Distortion of Reality

It was a sunny day and I was on my way home from elementary school. The bus slowed to a squeaky stop and let a group of us kids off. After the bus pulled away, I made the short walk home and knocked on our front door. Mom was always there to let me in. She opened the door, but today she seemed very agitated. I entered and turned to close the door. A quick reflection of light passed across my face and then I was staring at myself. A small mirror was hanging on the inside of the front door. Weird, that's new. I thought.

I turned down our hallway to the living room and there were other small handheld mirrors hanging around the house. To add onto the strangeness, there were folded pieces of paper napkins taped to all the electrical outlets in the room. After moving into the kitchen I realized every outlet was covered in there, too. Paper napkins covered everything metal: stove knobs, most of the microwave and light switches .

I turned to mom and asked, “Why are there mirrors and napkins everywhere?”

She sounded distressed , “To keep the bad people away. They’re hurting me.”

I looked down and her arms were bruised. She then took her right hand, balled it up in a fist and started beating her own left forearm. “Mom, stop. Are you OK? “

She started pacing around the room. “No, they’re out to get me. They’re after me. They’re shocking me. They'll get you, too.”

Then, she was yelling and shaking her fists at the walls. “You leave me alone. I know what you are up to. I know you are after me and my family.” She was frantic and disheveled, half crying, half ranting.

Nine year old me was thinking Who is she talking to? Why does she have bruises? Why is she doing this? Why is she hitting herself? Why would she give herself the bruises? Why the mirrors and napkins? She continued pacing and hollering. Not shouting at me, but at something or someone invisible to my eye. I looked around and didn’t see anyone in the living room. Confused, I tried to explain to her nothing was happening, but it only seemed to heighten her emotional state. She continued on making similar declarations. Even though I could tell she wasn’t yelling at me, I still felt like I was the target of her rage. Quietly, I went to my bedroom and closed the door. I could still hear her moaning and pacing, howling accusations at the unseen. Unable to know what to do, I turned on the TV to drown out her cries and with tears in my eyes I pulled out my homework.

Dad came home from work and tried to reason with her. When she did not listen, his frustration spilled over into anger. This became a huge recipe for disaster. They argued and I threw myself into my schoolwork trying to ignore the pain.

No one to talk to

They argued every time she displayed these manic episodes (up to several times a day). Because of all the arguing between them and his stern attitude, I didn't talk to my dad about my feelings or the situation. I was afraid of being yelled at by him, just like he always yelled at my mom. So I just bottled it all up inside hoping and praying each day my mom would get get better.

Break from reality

What I didn’t realize at the time was my mom was experiencing both delusions and hallucinations. She wasn't just paranoid. She FELT things hitting her arms, like zaps of electricity. She once described it as a feeling of being shocked by an electrical current. Her brain perceived these shocks as being sent by strangers or people she met in the community who were 'out to get her'. Her brain rationalized if she put up the napkins, they would protect her and her family from the zaps (she thought we experienced the shocks, too). The mirrors were hung in an effort to keep 'spirits' or the 'bad people' away. As her mind manifested these delusions and hallucinations, her perception of reality was COMPLETELY distorted. While they were not real, the paranoia and delusions she was experiencing was very real to my mom.

The hallucinations coupled with the delusions were the scariest experiences to my young self. At one point I thought she might be talking to ghosts or even possessed by evil spirits. Not only would she scream at the walls, but she believed the house was bugged with listening devices. So sometimes she would eerily whisper to us or tell us to keep quiet because people were listening to what we were saying. Her perception of this unseen force frightened the heck out of me.

Ripple effects

My mom’s unpredictable paranoia and hallucinations had impacted me severely. I became anxious, always anticipating another episode. My stomach was constantly in knots. I was extremely apprehensive of these situations. I lived in a constant state of sadness, fear and anger: Sad because it shouldn’t be this way. Sad for watching the mind of my beautiful, elegant, intelligent mother wither away. I was fearful of what she would do next. Angry because we couldn’t reason with her. Angry because she wouldn’t listen. Angry because I wanted a normal mom. Angry, angry, angry. So. Much. Anger.

First the paranoia, now this? How much more could I take?