This story follows on from Life After the Convent
The phone rang and all the girls ran to answer it. Gemma-Rose got there first. “It’s Felicity!” she shouted. My eldest daughter wanted to speak to me. She had some significant news to share.
“I have depression! It’s been diagnosed.” Felicity didn’t sound depressed at all. Actually she sounded rather excited.
“Depressed? Are you sure?”
“I told a friend about my problems. She said I sounded depressed and suggested I see a doctor…”
A few days later, Felicity rang home again: “The doctor has upgraded my diagnosis to clinical depression.”
And then not long after that: “I have bipolar disorder.”
Felicity sounded happy that someone was taking her problems seriously, that there could be a physical cause for her failure to cope. But as far as I was concerned, it was all bad news. Every time my daughter called home, the news seemed to get worse and worse. I started to dread the phone ringing. What would she tell me next?
I remember a friend once speaking to me about her teenage son’s bipolar condition: “He’s gone away to a camp for children with mental illness. He’s making jokes with the other kids about how weird they all are, but how good it feels to be ‘normal’ for once.” I felt so glad my children weren’t affected like hers. I couldn’t really understand how she could talk about it so openly. Wasn’t mental illness something people kept to themselves. What would people think?
And now Felicity was telling me that she was actually suffering from bipolar disorder too..
I knew nothing about mental illness. I wasn’t even sure mental illness really existed. Surely if everyone bucked up and got on with life, they’d be okay? Maybe Felicity just had to face the fact she needed to work on her self-control. When I was a young person I had a quick temper but I wasn’t diagnosed as having a mental illness. I just faced my problem, worked hard and overcame it. (I make it sound easy, don’t I?) I changed. Why couldn’t Felicity do the same?
But I remembered my friend’s son. I’d heard about other people who’d had a hard time coping with life. Yes, maybe mental illness was a valid condition. But still I couldn’t accept my child was suffering from it. I rejected the diagnosis because I just didn’t want it to be true.
I thought about how I’d felt when I’d held Felicity in my arms for the first time. All the dreams and hopes I had for her didn’t include mental illness. I had wanted to keep her safe and bring her up well. She was going to develop her talents and use them. I was sure she would do spectacular things, change the world. Most of all I wanted her to be happy. Yes, bipolar disorder had no place in my plan for my daughter.
I had a lot of questions. “Are the medications addictive?” Wouldn’t it be better, even if the diagnosis was true, not to become dependant on drugs? I didn’t like to think that once Felicity started taking them, she would need them for the rest of her life. “Will they affect your health? What about when you are married and want to have children? Will they harm an unborn child?”
Did Felicity really need the medications? I didn’t want her to take them. But my opinion didn’t matter. She took the drugs anyway.
At regular intervals, Felicity would phone home.
“How are you going?”
“I had to have my medication adjusted. I felt manic for a while. I’m okay now.”
I’d listen politely, not saying much. I didn’t know what to say. I’d learnt that keeping quiet and standing well back was the safest option when talking to Felicity.
Then Felicity came home to celebrate Christmas with us. She brought Graham with her. “You’ll like him, Mum! He’s just like Dad!”
One evening, a couple of days after Christmas, we all gathered as a family to sing carols together. Like usual, everyone sang a favourite by herself. Felicity seemed reluctant when it was her turn.
“Come on, you’re a good singer!” I encouraged. “We’d love to hear you sing.”
Under protest, Felicity started singing but before she’d got too far, she made a mistake and lost confidence. She looked upset and refused to sing another word.
“Don’t be silly, Felicity,” I said. “Carry on!”
But she wouldn’t. I sighed deeply and rolled my eyes. Any moment now I expected her to burst into tears. And then I noticed Graham. He had his arm around her and was whispering something in her ear. Felicity regained control of herself and things were okay. You see, I didn’t take Felicity seriously. I just wanted her to pull herself together and get on with things. Graham was more sensitive. He understood her problem.
So life continued like this for a long time. I guess I gradually came to accept Felicity’s condition even though I didn’t want to. I accepted her need for medication. I know she did what she felt she needed to do. Maybe she couldn’t endure the condition any longer. Perhaps she hoped she could live a normal life like everyone else. Sometimes people don’t have much choice.
But even with acceptance, I couldn’t seem to connect with Felicity properly. Oh yes, things looked okay from the outside. We talked regularly and said all the right things. But something was missing. The past few years were definitely getting in the way of our relationship.
Then Felicity created a blog. It’s called Felicity’s Felicity. She started writing about herself, her thoughts, what she’d experienced. And suddenly I was seeing inside her head. I understood. I left a couple of comments on her blog or Facebook. Then Felicity picked up the phone and we started talking, really talking for the first time in years. Oh there is so much we keep hidden within us, so much it feels safer not to reveal. But when we are brave enough to talk, we can begin to move towards healing.
It’s still not easy in some respects. I don’t like getting phone calls where Felicity says, “I’m phoning from the mental unit of the hospital. I’ve been admitted because I’m hearing voices. I need my medication adjusted.”
What do I say? “I hope you feel better soon”?
It’s frightening, especially when you are told your child is under 24 hour surveillance. Surely my daughter isn’t at risk? She’d never take her own life, would she?
I once ventured onto a bipolar disorder Facebook page in order to understand the condition better. I hated being there. I hated even more the thought my daughter was one of these people. “Stay away from people with bipolar. They’ll make you more depressed,” I yearned to say. But then I remembered the comfort it gives me to talk with other bereaved people. Everyone needs others who understand. They can help and I admit I can’t.
So Felicity has bipolar disorder.She’s had it for a long time. It has caused her a lot of confusion and mental anguish. Because of it, she has been misunderstood and judged. She hasn’t understood herself. Now her disorder is controlled by medications. Even with them, she can’t function like me. She has many talents, but she isn’t always mentally healthy enough to use them. But she tries and one day I hope she will feel able to do all she wants. For her sake, not mine. I love her just the way she is.
You know, I think it’s love that brings us through such difficult times. Sometimes it seems to get buried under a whole pile of problems, but it’s still there. It won’t let us give up on each other. And eventually it starts to emerge again, as we begin to heal. I know Felicity’s and my love will keep on growing. You see, we’re mother and daughter again. I really am Felicity’s mother.
And so I come to the end of this story. It’s not really the end. Maybe it’s only the beginning. For when we ignore our fears and step out of our comfort zone, facing the mistakes of the past, miracles can happen.
I’m hoping for a miracle for my daughter, the daughter I love very much.
These posts have taken up a lot of my thinking and writing time recently, so I haven’t had much time left over for blog reading. But now I can catch up. It’s now my turn to visit you!