This is a story about my relationship with my mother, the problems she was experiencing, how I thought to resolve those problems, and what happened in the end. I should start by explaining that although I loved my Mother very much, she was not an easy person to live with. She exhibited all kinds of strange behaviours I didn’t understand at the time, and it was only much later I came to realise those behaviours could be characterised as Neurotic.
I’m not a psychiatrist so that’s not a formal clinical diagnosis, but it was certainly the impression I was left with after living with her for many years. When I (later) looked up the term, I found Neurosis is defined as “a relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality” (as distinct from ‘Psychosis’ whereby the sufferer looses the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not).
My mother certainly displayed many of the characteristics of Neurosis listed above. For example, she always seemed to be ill and suffering from a variety of things that could never quite be pinned down, or ever got significantly worse (hypochondria). Likewise much of her behaviour was about controlling her world and ensuring she was always the perceived victim (obsessive behaviour). She was adept at manipulating me and others around by re-interpreting (and even reconstructing) events in a manner that suited her preferred vision. She always managed to cast herself as the poor, weak, (and usually unloved) old woman. She was never happy (depression) and continually complained about how people were inconsiderate of her needs, and even sometimes how they were deliberately ‘out to get’ her (anxiety).
She frequently exhibited a classic symptom described in psychology as the ‘Double Bind’ (as I later learned). This is where two opposing communications are provided at the same time making the recipient confused and uncertain. A simple example of a ‘double bind’ would be when I would ask mother how she was feeling, she would reply, ‘I am fine dear’, but this was said in a feeble and faltering voice indicating she was anything but fine. The double-bind tends to be used as a tacit strategy for keeping others off balance and maintaining control of situations. Many times my mother would say something (verbally) whilst clearly indicating (in a non-verbal manner) she didn’t believe what she was saying (another example was her frequent suggestion after dinner that ‘I’ll do the washing-up today dear’, whilst making it visibly clear she was struggling to lift herself up from her seat). This strategy would make her appear ‘brave and noble’, whilst at the same time making it obvious she was ill and suffering, and I should feel sorry for her.
To be frank my bloody Mother used to drive me up the wall! I spent years of my life trying to help and support her but nothing I did seemed to make any difference. She seemed ‘stuck’ in a time and place in her life, and my role was exclusively to listen to her troubles and take the blame. Don’t get me wrong, as I said I loved my mother very dearly, and all I ever wanted to do was help her and make her life easier, but I couldn’t seem to no matter how hard I tried. If was as if her neurotic behaviour served some purpose and she didn’t want to or didn’t know how to let it go.
However, despite the fact I was never able to provide any apparent solutions to my mother’s problems, she made it clear having me around helped in some way. I would listen to her whinging about the world without complaint, provide a sympathetic shoulder for her to cry on when she was miserable, and if she was really down I was the ‘dog’ she could kick. I was always there for her and it was clear she needed me in some way, so I could never abandon her, even if at times she was like an emotional vampire sucking me dry.
We lived in a small house in a rather old-world town in Lincolnshire in the North East of England. My Father had passed away when I was 12 years old, and my mother was never the same after he went. I was 19 when the events to be described here occurred. I had few (if any friends), I was a virgin, and I spent most of my time looking after my poor (apparently) sick Mother. She was 57 years old, no longer working, and surviving on the meagre amount my father left, plus a disability pension she was awarded because she was suffering from ‘stress’.
Despite her ‘illness’ mother was quite able to occasionally pop round to see her friends and go out shopping when she wanted. Indeed it was mostly when she was home that her apparent infirmities seemed to become manifest. She did the cooking, but everything else round the house was down to me. I was at college at the local Tech three days a week (studying Art and Design), but when I was home my days were filled with cleaning, washing, and caring for mother. That said she never appeared to acknowledge my efforts around the house. If she said anything it was usually a critical comment about something that was not ‘up to scratch’.
She was moderately short in stature (about 5.1) and relatively thin (possibly the result of her nervous condition) but not unsightly, and indeed there were photos around the house which showed she had once been quite attractive. She had a nice figure, brown hair (often in curlers), brown eyes, and full (even sensuous) lips. She had, however, let herself go, and when at home she spent most of the time wandering about in an old dressing gown. Her face was weary and worn and starting to show lines, but she always seemed to me like a potentially good looking woman, who, with a little extra work, could still be quite fetching. She didn’t really look her age apart from wrinkles on the back of her hands, which curiously enough now always remind me of her.
Perhaps that’s where it all started. It was only her and I in the house, and although I was her ‘punch-bag’ I was also her only companion. She would hold me sometimes, when the mood was on her, and cuddle me and tell me I was the only man she loved. It didn’t happen very often but there were those few times when she seemed to appreciate me being there. As I said she wore a dressing gown a lot of the time, and sometimes not a lot underneath. I confess it was hard for a pubescent and virginal boy not to look when the gown slipped and showed too much of her underwear. I never consciously thought about my mother in a sexual way, but some part of me was very much aware she was a woman and had ‘attributes’ that were both unfamiliar and interesting. In truth there were probably times when I was too close to her.
Looking back I think I was very confused by the situation. Mostly I felt trapped by a responsibility to look after mother (because in truth there was no one else), and I wanted to escape both that responsibility and her thankless behaviour, but there was another part of me who occasionally ‘enjoyed’ the intimacy of being near her. I was after all 19 years old and had normal sexual needs which I rarely even acknowledged let alone addressed. Although I’d not seen very much of her body, nor had any kind of inappropriate relations or even thoughts, there were moments when I looked more at my mother than I should, and I think I instinctively saw these opportunities as some kind of shadowy reward for all the anguish she put me through. As I said it wasn’t conscious. I hated being around her during the day, but in the evenings I didn’t seem to mind so much. Looking back I think it may have been something to with the fact she took sleeping pills for her nerves (and sometimes combined these with a small ‘tipple’ of sherry), making her unsteady in the evening, and less conscious of her attire. Her dressing gown wasn’t held so tight and I could occasionally see the edge of her bra or the cleavage of her breasts. Sometimes she would lie on the sofa and show an expanse of nylon covered leg. As I said I never did anything, except maybe look when I should have turned away.