Sanity Sold Separately

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This is my mom.

She is 54 years young. She likes gardening and talking to strangers. She’s a mother of four with an iron will and a tender heart. Her kiss has a sound and if you are lucky enough to have one placed upon your temple, her lips will echo in the background of every beautiful melody you hear forever after.

But she doesn’t know who she is right now.
My experience with mental illness began long before mine ever surfaced, though I would not understand what that meant for quite some time. My first clear memory is from when I was about six:
My mom was seated on the front steps smoking a cigarette. I was watching her from around the corner, noticing that she was crying. I thought she looked beautiful when she cried, and I found it strange even then.
I asked her what was wrong, asked her if she had ‘owies.’ She smiled through her tears and tried to explain that sometimes people just get sad for no real reason at all.
I asked for a Fruit by the Foot and she hummed “Band on the Run” while she fumbled with the packaging.

It always went like that.

As I grew up, I knew that she was struggling, even if I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. Sometimes I asked her, but she just brushed it off and continued to put scrunchies in my hair and coming to school to help me clean out my desk, which was always as messy and colourful as my imagination.

She finally sought help in 2001, where she was met with a diagnoses that indicated her thyroid was not functioning properly. She was also given some antidepressants. She became softer somehow, like falling off of a pair of skis into powder.
She was tired a lot, and because I was so young, I didn’t stop demanding her time and her energy. I didn’t stop shouting “Mom! Mom! Hey, MOM!”
Sometimes I wasn’t sure that she could hear me, even when she was staring right at me.
I heard the term ‘Schizoaffective Disorder’ in the winter of 2009, the first time I watched her stumble across the line between reality and her thoughts; the first time the ambulance came to collect her.
It was difficult not to fear what I had seen, but when I finally got to visit her a couple of days later, she had her hair slicked back in a bandana, she smelled like coconut body butter and waved hello to every person she passed.
That’s the kind of woman she is.

You could be the meanest of mugs, and you still couldn’t intimidate my mother. You could throw boards over every window in the room, but she would learn to make her way in the dark. You could hurl insults left and right, but you would always miss, because she would tune out every word.
My mom is a rare and beautiful creature who meets fire not with aggression, but with the knowledge that fire will eventually burn itself out.
Argue, scream until you are blue in the face, but know that when she says she doesn’t care, she actually MEANS it.

This time when she had to go, we were on vacation, and I was ready.
I saw her off with the understanding that nothing lasts- that life has its own seasons; that we are never any one thing at a time.
When I got to see her the next day, she was as tender as ever, laughing at jokes that didn’t make any real amount of sense, brushing hair from my eyes and simply saying “Well, I don’t like it in here, but it’s okay. Do you think you could bring me a Big Mac tomorrow?”

In the hours that most people would spend in agony, she thought about me, about all of us, because she doesn’t know how not to.

In the days that followed, she took me through the facility and showed me what it had to offer. I was delighted to see that she had the option to bake, play basketball, meditate, and participate in activities like yoga and tai chi.
She showed me all of the art supplies and lit up when she pulled out the pictures she planned to colour for her grand babies.
After a game of twenty one, I cuddled up next to her on her tiny hospital bed; her little spoon. I felt the pressure in my chest release when she said “I feel safe here. I feel like I can heal.”
As she stroked my hair, my mother asked if I was angry with her. She tearfully told me that she was sorry that she gave me this illness; that this was not how she wanted to be remembered.

I turned to face her and told her that I remember her skin being soft like the velvet skirts of the dresses I wore on Christmas eve. I told her I know that if she were stranded on a desert island and had the option to play any album for the last time, it would be The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, but that she would be okay with Cat Stevens and that Van Morrison makes her snap her fingers while she dances.
I reminded her that she could moonwalk across the entire kitchen floor; that I only recall her loving me more than she loved herself.

She gave me far more than an illness. She gave me the ‘oomph’ to work my way through one. She gave me the sense of humour to laugh when my eyes burned too much to continue crying. She gave me the imagination to carry me away from despair and the gratitude to understand that the fact that I’m still here means that I am lucky.
She smiled and asked “Would you write about me?”

Here’s to you, my beautiful-eyed, iridescent soul. Here’s to scrunchies and Barney and Gushers and old English lullabies. We’ll take care of you now.

41 thoughts on “Sanity Sold Separately

  1. I was a friend of lloys in the 80’s ive sometimes wondered what she was doing now.shame to hear shes suffering with mental health issues.i too have been diagnosed bipolar.im on lots of medication so I know what shes going through.i wish her all the luck in the world,just keep taking the meds and live each day as it comes.give her a big hug from me roy Harrison,colins brother.thank you

    • Hi Roy! So good to hear from you! I will let my mom know you reached out, she will be thrilled to know she has another ally in the fight. I’m sad to hear that you too have suffered mental health issues but you’re right, all we have is today. I’m sending you good vibes, please take care!

