WE HELD GOD’S HAND—Part I
To Be Sane In An Insane World Is To Be Insane
—Hudde Jr. High School Year Book Motto
Elaine's Note: This quote was my junior high school’s graduating class motto. Back then I thought that pretty much described my family. As an adult looking back, I’ve learned of so many whom—for various reasons—have struggled with childhood heartache. Some turned to vices to escape; others just treaded water to cope. But what do you do when it’s your family that’s cracked up and you can’t run far?
When I joined ACFW, I came across Angela Breidenbach’s website. Whoa. This woman too had a paranoid-schizophrenic mother. Recently, I contacted Angie and she has graciously and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity to dialogue about this “touchy” issue. It is our hope and prayer that this will encourage others with painful pasts to move forward and to embrace life.
We’d love to hear from commenters. However, please note that we are NOT dispensing any professional psychiatric advice. These are our opinions based upon our own experiences. Also, there is NO condemnation of family or friends expressed in either Part I or Part II (which will be posted next week).
Elaine: When you're a mere child, the world is narrowed to one's family, perhaps some friends, and events. A child raised in a socially unhealthy home may not realize that life is untypical. When was it, Angie, that you first remembered something about your mom/family being a bit askew?
Angela: I realized Mom was different when I was about ten. That's when friend's parents began saying no to play dates and invitations that I actually knew about. Prior to that, parents used to set up play dates. We had family friends and I didn't play much outside of that circle so it wasn't apparent. We moved so much between my preschool and third grade I didn't know anyone anyway.
Once we settled into a house in third grade, she'd complain about neighbors sneaking around outside our house and anyone in authority like the pastor or police. I'm sure it happened before, but I actually noticed it around the time I turned ten.
About that same time my social skills didn't keep up with other school children. I didn't understand why then, but now I can look back and recognize I wasn't being taught the same way about social behavior. I tended to be very uncomfortable in groups, distrustful, I didn't catch standard social cues, and I didn't understand normal conversational patterns. I also craved attention so I'd say things I shouldn't, or not know the right thing to say, and other kids didn't have the maturity to understand that odd duck. Mom was so busy in her own mind dealing with hallucinations and extreme emotion, there wasn't a lot of time for a child's need to be cared for. But again, I didn't understand this until my adult years.
By the time I was twelve, I started buying my own clothes because she was divorced and not able to keep a job. I did odd jobs from working in a short summer job pulling skeet to babysitting to cleaning houses until I was old enough to get a job on the record. But I didn't do well because I didn't understand organization. Life was chaotic so anything organized was foreign. Then later when I could work legally, I picked either food shops or clothing stores because the discounts helped me. ;-)
Elaine: For me, flashes of my mother acting terrified of stray dogs (at the time, we lived in East New York, a rough section of Brooklyn with many packs of stray dogs, let alone riffraff) comes to mind. Sure, I think it's normal to be cautious around any animal whose teeth is sharper than mine, but I remember my mother going out of the way to guide my brother and me across the street and then rush away as if any second the dogs would come up behind us and attack. But, one distinct memory surfaces. We lived in an apartment building, on the 4th floor. I was about six, playing with a friend in her apartment, on the 6th floor. Suddenly, my mother knocked on the door and said I had to leave. And fast. Once away from my friend, she warned me that a gang of teenagers was about to strike our building and cause a lot of trouble--that they'd been hitting every building in the area. We needed to escape downstairs before they got to us . . .but we shouldn't use the elevator because they could trap us and hurt us. So, we descended down the stairs, quiet and attentive for the slightest sound that trouble was gaining on us. Later, I overheard someone--and I can't remember whom, perhaps my father or a neighbor--telling my mother that absolutely no one was going from building to building and hurting others.
I was extremely shy as a child. I'm sure this incident didn't help my trust in others. Though, the one thing I recall during this time was not so much my own fear but rather feeling very sorry for my mother because she was afraid, and then later, either embarrassed or in denial or both, that she had to live in this terror, that this terror in her mind had become her real world and not like the pretend world when I played with my dolls and made things up.
