When I started attending an outpatient drug treatment program in 2001, I had a lot of dreams about using crack. My dreams were so real to me. One night, I saw myself buy crack in an old building and put the piece in a pipe. As I was inhaling, I woke up terrified, holding my breath.
My dreams seemed to continue when I was awake. I started hearing voices that told me, “You don’t need it,” or, “Get out of here.” I also had visions of a dark shadow hovering over me.
I was scared. I did not understand what was happening. So I told my counselor and soon saw a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia. I began therapy at a walk-in mental health clinic and started taking two medications to stabilize my mood.
It took time for me to understand borderline. It seems to mean that I have severe mood swings. I can be fine one moment and full of rage or suicidal the next.
Pain from My Past
My rage and mood swings are related to the pain and fear I went through as a child. My parents lost custody of me when I was 5, and an abusive family adopted my sister and me. I still remember their house. On the outside it looked so pretty—yellow with a gray brick fence around it and two cars in the driveway—but our life inside was ugly.
The father and sons molested my sister and me. They were always touching us. Our adoptive mother did not believe us when we told her about the abuse, and she beat me with a belt or her bare hands. She would make me bend over the edge of the bed and tell me, “I am not going to stop until my hand hurts,” and sure enough, that is what she would do.
No matter how I would try to get away, she would whip my legs and my arms, or she would hold my head down and whip me on my head. I remember my yells of pain: “Stop!” and “I am sorry!”
As I got older, I became addicted to drugs and started cutting to give myself a numb feeling. Later on, I tried to kill myself and was hospitalized. I also overdosed on crack. I wanted to get so high that I would die.
Scared of Myself
My rage scares me. I have hit my computer with my fist and bruised my hands. I’ve even hit strangers. Once a woman I passed on the stairs brushed me really hard and I turned and started hitting her with my rolled-up newspaper, calling her a bitch. Another time a woman in a store wouldn’t let me use my food stamp card for something that cost 50 cents and called me stupid in Spanish. I went behind the counter and started to punch her and pull her hair.
One of my worst incidents was when I came at my husband with a knife and a bat (after years of abuse). I was hospitalized for three days. They had me strapped to a bed and gave me an injection because I could not stop hitting people.
In those moments, the pressure in my chest was so hot and I felt anxious to hit and be released from the pressure. My husband always says, “Oh, you are just mean and you want to start trouble.” But it is like my mind is separated into two parts. I feel like another person, an evil person who just wants to be free of anger and loneliness.
Affected Every Day
When I completed drug treatment, and my daughter came home from foster care, I stayed in therapy for a year because the court required it. The medication helped me stay calm. But in 2004, I stopped going. I wanted to stop being monitored and felt that I did not need medication.
Soon after, I realized that I’m an unstable person, and I went back to the walk-in clinic. This time, the psychiatrist said that I did not have schizophrenia—the voices and visions were just part of my withdrawal from crack—but I do have borderline and anxiety. I went on Zyprexa and Seroquel. Unfortunately, the Zyprexa made me so sleepy I could not function in school or care for my daughter. I spoke with the doctor, but she just said that it would take time for me to adjust. In fact, she wanted to increase my dose. So I went off it altogether once again.
I have tried to convince myself that I’m fine without medication. But recently I’ve started to see that my mental illness affects me every day.
‘I Am So Tired!’
Right now, I’m trying to finish college. At school, I find myself feeling very anxious and lonely. I see girls with their little boyfriends and I see people having lunch, laughing and having fun together. I want what the other students seem to have, but I have trouble making friends.
When I get home at night, I am so tired. As I walk in, I imagine what a relief it will be to kick off my shoes and relax. But no, it is not possible. Nothing is done. My daughter has not started her homework. She and my husband have left dishes in the sink.
At those moments, I do not want to see my husband or hear his voice. I think to myself, “He is home until 2:30 every day and he cannot even wash a dish or sweep? I hate him. I really hate him.” I remember when he used to hit me and all the pain he put me through before we got clean.
My hands shake with anger because I feel like everything falls on my shoulders. I want to break every dish. Some days I slam books on the floor out of anger or just scream at the kitchen sink, saying, “I am tired! Just tired of everything!”
A Good Mother
Despite my outbursts, I know I am a good mother. I sit with my daughter and we do art projects or play games online. I help her with homework, meet with her teachers and take her to therapy (she also has been diagnosed with anxiety). I like to laugh and be with my daughter, just us.