      • hi karlee yes please do tell your mom.i think your mom is a wonderful person I was shocked to hear of her illness.my sister was living in Vancouver and me here in England and we both were diagnosed bipolar at the same time.its a complete lifestyle change.psychiatrists,counsellors,doctors lots of trial and error tweaking the medications.im on a veryt high dose of antidepressants plus a strong dose of anti psychotic medicine which when taken gives me an hour before it knocks me out.i sleep for 12-14 hours a night.somedays im in bed at 7pm.i try taking my meds later but I usually go to bed at 9pm and I often sleep till 9-930 the next morning.im ok with this as I do what ive got to do during the daytime.if theres anything on tv at night I have to record it and watch it in the morning.at least I can fast forward the commercials.you can tell your mom I wish her well and hope the good is far better than the bad.thanks 🙂

      • Roy, this is a message from my mom:

        “Hello old friend, I never thought I would hear from you again, and I never thought we would share similar feelings about our lives. My daughter Marcy remembers you very well. Thanks for reaching out.
        All my love,

        Lloy.”

      • hi lloy thanks for getting in touch.yes we suffer from the mental illness disease.i left Canada 16 years ago I moved to England then over to Holland for 8 years I was sectioned in 2000 after a severe episode..then moved back to England in 2007 I had another episode,got sectioned and spent 2 months in the nut ward.after much changing with my meds im now stable and have been for quite awhile now.its a tough one but each day as it comes I cope.and on a more positive note I haven’t drank alcohol for 19 years now.im proud of that.i too thought id never hear from you again.you look great in the picture.just stay strong,take your meds and live life on a daily basis.im so glad to hear from you,ive sometimes wondered what youd been doing it all seems so long ago.id like to keep in touch and be interested in your recovery and well being.if ever you want to email me my email address is ”royharrison3@hotmail.com”.take care of yourself lloy xo

      • hi karlee id like to thank you bigtime for passing my message on to your mom.weve since reconnected after 24 years.these past few days talking to her have been brilliant,im also going to my local bipolar group on Monday and im gonna pass around your website address,so we can make more people aware of mental illness.hopefully youll get a good response from the people in Fleetwood.thanks again and you keep up the good work roy

      • Awww, thank you so much Roy! I appreciate you taking the time to read and the fact that you want to share it is incredible. I’m so glad you guys could reconnect, I know she has been so delighted by your conversations since and I know that you will be a wonderful support system for her. I know you’ll be a wonderful support system for each other. You keep up the good work, too, man! Every day is a battle and you are winning. Take pride in that.

  2. What a wonderful daughter you are, so kind and understanding of your mother’s illness. I wish I had such understanding children.

    • Hi Diane!

      Thank you so much. To be clear, I wasn’t always patient and I didn’t always understand. I was diagnosed with a mental illness of my own, and it was the trials and tribulations that came with the diagnosis that taught me patience and compassion. I spent a very long time in deep regret for not understanding her needs sooner. Alas, I have only this moment and the opportunity to change things right now, so here I am!

      I wish you love and luck and if you too, struggle with mental illness, I hope so much that your family grows to understand. If not, know that you are still so deserving of compassion and of support. There are so many people who WILL embrace you for all of the beautiful and painful things that make you a whole being. (And of course, if that was just a general statement, disregard my rambling and know that I thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!)

  3. I also was friends with Lloy in the 80s….I have some amazing memories. As a matter of fact I am in Kelowna visiting right now. Remembering a trip Lloy, Diane and I took to Kelowna many years ago. So many good times. I often thought of her and wished that we would have kept in touch. Just thinking of Lloy puts a smile on my face !! Beautiful person inside and out !!! Please give her a (((hug))) for me. God bless!!♡♡♡♡♡♡ love Brenda

    • Hi Brenda 🙂

      Thanks for getting in touch! My mom will be thrilled to know that you reached out. My mom is a true light to be around and I’m so glad you have such fond memories of her. I will read this to her so that she can reminisce, too! Sending love.

      • I agree with Brenda about those great memories we made on our trip to Kelowna. I have thought of her often and have even asked Brenda if she has heard from her. It’s so nice the caring daughter you are for her. Please give her my love

  4. Beautifully written! To shed some light on your personal situation and acknowledge that there needs to be more activities on the psych unit really struck a chord with me. I am in my fourth year of nursing and am hoping to do my final preceptorship on that unit. I am passionate about mental health, and I think there’s a lot more we could as professionals and as a community to make everyone’s hospital stay a better one. Unfortunately, because of my lack of experience with the unit and with other psychiatric facilities, I don’t know in what capacity it needs to be improved. Hopefully the opening of the new hospital will bring about positive changes, however I would like to see something implemented sooner. Sending you and your family lots of positive vibes!

    • Hey Justine,

      Thank you for your kind words. I remember your cute face from high school. I am so glad to know that it strikes a chord with you as someone coming into the industry with a fresh perspective. I too hope that the new hospital is more set-up for programs directed at the rehabilitation of patients but hope to make a difference in the facility we have currently as well. I have only had one stay in psych but they could definitely use some more funding as far as activities go. When I stayed last there was a single television for the entire unit, with a VCR and a DVD player that nobody understood how to connect half the time. The fitness equipment is quite old and outdated and at the very least they could use a nice stereo and maybe a disc library to play if they want to exercise since I personally didn’t have access to headphones. I would love it if I could raise enough hype to bring in volunteers or funds to bring in some pros teach yoga or meditation. Art is supposed to be quite healing and I think they could really milk that with some art therapy. What I really want most of all is to see the patients being engaged positively, not just every couple of days for a group outing and a daily 10 minute visit from a doctor. I know that there is not a ton of space but I truly feel as if there is more we can do until the new hospital is finished.

