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Mental Health

You Are Mother

Dawn-Marie Tytherleigh

Reprinted from "Women" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(4), p. 21

Though the pain is overwhelming, my heart knows that I have been the best mother I could be. After all, I am their mother and God chose me to be their mother. And when I consider my bipolar condition, I feel proud because I know I've faced the odds and they have not consumed me.

When I was a little girl, I would peer into my mother's eyes and there I found joy. We were meant to be together and that is how I thought it would always be. Time proved me wrong. She vanished and I did not hear from her for a long time. I didn't like being without her, but I had to adapt. She was not there to protect me - and I was being abused. This trauma was the beginning of years in a mental health system that I hold little regard for.

Right after the period of abuse, I withdrew. I would not talk, eat, get out of bed or go to school. This was very troubling for the rest of the household. Something had to be done! My stepmother cared about me and tried to get the help I needed. They said it was a "girl thing" - a hormonal imbalance - and they tried everything to balance my moods. It was not that simple, though. I was made a ward of the state and moved to a boarding school run by sisters and social workers. It was great at first, but it didn't take long until I resorted to full-fledged rebellion and hit the road looking for something better in life.

But I got sick again and was branded bipolar. I became a regular face in the revolving door of all the psych hospitals in Vancouver. I spent many visits in seclusion because I was a fighter. No one was going to label me as 'mental.' I just would not have it!

In some ways I was just your average female teenager pushing for freedom, but in other ways I was like a trapped mouse. I felt like a 'specimen' of the system.

As I grew up, I got jobs and stayed close to the guy I loved. He took care of me. In our own world, we forgot about all the months that gobbled up my life when I was manic or depressed. There was always an end to the cycles, but there was never an end to my hope and determination to get on top of this struggle. This seemed such a futile effort; I was constantly knocked down as the girl who would eventually conform.

I decided to celebrate myself as a woman, and when my mother died a tragic death, I celebrated what she would have wanted for me. I am a brilliant and creative person. I am an artist. So I went to art school and did well in post-secondary art classes. I thought: finally, I am like everyone else.

But I had many problems ahead to deal with. My brother died a horrid death - but I still had to get up and conquer, no matter what.

In my early 30s, I became the proud mother of two daughters. Suddenly, I was forced to get out of the 'thicket' and set my course forward for these two little gifts. What I did was remarkable. I bought a home and provided what any child would want. I had a deep sense of joy. It felt like the joy I knew when my mother hugged me and doted on me.

I had no support, though, and when I had setbacks I had to lean on the system. I was offered clinical support, and while at first I thought it was okay, sooner or later it wouldn't be okay.

They took my children away from me. Even though they were in their teens, this event has shattered the place in my journey where I thought I had purpose. My girls are confused. And while the government has twisted the situation to fit its agenda, I still have to believe it will be put right one day.

So now, my fight is to reach out, as a mother in grievous times. I will lobby against the system the way it is now, but I will never lobby against those who are trying to be supportive within it.

If you are a mom who has lost your child because of a label, do not give up. Celebrate the power you have as a woman to overcome all, despite any illness you may be dealing with. We can't always determine what the torrents in life will be, but there is one certainty — we have all been given life, and with it, we can reach to the heights, or we can bottom - feed and watch everyone else have a good time. Conquer, for there is much up ahead, and you belong in the garden of victory just because you are.

About the author

Dawn-Marie lives in the Fraser Valley. She looks forward to the publication of her first book, Social Abortion


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