Recalibrating the Reality of a Mother-Daughter Relationship

Although I have been known as a chronic daydreamer and an outward over-optimistic person, my grasp on reality has always been firm. While this momentarily causes me to be figuratively and literally unsteady while recalibrating myself, it has been the reason that throughout everything that has erupted throughout my life, I have managed to stay upright. But at this point in time, more than ever, all I want to do is run as far as possible beyond the grasp of the reality surrounding my mother.

Right now it is a struggle to accept the person my mother has become, trying my best to learn to love her as she is now, but is beyond hard. It has been so fucking hard. Perhaps this appears harsh or selfish. Despite my best intentions to convince myself things will go back to the old, not-even-close- to-perfect normal, the reality playing before my eyes cannot be ignored.

This is not the first time I have had to reconfigure my senses regarding my mother. At barely twelve years old, I was forced to adapt with the changes our mother-daughter relationship endured under the strain of chronic illness, as her physical and mental health conditions became the fourth member of our household. For over sixteen years, more than half my existence, I’ve lived with this adjusted role as my mother’s only child. Now as an adult who is acutely aware of the gravity of what is happening, the realistic outlook for the future and the pain plastered across my father’s face, this shift to this new ‘normal’ has been absolutely gut wrenching.

The situational anxiety tends to catch me off guard at the most unexpected times; during my commute home, taking off my makeup after a date, making breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning. In those moments I allow my thoughts to wander without restraint, where I envision unleashing my pent up frustration at my mother, evoking her to fight back, to scream and throw things at my head in a fit of rage.

But most vividly, I imagine her demonstrating an ounce of livelihood, somehow sparking who she used to be while providing me wth a sense of assurance that there is still some logical fight inside of her that can be reached if I just try hard enough. Ultimately, reality snaps back into focus reminding me that the person I am desperately attempting to reach no longer exists.

Just like grasping onto a fistful of sand with all of my might, the grains will always slip through my fingers only leaving traces of dust on my palms. No matter how hard I cling to who she was, it will only leave me empty handed.

Sometimes it is a struggle to pinpoint when the tides began to change and our present situation arrived. For the entirety of 2016, I went no-contact with my mother. Initially, my decision was solely fueled by her increasingly erratic words and actions that introduced a whole new level of unpredictability in our interactions. Over the year leading up to going no-contact, an undeniable change in her mental and emotional status started, however the specifics tend not to be so glaringly obvious while residing in the midst of dysfunction. Though being fully aware that what was transpiring was far from normal, there was no reprieve to digest. After a particularly emotional outburst that left me physically sick for three days, it became apparent something had to change. As time and space dedicated to reflection filled the void left by the absence of her turbulence, I realized that breaking contact was because of my actions. I was the one who needed to reconstruct my expectations, my reactions. Those twelve months of no-contact provided necessary space between myself and the situation for the first time, allowing the ability to grieve, mourn and understand the emotions intertwined in our mother-daughter relationship without her constant chaos present. When I stepped back into my mother’s atmosphere in late January 2017, there was no emotional breakdown or exchanging of harsh words. In fact, she was unaware that an entire year had gone by with her daughter removed. Though there was a recognition of my absence, no comprehension of why I had stepped away or the length of time that passed was present. Perhaps it is for the best that she was spared the heartache, but it served as confirmation of the truth that my greatest fears had already foreshadowed.

Yes, my mother is functioning, recognizes people and can actually masquerade as simply eccentric from afar. We haven’t had an argument in the past nine months, making it the longest stretch of time in our entire relationship. Yet our recent interactions have left me more unnerved than anything I have gone through as her daughter, speaking volumes when reflecting on the hospitalizations, unmanaged mood disorders and uncontrolled outbursts over the years. Never before has talking to her on the phone physically hurt at times, when her voice fills me with dread rather than the once sought relief it used to provide. Knowing my dad is there to contact me if there was an emergency, some days I cannot bring myself to answer her phone calls. When listening several times about the defrosting a lasagna or how she fell again trying to walk to the bathroom is too much to handle. The evening I spent a half hour reasoning with her that she needed to eat something more than crackers and ice tea throughout the day left me more distressed than any screaming match we ever had. There are days where I know my composure will crumble, leaving us both upset, if she calls me by her sister’s name, rather than my own. Although she is standing right in front of me, it has been several month since she said my name while talking to me, and that is a pain that I would not wish on even my worst enemy.

The emotional toll involved with visiting my childhood home has become unavoidable. Previously I had over 27 years of practice of bracing myself for the mood swings associated with stepping into the house. Now it has been replaced by a wave of trepidation that steadily rises, crashing throughout the conversations and interactions during the visit, serving as blatant reminders that mom isn’t herself anymore. More often than not, the tears start falling even before my car pulls out of their development. The emotionally charged forty minute drive back to my apartment consists of me blinking away tears that blur my vision, releasing the knot of anxiety, uneasiness and sadness out of my system before walking back into the life have created for myself. And perhaps the heaviest feeling of all that presses on me after each visit is the guilt; for struggling to accept with an open heart who my mother has become, for not coping as well with this decline; and for wishing at times that some higher power would take her away in the middle of the night before the inevitable further decline strikes.

While this notion is ridiculous to fathom during the moments when my heartache is particularly raw, I know that there will be a day in the not-so-distant future where this period of time will be sorely missed. Similar to the wistful way I yearn for how my mother used to be, with the current circumstances now making her previous life lived on the cusp of unpredictability seem endearing. Because even with the firmest grip, reality has a funny way of making anything but the present moment seem coveted and nostalgic.

Readjusting to a different sunset.
Readjusting to a different sunset.
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