This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post: Huff Post Living Canada on March 15, 2015
Written by Arthur Gallant, @ArthurGallant27
I am a firm believer that while mental illnesses may be defined by some as a disability, it can also frequently enable people such as my mother and I. There isn’t much I have in common with my mother but one thing we both have is a mental illness. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression while my mother has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability.
From a young age I had to assist my mother in everyday tasks such as banking, grocery shopping, and chores around the house. Growing up, it never crossed my mind that I wasn’t living a “normal childhood.” It never really crossed my mind this was unusual until CAS apprehended me when I was nine.
For most of my time in CAS, I kept hearing my caseworkers and group home staff talk so negatively about my mother and how she wasn’t a ‘normal parent.’ Some days it felt like they made her out to be such a monster as if she wasn’t human. I felt like if my mother knew what professionals were saying about her, it would take away her dignity.
My mother no doubt has her share of challenges and as she grows older, I feel like I have to step in and assist my mother more and more often. Some of the things I have to help my mom with are:
– Keeping an eye on her bank account ensuring the bills are paid on time and helping her to budget,
– Reminding her that she can’t wear the same clothes 3 days in a row without washing them in between and making sure she is doing laundry on a regular basis and ensure she knows to use laundry detergent
– Taking a bath/shower means more than just rinsing herself with water, that she needs to use soap and shampoo
– Ensuring her vulnerability is kept to a minimum and not talk to strangers she meets on the city bus or in a food court and discuss things like her address and the times she’s usually not home
– If she spills something she can’t just let it sit there and instead needs to use soap and/or a disinfectant
I did not post these things to humiliate my mother, but rather to give you an understanding of a day in the life of the kinds of struggles my mother deals with. She considers herself normal and doesn’t see anything wrong in the above list. Those things can be corrected and taught and at the end of the day, they’re not a big deal.
One thing I absolutely must note and the whole purpose for this specific post about my mother is to discuss something my mom possesses that cannot be taught: how to love.
Last week my 15-year old Yorkie passed away, we adopted him when he was two months old right before CAS took custody of me. My mom and I both knew the day would come when Rusty would die and we tried to brace ourselves for it. I knew my mom loved him, but until he died I never knew just how much.
My mom cared for Rusty in a way I can only hope she cared for me when I was a baby. My mom cradled him and talked to him like he was her son, if he wasn’t feeling well she quickly figured out what was wrong and how to get him back to normal–I saw that with my own eyes. But one thing I didn’t realize until Rusty’s passing was how much she loved that dog. Not because she mistook him for a human baby, but because she genuinely enjoyed having a living thing that she knew depended on her. It was as if she had a second chance at raising and taking care of a living thing, this time without intervention from the authorities–nobody to swoop in to take her baby away. Now her baby is gone, taken away from her by the universe. She can’t go to court to try and get Rusty back like she tried to do for me.
As my mom is grieving, locking herself in her bedroom holding Rusty’s picture and crying I have learned one thing: My mom loved that dog so much, she loved him in a way that I can’t even begin to describe yet very refreshing to see.
Criticize my mother all you want for her lack of life skills or for raising me in an unconventional way. But one thing you cannot deny is my mother has one ability that many people lack and cannot be taught: The ability to love.