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Living With a Bipolar Mother

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The last time I saw my mother, we spent two weeks together in a hotel room in Dallas. We'd met there so a world-renowned neurosurgeon could remove a cyst near her spine.

Anyone with aging parents understands that it's best not to think too far ahead in fear of what's next. I'd long written my situation off as more complicated than that of other children because of my mother's bipolar disorder.

The best way I can describe this mental illness to those who are unfamiliar is that the sufferer often lives within the confines of their own extremes, euphoric highs that feel both exciting and joyfully scary, and pit-of-stomach lows. The ups and downs I felt as my mother's child seemed just as ground shaking as the illness itself.

When I saw the water retreating before her next big wave, I was left looking for solid things to hold onto. I braced myself for the impending, grabbing onto the arms of aunts, uncles, even friends' parents. I looked to their faces for consolation, asking, "Is this normal?" and "Will I be?"

The cyst was removed successfully. Her doctor ordered her to stay put until she'd healed for at least a week. A few days deep, when both of us were craving more space, my mother sparked a discussion about how we'd been best friends when I was a little girl, and "What had happened?"


Snowballing quickly, harmless comments evolved into suspicions of why I'd moved to California in the first place. "It must be because of me," she'd said with a sharp tongue. "You must not love me." She continued, hollering that I must not ... not if I can just put her on a shelf back East and leave her there alone. She grew more excited. I became curt. She cried. I ate dinner sitting next to her that night, a million mental miles away. I was ready for Dallas to be over.

I'm not sure that our relationship will ever be "normal," but each day I become more okay with that. I can now see the difference between it and her. I love her, but I'm still fighting it.

With a Perspective, I'm Laura Vrcek.

Laura Vrcek is a writer based in Oakland.

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