WHO'S THE MOM?
I opened my eyes, sleepily. Looked straight ahead. Down the hall. Confused.
“Who’s the mom?”
That’s the first thing that came to my mind. My mind. Mine. I said it aloud.
Everything looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t place anything. I had the sense of belonging, but I didn’t know how I belonged. What was my role? Who was I?
This is my life. But what is my life?
This. This…not remembering. This is my life.
I pulled the covers up to my neck. I was the only one in the queen-size bed, but when I rolled over, I could see that there were signs of someone else having slept beside me. The sun was streaming through the window over the bed. I could hear children playing outside. I rolled over again. My eyes darted back and forth across the room and down the hall as my heart raced.
Then, then. It was if someone flipped a switch.
I’m the mom.
I’m Laura Lee.
I have three children. And, a husband. He’s at work. It’s noon. It’s summertime. It’s 2003. The sounds of the children outside playing were the sounds of my own children – my daughters, along with those in the neighborhood. At 13 and 10, they’re old enough to get themselves dressed, eat breakfast, and go outside to play. They knew to stay in the front yard and on the patio. My 16-year-old son is spending the summer with my parents on the east coast.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and ran my hands through my hair. Again. It happened again. Why?
Why do I wake up not knowing who I am and why is the first question, not, “Who am I?”
Why do I always say aloud, “Who’s the mom?”
HILLS AND VALLEYS
I have major depressive disorder (MDD). I have post traumatic disorder (PTSD). I have panic disorder. I have a multitude of disorders. I see a med manager at least once every six months, if not more frequently, and a therapist once a week. Some people think that means that everything should be OK…that I should function without problems. It doesn’t mean that at all. It means that I uncover new and undiscovered territory each and every week. Territory that someday needs to be explored. When would I allow myself to explore it?
Maybe my subconscious is trying to explore new territory now. But what territory? Where is it trying to go?
I served in the Navy. My children grew up as ‘Navy brats.’ They’ve traveled the world. Each has been born in a different state and in one case, a different country. They’re resilient. They know how to adapt and overcome.
They’ve also grown up in the shadows cast by my mental illness. They’ve grown up on the hills and in the valleys of my mental illness. No child should have to learn to adapt and overcome his or her mother’s fragile mental state, but many have. Mine have. At least I acknowledge it. Things could be worse, I surmised. I could ignore it. Avoid it. Refuse to get help for it. Not me. I jump up and down, screaming for help. I’m not afraid to admit I need help. I beg for it.
This, though…this I’m afraid to admit. I don’t remember who I am. I don’t remember that I’m the mom in this family unit even when I can hear my own children playing outside. I get up and go to the bathroom – headed for the mirror. I take a good look. I don’t like what I see, but I like what I don’t see even less. The fractured pieces of my mind.
Suddenly, with a rush of adrenaline, loads of responsibility are thrust upon me along with the loads of dishes and the loads of laundry. I literally trip over the piles of dirty laundry in the hallway – all color coordinated and ready for the washing machine. I peek out the window and see the girls playing with their friends. They’ll want lunch soon. I can't always make lunch. Today I can. Today I will.
As I walk to the pantry, I’ve already decided that I need to tell my therapist, Becky, about what’s happening, regardless of how afraid I am. I’ve been on the inpatient mental health ward before. I self-admitted. I’m worried that this time I’ll have no choice.
I don’t recall how I brought it up. Only that she could tell something was on my mind. My eyes welled up with tears as I tried not to break down. I started to explain it to her the best I could. She blurted…”Do you ever feel like there's someone talking to you? Voices? Someone else in your head?”
How did she know? I Explained how I kept waking up in the morning, not knowing who I was and how I belonged. I explained to her the odd question that I said aloud every morning.
She asked me several more questions. Does this happen on certain days of the week? Does it happen if I wake up in the middle of the night? Does it happen if my husband, Scott, is still next to me in bed?
The answer was, “No,” to each question.
Then she asked whether I ever forget who I am any other times of the day – after I’d already been awake.
I said, “Yes,” without even thinking about it. “YES!”
Then, I started bawling. What was happening to me?
There are times, when I’m driving, that for a moment, I forget where I’m going. Maybe that’s why I blocked this from my waking memory. Doesn’t everyone forget from time-to-time where she’s going? Miss her exit? Drive right past it? Show up at her destination without any memory of the drive? I was trying to justify my strange behavior.
Except I also forget who I am. If I don’t know who I am I don’t know if I really know how to drive. Am I old enough to drive? In that moment, I panic. I’m on the freeway, behind the wheel of a 5000-pound moving vehicle and I’m panicking. It usually lasts for only a few seconds to a minute or two. Long enough for me to slowly and carefully pull over onto the shoulder. Long enough for me to start shaking and crying uncontrollably, hoping no one will stop and ask me if I’m alright because I won’t know how to answer that question.
Becky asks me to dig deeper. Have I ever had any situations where I lost chunks of time? Has anyone ever told me that I’ve said or done something that I don’t remember?
I locked eyes with her, knowingly questioning her, “Yes?”
There were days, weeks, and even months, that I ‘lost.’ Scott and the kids would often talk about when we went here…when we went there…when this happened…when that happened…and I’d steadfastly refuse to believe that I was in attendance when these ‘things’ were going on. But then, where was I? They insisted I was present. The children – confused.
There were times, two that I recall – one recently and one as a teenager, that I was sitting at the supper table and everyone looked at me shocked. I had said something inappropriate…as in I dropped an ‘F-bomb.' I don’t use that word, ever, and I certainly wouldn’t choose to use it for the first time in front of my parents at the supper table. And yet, everyone else at the table insisted I had just dropped an F-bomb. As in, “Pass the F'ing salt.” They were all in it together. My mom. My dad. My sister. My brother. It was a conspiracy. I was sure of it.
Then it happened again, but this time with Scott and the kids present.
Now I was even more afraid, and Becky could tell. She asked me what I was afraid this all meant. I didn’t want to say it aloud. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. Was there more than one of me?
I knew what dissociating meant. I knew that Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
She reassured me. She told me that dissociating is not unusual for someone who has experienced trauma. I knew this. She knew that I knew this and yet apparently it was necessary to bear repeating. And, she assured me that it does not mean I have DID.
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t though, either,” I thought to myself.
I also, often forget the memories surrounding the trauma. I remember. I forget. Then, I remember again. It all falls under dissociation. Dissociative amnesia. I call it the ‘in-between.’
It doesn’t, however, explain the odd behavior at the supper table. The F-bombs.
Becky and I focused on grounding techniques rather than focusing on my dissociation. Techniques that would help me be present, stay present, and clearly define who I am and that I am safe. I took a family photo and put it on the nightstand where I could see it as soon as I woke up. I wrote my name on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker. I also put a photo and a sticky note with the words written on it, “You are a good driver,” and put it in the car’s visor.
Dissociating is tricky. I imagine it’s like having dementia. If a family member with dementia is having a difficult time remembering she had food cooking on the stove, and repeatedly started small fires, how would giving her a timer to set as a reminder help? Wouldn’t she just forget to set the timer?
Having the family photo on the nightstand and my name on the mirror, worked. I woke up and they're the first things I saw. They worked wonders. They work wonders. Would I remember though, to pull down the visor? Would I?
Yes, I would.
And, I did.
And, I do.
And, I'm the mom.