say no to that. I guess I have to do it.”
So here we are, and here we go.
Thanks sweet momma, sweet parents, sweet family. I am beyond fortunate to be yours.