Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Raised by a Mentally Ill Mother

© 2013 Martha K. Miller
            I began writing a novel about a little girl, named Marna Smith, who grew up in a home where her father abandoned her family because her mother became mentally ill.  I’m still working on the book, but I want to offer some excerpts from it to demonstrate the confusion and lost world these children must exist in.  As a child of a paranoid schizophrenic mother my learned way of thinking from my mother, in many instances was distorted, and I remained naïve for many years about important areas of life itself.  I wrote this book hoping to find my own answers to why I failed to thrive on a human level. Although only the first part of this book in based in the truth of my life, in many ways Marna reasons the way I reasoned as a child.  Some of the early specific incidents didn’t actually happen but they were based in similar situations.  However, it describes the atmosphere of poverty, filth, violence, abuse, vulgarity, abandonment, confusion, ridicule, hypocrisy, apathy, and rejection experienced by some of my siblings and myself.  It also reveals that Marna despite being a victim of her circumstances, had to change some of her own improper thinking.  However, I wanted to discover the reasons I made the choices I did, or why I was unwilling to take risks.  In many cases I found that I was trying to remain “safe” and unhurt, but wound up hurting myself more by isolating myself too much.  I allowed myself to die, in a sense, and all the dreams I ever had died with me.  I believe that this book is my attempt at flying once again and an opportunity to share with others what children of the mentally ill sometimes go through and why some may seem to act differently.

In the book, Marna is “mentored” by her elementary art teacher, Mr. B.  I appreciate the beauty the arts offer the world; that’s why I believe they are so necessary in a child’s education.  They are crucial in Marna’s life, but if they’re cut out of a child’s life one may be suppressing the next Rembrandt, Gene Kelley, Pavarotti, or any other artist that has added grace and beauty to our lives.  A world without art would be a very dead place.  But Marna comes to understand some of life’s complexities, and soar above many of her life’s trials by not only Mr. B’s love and concern, but also his wisdom and a “peculiar” paintbrush that paints another reality, where they meet Lords and Ladies as well as encounter some villainous characters.  Marna gets into some compromising and sometimes comical situations using the brush for things it wasn’t intended, but when she enters that other reality it gives her hope, strength, and a place to bring all her immutable realities whether they are good or bad.  It’s also a place of inner growth and solace where she can see the reward of her victories and watch the dark clouds be pushed back and some of her greatest “enemies” conquered.  There is some similarities and references to Christianity in it, but whether you believe in the Christian faith or not I hope you believe in reaching out to children, enlisting others as well, to offer them some hope, as Mr. B does.  By doing such one may very well change a child’s path.  I was never allowed to experience that kind of loving persistence; instead I was branded as being a delinquent like most of my older siblings, when I was not like them at all.  I believe I was written off by many as one of the Miller kids as if we were the scourge of the neighborhood. 

My mother’s mental illness manifested itself shortly before my third brother was born (fourth child in the line).  I was told that my father told my mother, while pregnant with him, to jump down the basement steps and he’d catch her.  He was trying to kill his own son, and possibly my mother along with him.  He had always been abusive to my mother and some of my older siblings, including my oldest sister who has Cerebral Palsy.  However, my dad was labeled the “normal” one and got to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle with another woman and her family, while my mother remained alone staying trapped in a living hell, reliving all the pain and agony she had been through all her life.  But what added to her stress was having six children to care for without too much input from my father.  But my Grandmother, Uncle and his wife on my mother’s side stepped in after they heard we didn’t have any food in the house, and brought food.  I have a very vivid memory of that instance.  I was only about two-years-old but I remember I was in a bathing suit, in the middle of winter I believe, and I was licking dried Koolaid off the floor.  The floor was covered with old torn up linoleum that had tar paper backing, so I was licking that backing.  But when I saw Grandma with grocery bags, I knew she had food.  I remember her extending her arms to me to pick me up.  Grandma came back every weekday and cooked and cleaned the house while Mom got “help,” and Mom even tried working to support us, but couldn’t manage it.  Grandma was there to make sure my older siblings got to school, and I was cared for.  My Aunt and Uncle took Mom and Grandma to the store and all of us to doctor’s appointments, because they were the ones with the car.

When I was younger, periodically, my mother would go into psychotic episodes where she didn’t remember becoming violent with us.  I remember us having to hide in the attic (that had fiberglass insulation hanging down) sometimes for days.  The older boys would sneak downstairs while Mom was asleep to get food for us, and we had to use the bathroom in a jar or bucket.  I also can remember an instance before I started school where my mother got very angry at me, because like any small child I wanted something from her, but she started beating me about the head and on my back.  My older sister (the fifth child of the family) pushed me out of the way and Mom started beating her.  She told me to run, so I think I ran outside.

A lot of things went on in our house that no child should have endured, but my siblings and I did.  As one may expect from a home where there was no discipline or structure, and the parent cannot pay attention like normal parents, children get into trouble.  Being neglected as well as emotionally, physically, and even sexually abused also caused distortions in my idea of what life and love were about.  I later suffered great loss in my own personal relationships.  But what was worse, no one said anything, the authorities just left us there, and some of the neighbors shunned us, as if it was our fault that we had a mentally ill mother and a father that left us to starve (I was told he drained the bank account and took our TV).  He left us; we didn’t leave him.  Until I got older I always tried to be the good girl so he would love me, but I always felt he loved my stepsisters more than me.  They got more presents at Christmas time than I did and got to spend more time with him, so I equated that with him loving them more.  But I got fed up one day and sassed him because he had just told me (at about age 13) that since I was the only child left to visit, it would be a waste of his time and gas to come over.  I had asked him to come see me a particular weekend because I hadn’t seen him in a while.  He was on his third wife by then and she had money.  She never really liked us because we weren’t doctors and lawyers.  But if Dad had stayed, and didn’t hurt Mom and us kids like he did, we might have had that encouraging hand to make something of ourselves.  When a parent doesn’t care a kid doesn’t care.  As a result of Mom living in another world most of the time and Dad not caring, our family became very despondent and self-centered, and now most of us are at odds with each other.

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