Today we observe World Mental Health Day. This day in October is set aside for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. In honor of today, we showcase one of the UNTOLD: Campus Diaries stories. UNTOLD: The Campus Diaries is a mental health awareness campaign within a campus community and designed for the purpose of resonating with any student who has faced a challenge, crisis, or difficult patch through the college years. Please, if you feel you are having a mental health challenge, we encourage you to talk to someone. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be afraid. #SpeakUpNow
Until the age of 7, my life was pretty normal. I had a beautiful vibrant family. My mother was a lovely stay-at-home Mom and my father was a Navy pilot and we traveled all over the country. I felt loved, cared for, and safe. Somewhere along the line though, my family started to fall apart. Mom and Dad fought whenever they were together and one day, without any real notice, he left.
In my teens, I would discover my father had filed for divorce before being called for a tour and wouldn’t be home for long time. It had been my Mom’s job to tell me what was happening. I didn’t know it but those were some of the last days of having a “normal” Mom. She fell into a deep depression after my father left. I lived a dual life. I would leave my Mom to go to school where I was happy, silly, and had many friends as well as made good grades but when I came home I became her caretaker. I would get off the bus and rush inside to find her still in bed, right where I had left her. I would feed her food and bring her water because I was sure she wasn’t eating when I wasn’t there. Things were really scary for a few weeks. Then all of sudden, she was happy and bright. Bouncing around the house pulling everything out of the cupboards and going on insane shopping sprees. She’d flit around the house from task-to-task never really finishing any of them. For a while, it went on like this.
I felt everything was going to be okay despite the condition the house was in. Then, she started going out all night and coming home drunk… and sometimes bring men back with her. She became very neglectful of me. I remember her coming home one night and making myself throw up so she would come upstairs and pay attention to me. Things took another turn for the worse as she again fell into a deep depression. After a few days of this, she woke me up in the middle of the night shaking me saying “did your father touch you?? Tell me the truth!” and I told her no and that she was hurting me arms. She wailed and screamed as if I said yes then took me to the hospital where they did a rape kit on me to see if I had been molested. When the results came back negative, my mother again screamed as if they had said yes. “My baby! my baby! i’ll kill that bastard!” In marches a social worker to ask if we have any family nearby to which my mother replies no. The social worker takes me away and puts me in foster care where, a few months down the road, my father picks me up at. Confused, he asks what happened. I told him all that I knew as my Dad listened with a sort of silence I’ll never forget.
I didn’t see my Mom for over a year after that. I had no contact with her. My grandmother (my moms mother) would call me and tell me my Mom was doing fine. That her and I will be together soon and everything will go back to normal. I was almost 9 before I saw my mother again. It was at the court house during the custody battle. I remember seeing her and feeling a sharp pain in my chest. She was so skinny in terrified me. She was skin and bones and had a nose ring. Her hair was half bleached in a pony tail and she had on a thick layer of make up. She kept smiling and waving and telling me she loves me. I told her I loved her back and as we left the court room she begged me to come with her. Offering me toys and anything I wanted but it wasn’t my choice who to go with. I was to leave with my father. This story has gone on long enough. You get the picture. It was an ugly custody battle which by some miracle my grandmother won. I was to live with her and my step grandfather in Texas. When I got there, I asked my grandmother (Meme) where my Mom was. Meme told me that she was in the hospital “getting better” and she’d be out in a few months. She would have me talk on the phone with my mom once a week or so. Eventually my Mom did come home. She was a healthy weight and things seemed well with her upstairs. It was finally clicking that my mom was having real mental issues and it wasn’t her fault. I remember after she came home, Meme suggested that my Mom and I go on a date to the movies. So we went and ate afterwards. I remember my mom holding up a jalapeno and saying “sweetheart, if you eat this, it’ll show that you love me.” I told her that I didn’t like spicy food that it hurt. she said “You really don’t love me, darling? I thought you loved your mom” and she made a sad face and I could see tears in her eyes. Out of guilt, I ate the jalapeno and it was awful but she smiled and said “Aww thats my baby! She really does love her Mama!” and she laughed.
