It’s a week late, but this is a letter to my mom, who has been my fiercest mental health ally. Having a child with a mental illness is not easy, and I’m so grateful to my mom for opening the dialogue rather than perpetuating the stigma. This letter is also a shout out to all those moms out there who support their children who have mental illness. We need more of you!
You probably knew I was different from the moment I was born. I was so stubborn about entering the world that they had to literally suction me out. I refused to take a pacifier. I cried a lot. A lot.
I had trouble playing. I preferred workbooks. I was gifted a dictionary for my fourth birthday from some of your friends. I even used to tell you not to bother to buy me the toys advertised on television because I knew they didn’t work like the commercial said, so I’d just be disappointed.
I made multiple threats to run away over the years, for no particular reason, and I remember too many home videos (that we laugh at now) where I boldly declared that I was in a bad mood. Just because.
As a teen, our fights mostly stemmed from misunderstandings. I preferred baggy band tees and locking myself in my room with a stack of cds. This was unfamiliar territory for you. You were popular, social, and more traditionally “girly” as a teen. And, like most parents would be, you were concerned that I was isolating myself. So, you created a warm, welcoming home that people always wanted to come to.
My teen years were filled with people coming and going, and, while this would be a lot of young people’s dream, it wasn’t mine. So, I became rebellious and angsty and an awful teenager. But you loved me regardless, and every action you took at the time to make me more “normal” was only fueled by love. I know that now.
We didn’t know I was ill. That would come much later.
After I destroyed my leg in Guatemala and spent a year on the couch recovering, you were there watching countless TLC reruns with me, helping me detox the painkillers out of my system, driving me to the physical therapist, helping me in and out of the bathtub, and observing what I was unaware of: ED’s presence slowly materializing beside me.
Rather than deny my eating disorder, you confronted me about it. It must have been so hard and scary for you. And you fought for me. For my life. You purchased an endless amount of books on the subject (for us both!), made appointments with therapists, nutritionists, and the like. You gave me space to heal, but you were never too far away. You never made me feel like I was broken and delusional or that you were ashamed of me. You were patient and forgiving, and most of all strong—strong for us both when I didn’t have the strength to be. And I couldn’t have done it without you. You were and continue to be my mental health warrior.
And, we have now come to realize that recovering from an ED and depression—just like any mental illness—is an impossible goal. You help me find ways to cope, to manage, and to actively practice living as peaceably as I can. So, on those days where I text or call you to tell you that ED is rearing his ugly head or that I’m just sad or anxious for no reason, your presence and listening ear mean more than I can say. You can’t survive a mental illness without outside support. And I’m here–in more ways than one–because you embody what it means to be a mother: a leader, an ally, and most of all, a friend.
It would be a lot for a mother to handle what you have once, but you have dealt/deal with multiple mental illnesses and disorders in our family, and you continue to love us all without fail. It has been far from easy, but I have never met someone as strong as you, who has experienced so much pain, and yet carries such an incredible amount of joy and warmth within them. Your faith in God’s sovereignty and your ability to hope for a brighter tomorrow gives me strength. And your acceptance of me—in all my flawed human existence—is a reminder of God’s love to me every single day.
Thank you for being my mom.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.