My mother had two strokes before I entered my teens.
The timing was less-than-stellar for her, as raising two children through their formative years is hard enough when your brain isn’t trying to kill you. Despite all of her setbacks, my mom had incredible patience with my brother and me, and I could not have asked for a better person to learn about life from, both directly and indirectly. As a young man, now in his early twenties, I don’t know much (or anything) about parenting, but I’d like to look back and talk about how my mom raised me, how I’ve come to appreciate her patience in dealing with me, and how my mother’s illness changed my perceptions of the world.
Growing up I didn’t fully understand how hard it was for her to deal with her illness. She took painkillers to dull constant headaches. She took naps from noon to two o’clock every day and required a certain amount of quiet so as to not overwhelm, or as she calls it “short circuit”, her brain. Her struggles became normal to me, and I did not, at the time, appreciate the effort it took for her to raise my brother and I whilst dealing with it all.
For most of my teen years, I felt that my mother was the only parental figure in my life. I love my father, but during that time our family was broken. In hindsight, I understand that my father was trying, but all I can remember is identifying with my mother. I was an angry kid incapable of forgiving and letting this man into my life. While I was navigating all the normal feelings of growing up, I was also navigating feelings of being lost, betrayed, and ultimately depressed. These feelings of anger, distrust, and hurt manifested in ugly ways that became my mother’s problem to deal with. I was manipulative and took advantage of my mother to get things I wanted. For a long time, our relationship felt like a power struggle to me, a constant push and pull. I abused her love. I was selfish and my feelings consumed me. I felt entitled to her love, as well as her catering to my wants and needs. I could not see past myself to understand that my mother was a person just like me, doing the best she could with what she had.
I lied through my teeth for years to escape my responsibilities, and the anxieties I had growing up, using her illness as a weapon for my manipulation. Knowing full well my mother had a head injury, I claimed I had migraines day after day to get out of school, music lessons, sports, and hanging with friends. She was incredibly sympathetic, and I played off of that. I knew what I was doing. I know my mom had her doubts about my “illness” but was too afraid that if she were wrong that I would end up bursting a vessel in my brain as she had. I think I tricked myself, too. I took drugs for it, had an MRI, the whole nine yards. I was in a very dark place. I hated myself and was not capable of coping with the feelings I was having. For years I laid in bed, “too sick for school”, and when I would finally wake up, I would play video games until my eyes were red and dry, falling asleep and repeating the cycle the next day. This inevitably worsened my anxieties and manifested multiple breakdowns which would make me seclude myself more, and the vicious cycle would continue.
Although I know it was not easy for her, my mother’s patience never wavered. She never gave up on me, and I love her for that. I was in a deep spiral of angry, dark thoughts and lashed out constantly. I was a broken kid. I went through every unhealthy coping mechanism in the book. I did not perform in school, I used drugs to make myself feel better, I lied to get what I wanted, and secluded myself from the world as much as I could.
My mother’s response to this was to try and remove stressors from my life, and the decision to remove me from school for one semester changed everything. I was absolutely terrified of going to school. I had so much pent up anxiety about interacting with people, fitting in, and god forbid talking to girls. All the other things I was feeling - the depression, the anger, and hate - just compounded the problem and I was borderline incapacitated, unable to confront anything real. In the first semester of grade eleven, my mom allowed me to take online classes from home. I think a big part of why she wanted me to do this was because of her illness. She understood feeling overwhelmed, and unable to deal with that much at once. In the same way her brain short-circuits when there are too many inputs, she was understanding of the fact that my brain had way too much on its plate.
Although I still failed all of my online courses, save a miraculous 56% in sociology, that semester meant the world to me. I had space to breathe, she gave me room to deal with my issues one at a time. I didn’t have to worry about pushing myself forward in all aspects of my life. I was not ready to face my peers and socialize. The immense guilt I had stemming from all my lies and how I treated the people in my life ate at me, and I needed time to sort through my feelings.
I wasn’t perfect after that semester, but the amount I grew in that time was remarkable for me, and I started to gain my confidence back. It was a huge turning point, and even though the struggles didn’t end there, it started me on a path of self-improvement and growth that I’ve maintained throughout my life.
My mother taught me that life doesn’t have to be all at once. We have time. It’s not a race. She used what she had learned and lived through, and taught me that not everything needs to be solved all at once, lest I get bogged down in the intensity of it all. I have an immense amount of respect for her handling my youth the way she did, and looking back on it now I cannot express how grateful I am to have had her as my mother - I really lucked out. She never stopped trying to understand, and never wavered in her love for me despite all my best efforts.
The struggles do continue, but over the last couple of years, I have begun to look forward to the future, for the first time in a long time. I want to make my mom proud, and show her that her patience and love for me paid off. I want her to be happy knowing that despite the self-hatred, the anger I harbored at the world, and the guilt that came with how I treated those around me, she raised a man that can be proud of himself.
Thank you, mom.