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My Exquisite Illness

An essay by Daphne Gregory
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teddy bearIn a few minutes I will call my mother. She phoned earlier tonight, her sadness as long as a miner’s crawl, deep under the Earth. My mother gets so small, I worry she will disappear altogether in a single moment. And then as quick as that thought comes, it disappears with the memory of her bigness, her intensities. I have never had her exact diagnosis by a professional. A diagnosis was not allowed to me as a child of my mother. Funny that I was ever referred to as the minor in any objective analysis by experts. I remember feeling a hundred years old, as early as three years of age.

Of the diagnosis that I have worked hard to give my mother so I could understand her has varied – depression, manic-depression, bi-polar disorder and finally, schizoid-affective disorder. For me, what always seemed missing from the written words in the DSM (Diagnostic Manual) was the sounds of my mother’s illness. Her crying was so wordless. My mother’s rage had not a single letter. There was always just walls of sounds that I could not break through with any word or words. A wall that I never could climb over either.

After many years, I stopped climbing. For awhile, I stopped climbing and turned away completely. Somewhere in my early twenties, I ran as far from the wall as I could. I went away to school, and did what most of my age group was doing. I studied, dated boys, and I partied. What seemed different to me was that I tried to laugh louder than anyone in the room. Since I failed to fool even myself, I finally broke down and cried. Then I returned home to sit next to the wall again.

Somehow I knew that a wall of my own was growing inside of me. The only way to slow down my terrible fate, was to find some chink in my mother’s wall. We went shopping and I noticed that even though she bought 5 pairs of the same shoes, that they were very stylish. I showed up at her house and even though she wouldn’t let me in, she came out with a blanket and we sat together eating a wonderful pie she had bought.

roseMy mother loves sweets. She loves antiques, and nice cars, and any color but red. After all my research, I finally admitted that my mother loved me as well. My mother loves me in a way that anyone who is mentally ill can love someone. I had found the beautiful white rose growing through the chink in her wall. My own wall crumbled. I was free.

Before I pick up the phone to call my mother, I prepare myself. I rehearse a script that I have read from over and over again. First I will listen to see how bad an episode she is having. How clear she sounds, balanced. Maybe tonight there will be the “Mom” inside of mother, the strong one that shows up now and again. But if not, I will weave and dodge, weave and dodge, hoping that her sadness will not become a thin, breakable surface of ice that when shattered will explode into the phone.

So I ready myself by writing a few times, “remember that mom is sick, remember mom is sick.” When I have done that I jot down some other notes, like the time my mother hired a woman to make me custom doll clothes. I will never forget the beautiful details of those tiny outfits. I think of the exquisite nature of mental illness. Like all disease, there is a human soul living inside of it. I smile, and pick up the phone.

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NOTE: If you or someone you know has a parent with a mental illness, Laurie Lesser is our resident expert for International Family’s April issue on mental fitness. Laurie Lesser is a Psychotherapist and Healer who has a private practice in New York, Los Angeles and Florida. An expert and a maverick in the area of how a mentally ill parent impacts the life of his or her child, she has created and developed a psychodynamic and spiritually oriented process called: ULTIMATE LIVING Therapy: An Evolutionary Journey of Healing, Letting Go and Moving On into the Conscious Creation of Life. We have published an excerpt on the introduction of her book in our World of Talent department. To read the excerpt, please click HERE.

Her Book ADULT CHILDREN OF MADNESS will be published soon, and she is available for individual, group or family therapy sessions as well as speaking engagements world-wide.

Contact Laurie at:
or at her website:

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