I did not know much about bipolar disorder at the time, but it was easy for me to accept that she had a serious mental illness that had been undiagnosed until then. Throughout my childhood, I remember witnessing my mother’s extreme depressive episodes and periods of mania.
During depressive episodes, I would see her crying into a bath towel. She had scars on her wrists from a suicide attempt in high school. When I was little, she told me they were from flea bites.
When she was manic, my mom would insist we move. When I was a teenager, we made the move from a comfortable house in the suburbs to a developing country.
While abroad, my mother started to have trouble with her physical health. She became bedridden and needed help with most tasks. My father was around, but he coped by becoming very detached.
I was a teen at the time, and I became her primary caregiver for most of the next 4 years. I took over day-to-day responsibilities, including cooking for the family and helping my mother get dressed and use the bathroom.
I endured the responsibility of caring for my family until I went to college.
At this point, it started to become clear to medical professionals that my mother had a mental health condition. They just were not clear on the exact diagnosis. During one inpatient stay, a doctor who suspected dissociative identity disorder told my mother she had reintegrated her personalities on her own. But eventually, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder came about.
After college, I moved, and there was physical distance between myself and my parents for a while. However, within the last decade, my parents moved nearby, and I started taking on more caregiving responsibilities again.
Shortly after my parents moved, I lost my job. Even though I was also caring for my own children, I had a little more time on my hands. So, at this point, I became more heavily involved in caring for my mother.
I did my best to be a dutiful caregiver. Around this time, my mother needed several surgeries. She required months of IV antibiotics that I learned to administer.
But my mother constantly pointed out all of my shortcomings. My parents began to undermine my ability to parent my children. They constantly compared me with my sister, which seriously damaged my relationship with my sister, as well. This was when caregiving really started taking a toll on my mental health.
I started feeling burned out, unappreciated, and frustrated as my mother kept undermining my parenting decisions. I set boundaries and tried my best to reinforce them with my mother. I was hoping that would help preserve our relationship, my relationship with my own children, and my own mental health.
But my mother continued to disrespect these boundaries. After serious thought, I ended up cutting ties with both of my parents.
I wanted to help care for my mom. I wanted to be close to my parents. They are lovely people in so many ways. But my mom crossed such a big line in actively undermining my parenting decisions, which affected my relationship with my children. And that was the last straw for me.
Today, I still do not have contact with my mother. Even years later, thinking about it all still feels painful and shameful.
It is hard to share my story, but if even one person reads this and finds it helpful, I feel it was worth it.
You’re not alone
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute, 2 in 10 caregivers feel alone in their caregiving journey. Educating yourself about preventing caregiver burnout and connecting with others who understand what you are going through can help you prioritize your own mental health and feel less alone.
Try joining a support group or searching for other areas of support through organizations, such as:
*We have changed the author’s name to protect their privacy.