She was 29.
The only explanation they could give was high blood pressure due to stress.
At least that’s all I remember.
She lost the ability to move the right side of her body.
Speaking, writing, walking.
Feeding her baby – my 6 month old sister.
I can’t really tell you specifics – how long her recovery was, how she got through it.
I was a child and spent a lot of time in an imaginary world I had created for myself.
I can tell you that the only way she knew to get our attention was to clap at us. And that a lot of the time she couldn’t make her hands connect.
I can tell you that we found out she was originally left handed, but had been forced to write with her right hand in her early years of schooling.
I can tell you that as she recovered, her slurred speech became a stutter, and that when my mother is truly angry, stressed or simply exhausted, her stutter returns slightly – nearly 24 years later.
A reminder to take it easy. To calm down. To get more sleep. To take care of herself.
6 months ago I was afraid.
I was 28.
I felt that my stress, my anger, my resentment – my inability to cope – was balling up, building into a firestorm.
And that soon, I was going to explode.
The pain in my chest, the shortness of breath. The tension headache. The inability to make a decision, frozen in the middle of the room, tears streaming down my face because I just didn’t know what to do next.
How to feel better.
And I knew that I had to do something. Had to change somehow. Had to admit that this thing, this firestorm causing my muscles to tense and knot – it had to go.
Because at 29, my mother had a stroke.
And I am certain that in the months beforehand, she must have had a firestorm of her own. Threatening to explode at any point.
A firestorm that with treatment, and time, and support, could have been controlled. Hosed into submission.
Left behind as burning embers, allowing recovery on her own terms.
But the late 80s, for all it’s glamour and excess, was not the time for a person, for a mother, to admit to “not coping”. Especially not a mother in the midst of a custody battle for her two eldest children.
That term “not coping” – I use it all the time, for my bad days. But I hate it.
Because it implies some level of inability to care for my children properly. But the truth of it is, the children are consistently, constantly cared for.
And that consistency. That constance? That’s what can send me into a spiral.
My anxiety can be triggered by the slightest moment. After weeks and weeks of good days in a row, the slightest hint of a trigger can blast me into that hole in my head – where nothing is ok and the whole world is on my shoulders.
And then the shallow breathing begins. And once I forget to breath properly, the anxiety is in control and I am not.
And I am suddenly “not coping”.
It’s the most beautiful line I’ve ever heard in relation to mental illness. To “not coping”.
There is no direct line between seeking help and getting better.
There are multiple roundabouts. Dead ends. Taking the wrong exits.
Too many “STOP” signs. Not enough green lights.
It’s not fast.
It’s not meant to be.
It’s not easy.
But an attempt at recovery – it’s better than doing nothing. It’s better than “not coping” more often than “coping”.
It’s better than a firestorm.
It’s better than a stroke.