I was so scared as Mom held my brother and me tight while we knelt in the middle of a public street in front of our house. I could sense something was wrong even at the tender age of 5, but I didn’t know exactly why Mom had suddenly become so distressed. I watched her anguished face as she looked at the sky and pleaded with God and tore a Bible to shreds. Our parents had been separated a year. After the macabre ritual, my brother and I moved in with our grandmother. Mom became a mystery, a yearning we carried through the remainder of our childhood. After a time we moved again to live with Dad who provided us stability and safety. Mom came into the picture rarely as a brief mention.

Ten years later having become freshly independent, Mom came around, and I was anxious to get to know the woman on my own terms. Not long afterward she began acting strangely. Her behavior became domineering, aggressive and agitated. Suddenly, over the course of a few days, she was out of control, defecating in our yard and speaking rapidly and nonsensically about the children of the world. She also began carrying a baby doll inside her pants and demanded I bow to her out of respect. Not knowing what to do, I called 911. In the ER, she hissed and shot piercing looks at me as if I were her worst enemy. She was transferred to a psychiatric hospital where the physicians explained to us her condition-BIPOLAR II. This mental illness is characterized by high and low mood swings and manic episodes. After a month she had returned to baseline and discharged from the hospital. I had witnessed for the second time one of her manic episodes, but this time I finally understood what was happening.

Since then, she’s had several hospitalizations. Knowing her condition hasn’t made the relationship any easier. We view the world quite differently. Her daily behavior is flanked with extremes; elation, egocentrism, depression, and refusal to medicate properly. During this time we tried hard to “fix” Mom by keeping her close, and pushing her away when things became unbearable. Mom never changed. We finally accepted to love her while keeping a conservative distance so we could live our own lives too.