Angela: I have similar memories. Everyone trying to convince Mom she was imagining it all. My mom's fears had us run from the FBI in the middle of the night. I was 11. She'd been hospitalized at Colorado General in their mental ward. Somehow (and I don't know how) she'd escaped. She managed to get to my grandparent's house several miles away from the hospital and hid in the basement. She really scared them. She had all the lights out and made them whisper. They called my step-dad. He brought us. All night he tried to get her to go back to the hospital. We were put to bed in our clothes, shoes too. Told to be ready to run by Mom.
It happened. She woke us up in the dark, wee hours. She'd made my step-dad park the car up around the corner. We raced around the block, watching behind us, terror-filled that someone was going to catch us. My step-dad then drove all around central Denver trying to convince her to go back to the hospital. As morning dawned, she tried jumping out of the car while it was moving. I watched him grabbing at her to keep her in while steering through traffic. Finally after what seemed like hours, she agreed to go back to the hospital.
She escaped a second time and stole a truck. This time she was taken to jail and then released back to the hospital. The sad part is after she was stable, and released, she divorced my step-dad. Even sadder, he really loved her. That's a hard thing to find when dealing with mental illness. She divorced both my dads over their desire to get her help. Heart breaking because she was so lonely for so many years after those decisions.
Elaine: With us, our world/community gradually but steadily shrunk. What little friends my parents had seemed to drift away. Looking back, I imagine it was difficult to maintain an ongoing relationship with my mother who increasingly stayed longer and longer in her room. My mother's extended family also seemed to drift, perhaps each of her siblings channeling energy into their own growing families. Perhaps my mother pushed them away; I really don’t know, except we were pretty much left alone. I think there was a huge depression factor going on as well, tinged with some self-pity from her own difficult childhood day. In my early years my father worked 7 days a week. With growing alienation, both physical and mentally, it seemed as if my mother was pushed into the decline of schizophrenia. Funny, how that word is still difficult for me to say.
Hospitals and doctors seemed to come into the picture when I was about 8. Vaguely, I recall my mother being treated for something, but it wasn't discussed. Of course, this was back in the 60s when mental illness was still shut behind the closet door. Then again, it probably was because my brother and I were young . . .but still, children *know* when their parents are hurting, especially when they're in emotional agony. When I was 12 my father was in a sledding accident that almost cost him his life. After weeks in the ICU he came home, but then it seemed as if my mother suffered a "break down" and seemed to disappear for a couple of weeks.
Divorce came up on tearful evening when I was 6--a night my brother and I watched Sesame Street. She stormed into our shared bedroom to announce the end of our family, which didn't happen until ten years later, when she ran away from home when I was 16. Before the divorce was final--when I was 18--and she'd come home to try again with my father--there was another stint in the psychiatric hospital where she stayed about a month.
Angela: Wow, we do have very similar life patterns. My mother stayed in her bedroom all the time too. Sometimes she'd get on the mania high, come out and go shopping for new dress. She was sure that would get her a job. Then she'd work for a few months before we started into the cycle again.
Elaine: I think along the lines of suffering any kind of abuse, I lucked out. My troubled mother pretty much became a recluse. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I do have some fond memories, like her taking my brother and me to movies or museums. Did you have any physical trauma? The only thing physical I can remember was her coming after me with a dish towel—just out of the blue and swatting me a bunch of times. A mother blowing off steam? A disturbed mother imagining I was something or someone else? I don’t know. Emotionally, she did play some mind games on me, like giving me a fat complex (photos showed I was an average weight child) and threatening me that I might have to wear a girdle (remember those things?). I was 8! It seemed like that whatever way she could knock my self-esteem, she did.
And phobias. To this day, stray dogs still make me nervous. This reminds me of another hallucinatory time of hers: I was having eye surgery when I was 9 and upon being admitted into the hospital, she had me convinced that a pack of doctors were about to descend on me and draw vials of blood—gives new meaning to vampires, I guess.
Angela: Did you have to pick up something of adulthood like working to eat or buy clothes?