I especially love to plan events for my daughter. I try to make sure she has good memories. Six months ahead of time, I begin to buy Christmas presents or plan her birthday games and save money for the cake.
I still remember her 4th birthday with pride. We had games for the kids and the parents and the theme was Power Puff girls. Everything was pink and purple, from the 100 balloons to a piñata full of candy.
A Zone of Anger
At times, though, I yell at my daughter. We argue about her homework. She’ll say, “I’m tired. I want to watch TV.” I offer to help her and she still refuses. I try to be patient but I hate to repeat myself and have a tug of war with her. Some nights I tell her calmly: “Sweetheart, you have to do it.” But other nights I’ll just grab the notebook and yell, “You have to do it!” then slam the book on the floor.
I know all parents get upset with their kids and yell sometimes, but I get into a zone of anger where my hands feel like grabbing something and throwing it, or hitting something.
I am able to calm down if I send my daughter to her room so she’s safe. Then I’ll slam my hands on the table or just curse at myself and turn up the music real loud. I listen to my Marc Anthony, remember the good moments in my life and write on Facebook about how I am feeling. Soon I can breathe and remember that I have my daughter in the next room.
A Look of Terror
Once the moment passes, I go in my daughter’s room. She looks at me with a look of terror. I tell her, “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry if I scared you,” and hug and kiss her. I tell her, “It’s not you that I’m mad at. I’m just stressed out right now. I’m so sorry if you thought it was your fault.”
My daughter knows I have a problem. I tell her, “Mommy is going to get help again and then I will not be so upset.”
I’m proud to say that I have never put a hand on my daughter. I remember the way that I felt when I was spanked as a child. I don’t want my daughter to have that feeling in her stomach, the twists and turns of worrying what will happen, and the sting of the belt or her mother’s hand on her bottom.
I have learned so many things in parenting classes that have worked for us: take something away from the child, have a time-out, talk to her and let her know that her behavior is wrong. I have even had her talk to the Bishop or Sister at our church when she’s been acting up, and it works.
‘Are You OK?’
Even so, I do worry that I’m hurting my daughter. I know from her little face that she’s confused and scared when I yell or bang things. If I yell at her dad, she really yells at me: “Just be quiet!”
Sometimes I tell her, “I’m sorry, but Mommy is mad and I need to yell.” But it kills me inside to know that my daughter is mad at me and I have hurt her.
My daughter is being treated for anxiety disorder, ADHD and separation anxiety disorder. Like me, she sometimes yells and slams her books down, or tears up her paper. When she is angry, her face changes and I get scared. I do not want her to be mad at me.
I have spoken to my daughter’s therapist about her homework problems and am learning to let her take her time. Now I sit with her on the couch while we each do our own homework. I ask her, “Are you OK? Do you need my help?” If she does, I help her, even though it takes time from my work. It is working out for both of us.
For a while I’ve known I needed to go back to treatment. As a parent, I want to change and I need to change. I need to stop being angry and mean. I do not want my daughter to be scared of me. I don’t want to be scared that someone will call CPS on me for yelling in my apartment.
This past fall, my stress started to get out of hand. I felt like I was splitting in two, or even three, like I had three different people inside of me that wanted to do crazy things. I felt like hurting myself and just giving up on my life. I hated who I was and feared who I could become.
Finally, I went to a clinic for treatment. The doctor did something for me that no other doctor had ever done: he really listened to me talk. I felt like I was finally being heard and could release all of my feelings inside. He made me feel comfortable, like I was not crazy. He said he would help me find weekly therapy so that I could deal with my childhood abandonment and abuse. He explained my disorder and reassured me that, with medication and more sessions, I will get better.
The doctor said he would put me on Zyprexa, the same medication that made me sleepy, but when I explained my symptoms, he changed it to Abilify (for anxiety) and Klonopin and Depakote (for mood swings).
I can tell the meds are working. I feel somewhat calmer, although I still have mood swings and feel hostile and nervous inside.
With my disorder, I think I am always going to feel scared and angry and alone. I’m sad that I will always have to take medications in order to feel more normal. But right now, I also feel hopeful that I can learn more about my illness and grow stronger. I can feel that the medications are making me more stable. I hope that, with therapy and treatment, I can find my way toward becoming a calmer mother to my daughter.