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Memory Unlocked: Mental Wellness

Sometimes when I’m playing a video game, I’ll suddenly be alerted that I unlocked an achievement and I’ll have no idea why until I look at it. I wasn’t actively working towards completing that particular achievement, but had done something through normal gameplay that had triggered an achievement.

So far, this has been what therapy has felt like. Only instead of achievements, its been past memories of my mother.

At my second appointment, my therapist asked me how things have been since the last appointment.

“Well…I immediately cried in my car afterwards. I had felt really good about things after I had left and felt like this therapy was going to be a good thing…and then the moment I sat down in the driver’s seat I broke down. I think I was…overwhelmed?…from talking about these intense feelings I’ve been having about my mother.”

“It sounds like you were released from the burden of holding these feelings inside…oooooor I broke you.” We both laughed and assumed the former.

It was mostly a casual appointment as we’re still getting acquainted with each other. I talked about my Las Vegas trip after that first appointment and then not being able to sleep and being plagued with nightmares and emotions once I returned home.

“I feel like my brain shut a dam to all these feelings during the trip and then….whoosh,” I said, gesturing the opening of the floodgates with my arms.

We didn’t really talk about my mother too much. I did talk about that memory I recalled where she drove me to the police station after I accused her of physical abuse when she spanked me.

“That’s quite the drastic response! How old were you when this happened?”

“Hmmm…maybe five…seven? I think this experience might be one reason I didn’t tell anybody how she treated me. Who the fuck was going to believe me? She knew all the cops in town. I’m not entirely sure if it was through my parent’s chaotic marriage or working the bar. She knew a lot of the town working there.”

“Ah yes. She worked at Pete’s all those years!”

“Yep. For the first twelve years of my life.”  

“I would say that’s when she was at her most healthy.”

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this triggered an unlocked memory.

During the first year of my retail career, my mother was put into involuntary commitment herself and it had thrust me into uncertainty. One of the respite workers that worked with my one brother due to his extreme autism offered to take him for the time being. My mother’s longtime boyfriend just up and left the house, leaving me with my teenage brother. I noted the bills that were piled on the table and I realized just how ill equipped I was to handle any responsibilities. I had a job, but I didn’t know how to pay a bill as I never had been taught how. Mother, in her increasing paranoia and deteriorating mental health over the years, had only taught me to be afraid of everything. I didn’t know how long she would be confined. I didn’t know how to manage a household if she ended up being gone for a long period of time and the only other person who knew how ran away from the situation like a coward. I was frightened.

None of that concerned my mother when she called from the hospital. She demanded I contact the newspaper to tell her story of wrongful confinement. I don’t remember the circumstances that lead to her being involuntary committed, but I felt like she deserved to be there and I refused her request—not that I would have been able to fulfill it anyways due to my horrid social anxiety.

“If you can’t do this one thing for me, then I have failed to raise you properly!” she told me.  

When she got out of the hospital, she was back to “normal”—I use the term loosely as there was nothing normal about her by this point. She treated her stay like a vacation and a badge of honor. She had always claimed that just about everyone in this town had been “Chaptered 51’d”, referring to the law that allows for involuntary confinement for up to 72 hours if its determined a person is a harm to themselves or others, and now she had experienced it for herself. I found her attitude rather insulting as I had been in such commitment on four separate occasions and there was nothing fun about it.

About a year later, I had come back home from the lake with my fiancé to find a cop car in the driveway. My mother had gone over to our shitty neighbor’s house with a gas can intending to set their garage on fire. She lost guardianship of my brother and gained another stay in the hospital. Only this time she wasn’t back to normal when she came back. She was bat shit crazy! One of the highlights was when she found a nest of abandoned baby birds that ultimately perished despite her best efforts to sustain them and she kept her dead bodies. A couple weeks later, we left after she stole my fiancé’s anti-depressants thinking they were drugs and refused to believe they were legit medications even after she looked up their shape and identification number on the internet. On our way out, she wrote down his car’s license plate number. During the time we were away, we tried working with social services to have her recommitted, but they concluded there wasn’t the evidence to do so despite all of this being concerning and waving huge red flags in everyone’s face. Unfortunately, we exhausted all our living options after a couple months and ended up having to go back to live with her. By that point, much of the more psychotic paranoia had worn off, but she was back to her mean emotionally and mentally abusive self that made our lives Hell. She was a bitch, but not a crazy bitch. It wasn’t even two months before we reached a breaking point and luckily we were able to find a place immediately. I haven’t had any relationship with her in the almost ten years since.

Much like many of the achievements in the video games I play, I wasn’t actively seeking these memories, but had been unlocked because of something that happened during therapy. I doubt my therapist had meant to have that effect when she almost off-handedly commented on my mother’s state of mental wellness at the time of the incident I recalled after the last appointment.     

Jesus tap-dancing Christ. What the fuck is my third therapy appointment going to end up dredging up from the depths of my fucked up brain?

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