      I’m truly grateful for the people who keep the patients safe and for an area to put them during crisis to begin with, but I want to try and make it a little more efficient for all involved. Thank you for being so passionate about mental health and for taking the time to read and comment. People like you are the reason that mental health initiatives are getting the attention they deserve.

  5. Karlee How beautiful you write! Even one who has never met your Mom would know who much is loved and how remarkable of a mother she is! Please let me know when she is up for visits…..Hug her for me!!!
    Cousin Brenda

    • Hi Brenda!

      Thank you so very much. I am so proud to hear that I have written well enough to reflect her light. I will certainly let mom know that you were in touch. I’m sure she would love to see you.

  6. Having a mental illness myself, along with relatives who have it worse and the family members who have to also learn to live with these realities… This hit close to home! How beautifully written; A truly inspirational tribute. It sounds to me that you were very lucky to have such a loving mother. One that was both selfless, but smart enough to know she was no use to anyone if she did not take the time to be her best self as well; even if that meant stays away from home! Thank-you for both sharing this and for trying to make a difference for others!! ❤

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. My mom always did the best that she could with whatever she had. She’s the kind of woman who brings her own sunshine despite all of the rain and if I am even a fraction of anything like her, I will have lived a good life. I’m sorry to hear that you struggle too, but I know that your story consists of far more than could ever be put into the suffocating compartment that is your mental illness. Keep fighting. I’m sending you and your family strength and good vibes.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I love the open talks now a days about mental health. Your mother sounds like an amazing fighter and must be so proud to have beautiful soul like you on her side. Even in the darkest hours I see a pinhole of light. Thank you again.

    • Thank YOU for reading and for finding inspiration in our story. The light is there, no matter how small the hole. It always beats out the darkness. My mom IS an incredible warrior and she appreciates your support so very much!

  8. What a heart warming true story of a beautiful love between a Mom and daughter. I remember Lloy from her high school days when I worked there, She was a beautiful young lady with a smile that would warm your heart. So friendly and gracious. We never know what walk life will take us on but I am sure glad she has such an loving and understanding daughter. Not likely that she would remember me but my name was Eileen Floen at that time and I am Sherry Rude Janzen’s Aunty.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. My mom is so happy to know that so many people have heard her story, remember her so fondly and have offered her such support. You are wonderful and I will certainly pass on this message!

  9. Thank-you. That was a very tender story. Feeling safe from your own mind is the best place to be.sometimes it takes a short stay to prioritize to get the help you desperately need. Best of Luck…

  10. Thank you for sharing this with us. I myself am a mother and have always felt great guilt due to having bipolar disorder along with PTSD etc. I pray each and everyday that my children never have to live with this and that somewhere deep inside they will know how much I truly love them and would give them the world if I could. My Children are grown adults now and we are just starting to make strong bonds. I apologized to my daughter one day for not being the kind of mother that made all the home cooked meals and had the perfectly clean home. Her words to me that day will remain in my heart forever. She told me. ” Mom, you did a good job, you taught us how to take care of ourselves and because of that we can do things that other people take for granted. We know how to cook and clean and we know how to treat other people.” In my heart I hope that I have been able to teach them how to love themselves just as much as they love their own children.

    • Hi Deanna,

      I cried reading this. I want you to know that your daughter is right. You may not have been able to live and teach according to the standards set by society, but the message still came across in a very real and loving way. She and I understand something that will probably always be a source of guilt for you and for my own mother. What we understand is that you did the best that you could with what you had and that is more than a lot of parents are able to say for themselves. Please know that you are not alone and that there will always be people like me, who write to remind you that you are so much more than a scribbled diagnosis on paper. Sending you love and strength.

  11. Karlee no matter what it is your writing always leaves me with so many wonderful emotions, and usually a big lump in my throat. You are so full of soul and beautiful words! I hope your mama is doing well and you too! You’re so very clearly an inspiration to so many people and that, my friend, is a beautiful thing. You will do big things, this is for sure!

  12. This touched me deep in my soul. I too am bi-polar with schitzophranic tendancies and have passed my illness to my 16 yr old daughter. She hates me and she loves me and she doesn’t want to be like me. I hope one day she can remember that she was my everything and the only reason I had to keep living. I will pray for your Mom and your family.

  13. Hello,
    I love what you have shared with us. I want to help I want to learn more! Can’t wait to hop on my computer and read more of your blogs I follow you on Instagram. And read the last two latest blogs. I hope you and your mom are doing good!

    Angie

    • Hi Angie!

      It’s so lovely to hear from you. Thank you so, so much for reading and for your kind words! I can’t explain how wonderful it is to feel your support. I hope you are doing so well, too!

  14. I just read your story about your mom , it is so beautifully written you brought me to tears . You have an amazing talent I enjoyed reading your articles.

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