Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Oh, Mother.

This past weekend I drove out to the Eastern Townships with my mother. We often drive out to see my brother and his family. We get to see the kids and get some fresh air, and then get the fuck out of there when we've had enough. I’d been dog-sitting for him for the last three weeks or so while they were on holiday down in South Carolina. I’d gotten into the habit of furry cuddles and dog-park visits, so it’s not without a twinge of sadness that I returned their dog to them.

The weekend was nice. We arrived Saturday while the family was out visiting friends, so we were able to enjoy the calm before the storm. I napped. We sat outside. We went for dinner at a nearby place my brother recommended. During dinner, my mother commented on how my new medication seems to be making a significant difference in my mood. We talked about my mental health, and my understanding of my struggles, and how things are going now. While we began making our way back to my brother’s house, I asked about whether or not she knew if either of my grandparents had any issues with mental illness.

I was driving (I'm always the one driving) and sitting comfortably. It was the end of a nice evening, and the conversation seemed to be flowing well. “Well,” she said plainly, “there was the nervous breakdown I had when I was 14.”

And just like that, the world shifted into something else.

This is new information to me. I asked my mother about her experience, and she explained that after her father died when she was 13, her mother decided to move them out to British-Columbia to be closer to the family she had out there. It didn't go well for my mother. Already distraught over the sudden loss of her father, her vulnerability was exacerbated by her being away from the friends and comforts she had left. According to my mom, she suffered from anxiety attacks and hallucinations.

When I asked if this is something that continued on throughout her adulthood, she said it was. The anxiety and panic didn't last, but her visions and loose hallucinations occurred occasionally.

This is where things get, muddy. My mom represents these things through a spiritual lens. She said she’s highly sensitive, and she’s always viewed these visions or hallucinations as being the product of a thin veil between her and something else. Another universe? Another plane? Whatever separates the living from the dead? She's vague on that point.

She does not identify these as hallucinations. When I asked her if she’d experienced any of this recently, she said yes. In the past few years she’s had experiences, mainly at night, where she feels someone sitting on her bed, or moving her sheets. She said that through conversations with her best friend (who recently died) she was able to make sense of all of this over the years. Again, through a spiritual reading of the happenings, they would discuss possible symbolism or meaning behind what was happening. She felt these things were not negative, or threatening.

I mentioned my readings on what it is to be a highly sensitive person, and how studies have found that sometimes night-terrors or waking-dreams can be associated with all sorts of pseudo-psychological phenomena. They’re the most likely explanation for alien abduction experiences and other night-time, sleep-based “unexplainable” events.

My mom seemed to stick to the metaphysical.

As we got close to my brother’s house, I asked her why she never thought to mention all of this to me. Her having a nervous breakdown as a teenager is important information for me, since I've been living in a state of mental health crisis for years. Now, granted, I feel the crisis since I live it constantly, and she might not perceive the level of pain I've been in, but this is relevant information to someone like me.

“I never thought about it,” she said innocently. “It’s not something I think about anymore.”

Within that 15 minute car-ride I talked at length about some of my symptoms and experiences, she seemed to relate to my descriptions of feeling dissociated or uprooted.

As I pulled the car into the driveway she began telling me about her more recent experiences with visions, but the kids jumped out of the house. Ready for bed, they were looking for pre-bed hugs. I asked that we continue the conversation during our one-hour drive home.

The weekend passed, as they usually do. My brother’s house is a cacophony of ipad sound effects, French television and snarky comments. In between all of that, there are laughs and moments of sweetness.

Eager to avoid Labour Day traffic and escape the irritability of the children, Monday morning we headed home. As soon as we hit the highway I returned our conversation to my mother’s experiences.

She described her anxiety attacks as fits of crying. She would cry until she slept, like a voiding of stress until the respite of sleep came about. She would see people, hear conversations, like a viewer. She’d be passive, an observer. She was medicated for a short time. She moved back to Quebec with her mother. Her visions become increasingly rare, and were attributed to the metaphysical by she and her friends.

This has been an odd divulgence. It doesn't seem to have been a secret, just an omission that’s nonsensical to me considering the last decade of my life.

I asked my mother why she didn't think to tell me this while I was having panic attacks, in front of her. She said it just never really occurred to her to make that link, and that instead, she rubbed my back to sooth me, knowing that it had helped her once, like a loose memory of another life.

I'm a little stunned by it all. By the story, and by the omission.

As my mother told the story of her experience, I couldn't help but think poor little bird. My mom was a little child, and she was lonely. She gravitated towards the family of her best friend, who came from a family of seven children, and later to my father, who came from a family of six kids. Her brother left home at 17, when she was 9. Her mother, she describes as a woman who “didn't want to be a mother.” And though she speaks fondly of my Nana, there is a missing tenderness there, maybe a little bit of longing in my mother’s voice. I can’t help but see her, small, with tiny wrists and knobby knees, a little bird of a girl.

All of this also reminded me of how little we ever know about the experiences of others. Even those we came out of. I am close with my mother. I live with her. I've lived with her for 31 years. Granted, roughly a decade of the time I was barely sentient, but she and I are not strangers. We've grown closer as I've gotten a hold of myself, and as I wake up, I'm reminded of the importance of learning who she is. Yes, she’s been my mother for 31 years, but she was something else for the 32 years before that. Next year, in 2016, I’ll be the age she was when she had me. Haven’t I been dragged through the coals? Don’t I have stories to tell? If I had children wouldn't I spare them the stories of my trauma? Wouldn't I focus my energy on their new life, and the innocence and positivity that comes with their ignorance?

I don't want children. I never have. So I can also relate to my mother saying that my grandmother seemed to not want to be a mother. And that intrinsic, deep-rooted loneliness that my mother has in her, is something my grandmother gave her. I've never felt that from my mother, I've felt nothing but love and never doubted how much she wanted me and my brother. She tried to get pregnant with me for four years, and I always felt I had all of her attention, support and pride, warranted or not. Unconditional, as the mouths of mothers often state.

It often pains me that I never got to have a conversation with my father as an adult. The memories I have of him are those of a child. My brother was 21 when he died. I was 13. The feelings I have when I think of him are those of a paternal energy, of being protected, of supreme trust for him. The feeling of being asleep in the back-seat while he drives through deep wilderness. I'm always safe. My dad is here. I would like to ask him so much. To really learn about him. To challenge him. To learn from him. He likes playing chess with me. Once I beat him and he got a real kick out of that. Would he be as delighted by my challenging his bias, his fears, his prejudice? Would I continued to have been a daddy's girl? I didn't feel the need to rebel as a teenager, would that have changed had I someone to rebel against?

And what of my grandparents? My Nana was born in 1919. She lived through the second world war, for fucks sake. She lived through desegregation and the women’s movement. What would she think of the world now? How would she no-doubt offend me? How would I offend her?

I'm still letting everything I learned about my mother sink-in, but I wanted to record it here. First, because of it’s importance in relation to my mental health, but maybe more importantly because of the importance of story, and of shared history. I want this to be recorded.

Sometimes important things happen, and eventually they seem so far away. I have so little memory left of my father. What I have of my grandparents is small, and faded. I am lucky for having my mother, and I want to do her, and her stories justice. I want to remember her, and record what I know, and what I feel here, so that one day, when I'm without her, I’ll have tokens to call on.

My mother wasn't always my mother, but she will always be my mother.

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