I spent over two decades of my life living my mother's story instead of my own. I was overly obsessed with helping her, assuring the care she needed, understanding her illness, finding a diagnosis that made sense, and later assuming care and becoming financially responsible for her. I also venture to say that much of my hyperdrive overachievement in life has to do with my desire to get to a place where I could care for her. In some ways I became a mother at age 12 and had to procure and ensure safety and prosperity for both of us. (See earlier post on Growing up with Schizophrenic Mother for more details.)
At times I recognized the relative unhealth of this behavior and indeed I had many hypotheses for it. That I needed to fix her. That I needed to relieve my guilt of not preventing her suicide attempts. That I needed to pay penance for not being able to keep her well. That maybe someday I could even regain her love. It saddens me to write this now because, at 38, I see how very much of my time and energy was lavished on these needless and fruitless activities.
When I first began meeting with Em we used drawing therapy to extract and articulate the pain I was experiencing before I recognized it as The Breakthrough Crisis. At the time I only knew that my life was in disarray and my mother seemed to be the cause of that pain - or so I had assumed for many years. All of my drawing therapy centered around mother. Em asked prompting questions to which I drew out the answers. It went something like this...
- How do you feel right now? My artful representation was of me with lightning bolts for hair, drowning in plane tickets and work documents, surrounded by piles of money that I could neither reach nor spend, with all of the things I longed for (community, social life, free time, family) far off in the distance.
- What is your biggest problem? This one shows me on my knees begging for my mother to love me while she sits silent and ignoring me while smoking cigarettes. In the background are all of the things I've done and bought for her and, ironically, a pile of money that I later recognized was a mirror image from my first drawing.
- What will it look like when your biggest problem is solved? I went numb. I sat and stared. My throat grew hot and then closed up; I began to cough. I had to run to the bathroom for a glass of water. We were at Zi's house (Em's friend) who was visiting in Bali for the month and the pipes had frozen so there was no water. I was able to calm myself with deep breathing before returning to our therapy room.