It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.
Then came my mother’s psychosis.
I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.
My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.
But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.
She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.
Winner of a GOLD MEDAL in the 2015 eLit Book Awards!
My story has been featured on:
IndianExpress.com Living with a Psychotic Mother: People Were Sorry After She Died, Not When She Was Ill
StigmaFighters.com You Don’t Have to Be Mentally Ill to Suffer from the Stigma of Mental Illness
What readers are saying about On Hearing of My Mother’s Death:
Inspiring! – Five Stars (Amazon.co.uk)
“This true account of a girls struggle is nothing but inspiring. Lori had to struggle to survive as her mother became the victim of mental illness; her illness became Lori’s nightmare too. The story itself is heart-breaking to read but what surprised me was the author’s lack of self-pity. Your heart goes out to the young girl who had to escape and ended up living alone in a car to avoid the horrors of home; facing other setbacks along the way. Another incredible element of this story is how you feel towards her mother; cruel at times. Only Lori explains her mental state in such a way you can’t fully hate her mother. You feel for them both. Those acts were not done out of malice but an illness she couldn’t control and no help was given.
It is a true account of mental illness from experience and Lori opens up some very painful memories. I’ve been inspired by this story; no matter what life throws at you in the end it is down to you. It is you that can change things around. I personally think Lori Schafer is a very brave and strong woman. I’ve always had a loving home, yet still moan at trivial things, I shouldn’t. This story made me realize it isn’t about money or material things that make you rich. What makes you rich is having a safe and happy place to just be. I’m sorry this wasn’t the case for her, but I hope life is better for her now.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Please read this and support this wonderful lady.”
Here’s what some of my Twitter followers are saying:
“@LoriLSchafer Hi Lori, I read the entire thing in two sittings, couldn’t stop reading, loved it. Style was awesome, very accomplished thanks
Captured really well to the point of dredging memories in my own head, exploding ones, etc, made me uncomfortable = EFFECTIVE!
The bit inside the step-gran’s closet was pure gold. Creepy, weird gold, but pure nonetheless”
“@LoriLSchafer I read it in one sitting. I wanted to give you a hug.
“@LoriLSchafer @amazon A poignant #read. Highlighting how terrifying living with someone with severe #mentalillness is. Lori I commend you.”
I rose slowly from the table where I had been studying. Deliberately donned my lavender raincoat, my hands shaking, sweat forming along my hairline like condensation over a steaming pot. Chose my words carefully, not wanting to suggest more than I meant.
“I am going to school.”
I nudged past her to the door, placed my hand on the knob, and gave it a yank. She yanked back, all of her considerable might concentrated on the bones of my wrists, dislodging my grip from the door and sending me crashing through the sheetrock, leaving a nearly woman-sized hole in the wall.
“What do you want from me?!” she yelled nonsensically, as if I were a disobedient child having a fit of temper.
“I want my life back!” I shouted, conscious of the melodrama of it, my pathetic cry, but aware, too, that there was no elegant way to express what I wanted. And no hope of making her understand it even if I found the words with which to explain it.
She didn’t answer, but swung me forcibly around again, causing me to hit the opposite wall of the foyer sideways, leaving a smaller, skinnier trench in the sheetrock. And then grabbed me by one hand, dragged me out to the car, and threw me inside as if I were an uncooperative luggage bag that had been carefully packed but still refused to clamp shut.
I swallowed, rubbing my wrist, relief flowing through me like the midsummer rainshower that so briefly releases the nearly constant tension of northeastern summer skies. I could still make an appearance at detention, might still be able to graduate on time and get out of this hellhole once and for all. She backed blindly out of the driveway and took off, far faster than usual. But not in the direction of my school. Towards the border, the state line.
“I could take you away,” she’d told me once, smugly, after the first time I’d made a break for it and had to be hauled forcibly home. “Take you to the airport and fly you anywhere I want to; somewhere no one will ever find you. And I am your mother and there is absolutely nothing that anyone could do to stop me.” She’d smiled complacently, humming cheerfully under her breath. Pleased with her cleverness, the infallibility of her plan, her power.
I held hard to my seat and harder to my fear. I focused on it, drew strength from it. I didn’t speak. In silence I awaited an opportunity, a happenstance, a careless moment, while she screeched around wet, sandy curves, slamming me sideways, partly restrained by the seatbelt that was intended to ensure my safety but which was hemming me in, trapping me in the car with her like a circus animal in a traveling cage.
“You want a life?” she snarled unexpectedly as we approached a glaring red stop sign, barely tapping the brakes. “I’ll kill us both!”
But my left hand was already on the latch of the belt strapping me into the vehicle; my right hovered by the door handle. I felt her fingers snatching at the vinyl of my jacket as I jumped and rolled uncontrollably out onto the pavement. I heard her cursing violently behind me as the car shuddered to a noisy halt. The backyard backwoods of New England sprawled out before me and I sprinted into them, clawed my way through branches and brambles and pricker-bushes, and came at last to a tall wire fence that I climbed awkwardly, my full-grown feet too large for its twisted footholds, and then jumped, catching my jeans on its pointed peak and tearing them nearly the length of the seam, scraping bits of the soft flesh underneath.
I stopped. Listened. No sound of pursuit came to my ears. I stopped breathing. Listened again. Scanned the sky and tried to judge my direction from the clouds hiding the sun. Took a tentative step, my footfall crackling the underbrush. Listened again and heard nothing. Looked and saw nothing, nothing but trees and bushes and pine needles and the slivered remnants of last autumn’s leaves finally freed from the cover of snow.
And then began trudging the miles through the woods back to town…
On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness
Now available in eBook and paperback (both standard size and LARGE PRINT formats).
Also available in Spanish! Al Oír Sobre la Muerte de Mi Madre Seis Años Después de que Ocurrió
You can read a FREE EXCERPT from my memoir right here on my website.
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