Elaine: You mentioned being organized earlier, or not being :) In my case, I clung to the other extreme, wanting, needing structure. To this day I'd say I'm still that way, appreciating schedules, organization . . .though I admit housework is not my thing! I think that's why I gravitated toward reading, writing (in junior high I wanted to be the next Neil Simon), and doing well in school.
Though I wasn't forced, I did take on little paying jobs at I think an unusually early age--I was 8 and babysat. Does that count?
For a while my mother had part time jobs here and there. Seems to me I was a young latchkey child, whether it was because she worked (my father was always, always away, due to work or his dedication to the Boy Scouts). My brother and I were pretty much on our own. How we didn't wind up in trouble was amazing (I'm sure God kept His hand on us). Actually, as I grew older and watched my mother's health decline I went out of my way *not* to mess with my own mental health. No way did drugs or booze or anything to alter my mind appeal to me, and believe me, as a city kid, there was plenty of temptation all around. To this day I do not drink or partake in drugs. I still don't know what it's like to be stoned on pot and have no desire to find out.
Angela: I am very mentally organized. But alas, the housework is not my fav either, lol. Seriously, I also stayed away from drugs and alcohol. I dealt too much with the fear I'd be out of control. I dealt with a constant fear of being illogical. I didn't want to appear or feel in any way illogical. That's a tough place to live because that's the heart of where embarrassment comes from too. Not wanting to be embarrassed or misunderstood or crazy. Not wanting to be associated with crazy. Not wanting the world to look at me through eyes of judgment. Such a teetering edge.
Elaine: Yes!! It was definitely a fear of losing control of your mind. And embarrassment. Socially, my mother embarrassed me quite a bit—saying negative things about me in front of others. The last thing I wanted was to embarrass myself.
And let’s face it, one of the biggest price tags of mental illness—whether it’s yourself or a loved one—and despite present day society’s “advance” way of seeing things—mental illness has a stigma attached to it. For many years I didn’t tell anyone about my mother because, aware that they’d misunderstand, I didn’t want to have someone assume that I’ll be just like her.
Readers, did you feel like you grew up in a crazy household? What do you see now looking back from an adult's perspective? We’d love to hear from you.
GUEST BLOGGER'S BIO:
Angela Breidenbach is Mrs. Montana International 2009, a multi-award winning inspirational speaker and the author of the Gems of Wisdom: For a Treasure-filled Life from Journey Press, the Creative Cooking Series including the new release of Creative Cooking for Simple Elegance and the new Kindle release, Creative Cooking for Colitis. Other works by Angela include compilation books and devotionals from Guidepost, Group, and articles in magazines, ezines, and newspapers. She connects missions to her work with Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries and the Jadyn Fred Foundation. Angela also teaches online classes and coaches one-on-one in courageous confidence, personal growth, and powerful living. She’s certified in mentor/peer counseling as a Stephen Minister and life coach. Angela serves as an assisting minister for her congregation in Missoula, MT. She volunteered as the American Christian Fiction Writer's publicity officer for two years. Not only did she walk the hard line of deciding to donate her mom's brain for the study of schizophrenia, but she’s also on the brain donation list at the Brain Bank-Harvard McLean Hospital. Angela is married with a combined family of six grown children and two grand children.
Confidence Coach & Purposeful Living Educator
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Interact with or learn more about Angela Breidenbach:
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“Angie has amazing passion and mission for helping others achieve their goals and live healthy, fulfilled lives. With her eye always on the Big Picture, she is an unending source of inspiration, energy and empowerment for others.”“Any cause Angie supports is truly blessed. She has so much energy and passion.”
~ Tosca Lee – Gallup Organization Senior Consultant/Performance Coach & Christian Author of Demon: A Memoir and Havah: Story of Eve.
~ Tosca Lee – Gallup Organization Senior Consultant/Performance Coach & Christian Author of Demon: A Memoir and Havah: Story of Eve.
~ Linda Bauman – Owner, Market Place Media
Memberships: ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), AWSA (Advanced Writers Speakers Association), and RWA (Romance Writers of America)