If only I had understood my mother's mental illness

Mental illness is very common for many.

You could always tell by the angle of her head, even from the back! A slight tilt to the left announced that it hadn’t been a really bad day and while we knew there wouldn’t be any laughter or joking around, we probably would not be subjected to any outbursts of anger. Every afternoon as I arrived home from school, I would first look in the window to prepare myself. My heart would race as I gauged her mood and how I would deal with it.

The slight right tilt was more ominous, signalling a very uncomfortable evening. But it was the extreme right-angled tilt that really heralded the onslaught of the hideous, angry outbursts which were so frightening.

I was often subjected to these outbursts. I would even go as far as to say, being a naturally adventurous tomboy, I was rather gifted in the area of unwittingly provoking them.

Banshee screams would invariably be accompanied by heavy physical abuse, which would sometimes result in yet another broken nose. I can still visualise the look of hatred on her face as she raised her hand to give me yet another wallop, which would knock my head sideways and leave my face stinging. Her face would be distorted with rage and she seemed to exude a demonic, animal power that rendered her victim helpless.

I hated my mother right up until the day she died.

Ad. Article continues below.

It was only after her death, at the age of 53, I found out more about her life and begun to understand that the mother I knew had not always been like this and it was even later when I came to the realisation that she had been extremely mentally ill.

In those days you were just as likely to be told to have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down, but there was very little support for someone like my mother.

There were days that I remember seeing her sitting in a chair when I was leaving for school, a set vacant look on her face, and finding her in exactly the same position when I returned in the afternoon. These were bearable days, but we had no idea what was going on for her. Oh, how I wish I could have understood. I’m not sure what I could have done because she could not be touched. I cannot begin to know what was going on for her and my heart breaks just thinking about it.

I have undertaken quite a bit of research with help from specialists and it is possible that my mother may have been suffering from a borderline personality disorder. I discovered more about her violent childhood and wonder how it contributed to her illness.

My sisters and I were given a gift just before she died. It was as if her mind became clear and the illness fell away. She looked very peaceful and wanted to be touched. She told me on the last morning that she had been somewhere, and she wanted to go back. The amazing thing was watching her emaciated face glow with a beauty that we had never seen.

Ad. Article continues below.

Of course, I know that violence is only part of some mental illnesses. I have needed professional help at times and violence was never part of what I experienced. Now with amazing help and support, I know how to cope with anxiety and stress.

I’m grateful that I understand so much more about this misunderstood illness and feel glad, that whilst there is still some stigma, there is now more awareness and hopefully more help available.

I now have so much love and compassion for my mother.

Have you or someone you know been affected by mental illness. Share your story with us.

Keen to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60 here, and join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club on Facebook here to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60.