While I typically write about my own mental health and the ups and downs that come with such a disease, today I am venturing into a more broader perspective. I have had to reevaluate the term diagnosis and how each and every one of us experience it, react to it, and ultimately comes to term with it. I have always only had to deal with my own issues as both my children and my husband, not to mention my wider family, have always been relatively healthy. In fact many of my posts about my own diagnosis contain elements of jealously and even anger towards those I love because they do not suffer as I do. But for the first time in my life I am not confronting my own diagnosis but that of my mother’s.
Before I get into the details of my mother’s health, I have to set the stage by giving you a little information about the woman herself. I will attempt to explain the relevant parts of my mother’s psyche in one or two paragraphs with the hope that you, my reader, will realize that this can’t possibly cover all of the ins and outs of a very complicated woman.
To explain my mother, I suppose, you have to understand a few key facts. My mother does not handle the idea of being in any way a nuisance, a burden, or even a hiccup on anyone’s radar. She will lay her life down for you but she will not allow you to lay down your life for her. She is the ultimate wallflower, not only relishing the corners of the room, but acutely uncomfortable in large social situations. Her friends are not close, in that they do not know the details of her life, and she treats her children the same. And no matter how I might wish otherwise, she is incapable of standing up for herself; for letting the rest of us know what she wants; for giving those who love her a chance to give to her. Lest you believe that she is noble and self-sacrificing, I have to clarify that these characteristics – the giving rather than receiving and the almost desperate need to be thought of as less than a burden – aren’t always good traits. She causes stress she would be horrified to know about because she works so hard to be a person that none of us needs. I, personally, would much rather know what my mother likes rather than spend my life wondering if I am even close.
A couple of weeks ago my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I should say I am not sure when she was diagnosed simply because she would have been both embarrassed by our concern and ultimately not willing for us to worry about something this serious. Of course, those of us who know her have watched not only the shaking getting progressively worse but her overall health declining, so we knew something was going on. And while I admit that the moment I found out that my mother, this strong and distant woman, had Parkinson’s I hit my knees in absolute despair, I did recover. And I did begin to make plans to ensure all that I could, at least as much as she will let me at this point. (Take a moment to imagine what it is going to be like to tell my mother, a woman who fears being dependent, that she has to give up her independence. And while we are not there now, there will come a day when all that we now fear will come true.)
In the weeks since the diagnosis I have watched my mother literally fall apart. She has called me in a panic attack. She has said the words that she didn’t want to see me one day. She has become almost manically hidden from all of us. How is she doing, you may ask? No idea. How is she feeling beyond the anxiety? Who knows. I know that her fear is there is going to come a day when her grandchildren will be standing in front of her and she won’t know their name, but considering her excellent health and mental state, while I would never disparage someone’s fear, it isn’t the one to concentrate on at this point. At this point it is time to recognize that she has a disease.
I wrote a book recently and one of the topics I wrote about was the importance of recognizing you have a disease. You can’t get better if you don’t know if you have a disease. You can’t take logical and informed steps if you don’t think you have a disease. You can’t take steps to mitigate what will ultimately be damaging by denying the truth that your doctor gave you. Should you get a second opinion if you want one, of course; but don’t ignore the first possibility because of stubbornness.
I don’t believe my mother has come to terms with the fact that she has a disease. Don’t get me wrong, she takes medicine, but she doesn’t correlate one fact with the other. My mother doesn’t want to admit that this is scary. My mother doesn’t want my sister and I to make plans for her future. My mother doesn’t want to think that death is a natural part of life, and while we may not totally get to control how we go, we do get to put in place safeguards to give us a sense of accomplishment long before the end is near.
I knew from an early age that something was wrong with me. I grew up with it. And while I didn’t know what was wrong with me until it was pointed out to me, I proceeded with my disease in much the same way my mother is. For years, I didn’t take medication for my mental illness because I thought I could manage it on my own. (I learned differently). I didn’t go to therapy, I didn’t write about it, I didn’t seek help in any form because I truly believed that I could handle all aspects of my diagnosis. It about killed me.
With my mother’s diagnosis I have had to come to some pretty stark revelations. Revelations that I ignored for most of my life.
One, being diagnosed with any disease is scary. Two, most of us are going one of two directions – ignore or embrace and use it for your own purposes. Three, it doesn’t matter your personal demographic, when given a disease you aren’t going to immediately put it in a context that is healthy and productive. Humans don’t seem to be made that way. I have known people who were told their thyroid was marginally acting up and you would have thought they were given a death sentence. I don’t want to mock anyone’s journey to understanding and reconciliation, but I find there is comfort in realizing that even someone as stoic as my mother could have problems dealing with the reality; even while that same comfort drives me up the wall.
I suppose all of us who either have a disease or will have a disease should give ourselves a break. Maybe we should forgive ourselves for not doing each and every step correctly. Maybe we should forgive ourselves for being human and denying for a time that anything is actually wrong. Maybe those around us should forgive themselves for not jumping in with all the answers and healing powers. Maybe the world should forgive themselves for having to deal with really horrible truths and still find a way to go forward.
It has been an eye opening experience talking my mother down from a panic attack. I have been reeducated into the reality of my mother every time I call and she pretends not only that everything is sunshine and roses but when she says the words that can break my heart all because the depression is finally starting to show itself. If this is the heaven’s way of giving me a looking glass, they should read my book. If this is heaven’s way of testing not only my mother but my sister and I, then bring it on. For at the end of the day, while I believe she has to accept this diagnosis to get better, she is still my mother and whether she knows it or not, I will always lie down my life for her.
She did the same for me all those years ago when a scared teenager, eight hours away, called her with my diagnosis.