Today is my mother’s birthday. Oh, I know she has been dead for ten years, but that doesn’t change the date of her birth, or the memories of our complicated relationship. My mother was a shy, kind hearted, Christian woman, but she could also be a selfish, fearful, manipulative child, and she would want you to understand why. She was “bipolar” or manic-depressive, a mental condition marked by wildly fluctuating mood swings. She could be happy and confident one day and ready to literally take her own life the next. She spent most of her adult life searching for some sort of balance and never really found it. She tried medications and therapies. Some of them helped, others didn’t.
Mom was very candid about her problems most of the time. She talked about her depression and wrote about it in her newspaper columns. She tried to inform and warn others about it so they could get treatment and perhaps live a better life than hers. She was very concerned about the health and welfare of her children and grandchildren and cousins and anyone else she thought she might influence.
I spent most of my life trying to make my mother happy, or at least happier. One of the joys of my life was making her laugh. I found out early on what she thought was funny- stories about little kids, stories with an odd twist, stories about pets. I collected them like treasures and repeated them to her as soon as I could. For years that meant writing them in letters or relating them over the phone. We spent years and years apart while I lived in California and she lived here. After her death I found out that she had kept nearly every letter I ever wrote.
Mom and I shared many things- a love of reading and writing, a passion for history, a desire to help children. We shared a lot of thoughts and feelings and even a few secrets. But there was always an emotional “invisible line” that neither one of us would ever cross. Mom wasn’t a mushy, huggy, say “I love you” kind of person. She was careful and reserved. She was observant and thoughtful. And she worried. Oh, my, did she ever worry. So I tried not to give her much to worry about. I tried not to share things that might upset her or cause her pain. I tried not to mention people that she found upsetting. I made a few mistakes along the way and was punished by her silences. Once she refused to speak to me for nearly six weeks. But eventually she got over my indiscretion.
Mom and I didn’t go shopping together. She never visited my home without dad. We didn’t “do lunch” alone. But I visited with her as often as possible. We baked cookies and talked about current events. We wrote articles and a book together. We sewed and cleaned and cooked and laughed. We had some good times. We talked a lot about her childhood and avoided mine.
Mom loved to write about her childhood and often talked about her parents and grandparents. She seemed to enjoy most of her memories, but Mom carried a lot of pain in her heart and mind. She was haunted by the early death of her young brother and often spoke of him. She was bothered by some early experiences and mistakes that for some reason she couldn’t just forgive and forget. I never knew if her condition caused her fears and regrets, or her fears and regrets caused her condition. Science tells us there is a genetic basis for bi-polar disorder and the multiple cases in our family would verify that. However, I also know that humans are very, very complicated and I think everything in our life works together to make us who and what we are.
So in honor of Mom’s birthday I’m sharing a link here about Bipolar Disorder . I hope you will read enough about the signs and symptoms to be aware of them in yourself and others. Mother would like that. She would be happy to know that she is still helping people live better lives.