I love my mom. At least the way I remember her. She passed away in 1989, so some of the memories need to be unpacked from time to time in order to recall them for what they represent to me as I get older.
Sometimes I remind myself to tell stories to my kids about her because I realize they do not know her. She passed before I had the privilege of introducing them. The stories I enjoy telling. But sometimes it reminds me that meeting the person and developing the relationship cannot be replaced by the stories remembered by another. I also realize it is easy to idolize or vilify a person through stories, depending on how you interpret things and the points you stress.
My mom was caring and loved being with the people she loved. And she did her best to bless those around her. As her children we felt this and understood we were loved. And our stories reflect this to our children.
Mom also worried. That may be a slight understatement. Things stuck under her skin and were remembered, not always in a positive light. There were moments that we as siblings joke around about now, but were not all that humorous in the moment. The worry occasionally came across as anger, and sometimes the anxious feelings were expressed in harsh words. I have come to understand how this looks from the inside out in my adult years.
I recall vividly one of these moments when I was 11 or so, and learned that I could diffuse some of these situations with humour. I liked to bother my youngest sister, who was 6 years older than me. Being an average 11 year old boy I of course did not know when to quit. I remember pretending to open the bathroom door while she was occupied taunting her from outside, just trying to get a rise out of her. And then I heard mom’s footsteps. Like the spirit of God descending on me, I felt one hand grab my arm and the sound of one of her slippers come down from heaven right to my buttock region. It did not hurt, but the shock just about did me in. The statement she made with each swing punctuated each syllable of her message:
Don’t – you – e – ver – do -that – a – gain!
It was hilarious but I tried not to laugh. An hour later I started imitating her with my sister and I in cooler waters, and she could not help but laugh. It would start bubbling up, and then roll uncontrollably. I liked to make her laugh. Mainly because she definitely cried her fair share.
I realized my burnout was like a release valve on something deeper. Part of me knew that anxiety was prevalent in my family tree, heck, I talked about it as a pastor with countless couples before they got married. But I always seemed to have it under control. Until the stress and outside circumstances took their toll. Burnout brought the symptoms of my anxiety to the forefront and I could not control it.
But by this point I slowly realized there was a clear damage path behind me. And a fair amount of work ahead.
As I approached this mother’s day some of my connections with my own mental health and that of my family were clearly on my mind. As I look back and recall my mom and my similar struggles, I notice some of the debilitating effects of anxiety. For us how it lent to becoming obsessive internally, and the outward display in our behaviour.
The feeling of inferiority amidst the people you love.
The sense that people are not holding your best interests in mind.
The inability to let things go, until they eat at yourself and everyone around you.
The fixation with the thoughts and motives of others.
The inexplicable outbursts as some form of pressure release.
And of course, the incredible loneliness in not being able to balance your internal processing with the actions and obsessive points around you.
This is a state of insecurity. A tension between what we desire around us and the incomplete sense of being within. The desire for others to be what we want them to be in the moment, but ultimately projecting our feelings of insufficiency on them in a state of overreaction. Anxiety brought me to a state of obsessive compulsion, and the better I got, the more familiar it looked.
I remember many peaceful moments of my mom. Her singing with my aunt when I was quite young. Shucking corn, cracking peas, and working in the garden. Consoling me and offering peaceful words when I could not get certain things out of my head as a preteen. It was peace she did not always know, and looking back, I wish she did.
What does that mean for me today?
In some ways I am glad I burned out when I did. I do not know where things would have gone if I had not, as strange as that may seem. And of course, I can say that now, not then. Peace is desirable, but not easily held. For some of us it is something decided upon and a project at work from within…
Defining our self worth on the fact that God has called us worthy to be his kids.
Compartmentalizing what is important in the long run, and keeping the temporal woes at bay.
Taking time to look in the mirror and ask that person how they are doing today.
Not allowing our internal wrestling to become a death match by tagging in a close friend.
Recognizing when a worry has become an obsessive press on my mind.
Those are the things I learned to look for, and continue to learn about as I grow.
Because I do not want to wait till the grave to feel peace.
3 thoughts on “The Worrisome Mother: Mental health and the family tree”
Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Eric. It’s only when we become vulnerable with one another that we can appreciate each other as a unique creation of God and learn to receive from one another. My brokenness took on a different form, but I had to come to the end of myself before I really started to look up. Keep up the great work you are doing.
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Thanks Judy, appreciate you sharing!
Thanks Eric. Great thoughts and well-written. Lots of cool descriptors to bring me down memory lane and ponder your reflective questions. I’d like to meet your Mom again.
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