This may seem like an innocent enough situation but I never forgot it because moments like this happened a lot and in the end it was my Moms way of saying “If you love me, you’ll suffer for me”. As time went on, my mother was allowed to take me to live with her in one of my Memes rented houses in town. It was fine at first, but then I started to notice the same symptoms for my Mom popping up again. I caught her one day smoking crack with her friend in the bathroom. When they exited the bathroom, I went in and found the crack pipe and hid it away from them. When they went back to look for it, I could hear them start to panic and yell “where the hell is it??” eventually I got sick of their screaming and told them that I hid it from them. My Mom violently grabbed me and shook me so hard my teeth rattled and she growled at me to tell her where it was.
It only got worse from there, soon we had no food and all of a sudden things started coming up missing in the house. I remember going over to my friends house for a week and when I came back the place was trashed and my Xbox was missing. She had barely noticed my absence. I once threatened to tell Meme and my mom emotionally manipulated me saying that they’d send her to prison where she would be raped by the policemen if I told. Life went on like this. She would use drugs, go crazy, come back, everything would be fine and all was forgiven. I forgave her over and over for her abuse; emotionally, mentally and physically she would abuse me and I thought it all apart of a mothers love. I would always forgive her and say its okay. One of the greatest friends I have ever had, in my teens, looked at me one day when we were alone and said “you know this isn’t normal right?” It started to click what was going on that day. That I had been pretending to be handling it so well. When I was 18 and graduated Highschool, my Meme gave me a 500 dollar check as a graduation present. My Mom had my step-dad at the time cash it at his work and tried to only give me 200. I called my Meme who said if she didn’t give me my money that she would call the police on her husband. My mom promptly gave the money back and had the police escort me off of the property. As we were pulling out of the driveway, my mom had a change of heart and stopped the car to say she was sorry and that I could stay. I said no. For the first time, I told her this was not okay and I am leaving. The was my first step in letting go.
I moved to a city two hours away with my best friend and stayed there for 6 months before I got the call from my step-dad that my mom was acting crazy and doing drugs in the house and claimed he had hit her. By the way, every man my mom has ever been with has hit her so who knows really. I took the information and shoved it deep inside. She was no longer my problem though it hurt to hear. I became a traveling musician (technically I was homeless for 7 months) before I landed in Murfreesboro at the age of 19 going on 20. It was the first time I felt truly free. No family. No background. No one knew me. A fresh start. I had fun and got to know a lot of people and started school. All the while from afar I would get random phone calls updating me about my mom. Or random calls from random numbers from her saying she’s doing okay but I could hear she was manic or maybe on drugs. She would always demand forgiveness from me. She would always call and say how much she loves me. Eventually, a bitterness I didn’t know I had rose from my chest and bubbled out of my lips when I was on the phone with her one day. I let her fucking have it. I told her how she treated me was wrong and that I don’t actually forgive her and that she needed to get her act together and clean herself up. I let all of my repressed anger out on her that day. I told her it was wrong of her to beat me and let me watch her smoke crack like it was normal or when she had a miscarriage told me it was my fault because I was such a bad daughter. I told her that I hated her and I wished she would stop calling. I didn’t hear from her for a year. Apparently she was homeless on the streets. When I finally did hear from her again, I did apologize though. I shouldn’t let hate and resent me inside me. I forgave her for myself. She still lies to me all the time. She tells me she has cancer which isn’t true just to get a rise out of me. Lately, I just haven’t been returning her calls. She leaves voicemails saying how I’m just like my father and that I’m an ungrateful awful child. It really doesn’t bother me as much as it used to because now I realize that she’s in such a tremendous amount of pain that she tries to drag everyone down around her. I love her but…I love myself more. I deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to be kicked around like a dog. The hardest part was finally letting go. Of my past. Of the pain. Of the grudge. I’m unlearning all the manipulative toxic traits I picked up from my childhood and learning how to love myself and stand up for my beliefs and not be such a people pleaser. I’m glad for my upbringing because I’m that much stronger for it. I know I’ll never be completely rid of my Mom. Its something I will forever have to deal with until one of us dies. But sometimes, you just have to let it go.