In the Blog
Love and Relationships series: Family vs. Friends
Editor’s note: This is the final entry in the series. Look for the Love and Relationships issue on newsstands in January! We hope you love it.
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by T. Sunday
My mother’s mental health reached a low I’d never seen before when I was in high school. Eventually, I was made to leave home, which was difficult but, in retrospect, I see that it allowed me to make some great discoveries about my friends and myself. Here are some moments from that day, as I remember them, and as they felt to me at the time:
After the fight, there are two officers at our house, and one of them tells me that I have to leave. I stand still, staring at my mother, who is inexplicably smiling at me, wide and bright. The officer grabs my upper arm and we go to my bedroom while her partner finds some garbage bags for me to put my belongings into. “I’m still in high school,” I say, and she tells me, “You’re old enough that if your mother doesn’t want you here, you have to leave.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” I ask, panicked. She shrugs, “to your dad’s house, to a friend’s house… it’s not my place to tell you.” But I haven’t seen my father in years, and I have no friends who would understand this. No friends who have the same kind of family life I do. I feel utterly alone.
Her partner hands me the garbage bags and tells me that I can take whatever I can fit in them. I stand staring at my room. The pictures on the wall, the magazine cutouts, the dried flowers, and my books - I find my journal and put it in the bag. Then, once again, I’m motionless. “I think you’ll need more than just a book, don’t you?” says the second officer. He opens my dresser drawer and starts cramming clothes into a bag, until I snap out of it and take up the task.
“Okay, let’s speed this process up, please,” says the first officer, “you need to be out of here in the next five minutes.” I start grabbing things that seem important, but the room is unsteady, and I can’t focus. “Bags look full,” she says, after a minute, “let’s go.” As they lead me out of the house, my mother, still smiling, mouths, “bye-bye.”
It’s raining out, and I still don’t know where I’m going. The police offer to follow me, to make sure I get there safely, but I decline. Humiliated, I walk to the schoolyard beside our house and sit pitifully with my two bags. Rain beads on them, so I stand under the slide to keep dry - I feel like I’m in some ridiculous TV drama. Minutes go by, and I notice the police sitting in their car watching me. If I don’t leave soon, they’ll make me.
So, I walk, all my worldly belongings bouncing cumbersomely at my sides. And, though I asked them not to, the police drive behind me until I reach Joey’s house. I’m mortified, but she’s my closest friend in this town, and it’s the only place I can think to go - I’m not anticipating a good reaction from Joey’s mom, but she sees me as I walk in and, no questions asked, she grabs a bag from my hand and carries it to Jo’s room.
That night, a gurgling sound wakes me. Joey is sitting upright in her bed, her hands twisted up unnaturally, completely tense. I’ve slept over before when she’s had a seizure, and I’m just thankful that this time she didn’t make it out of the bed. (When she was small, her parents, not knowing much about epilepsy, had taught her to run to their room when she felt she might have a seizure. This is so ingrained in her that she still bolts from her room some nights, often injuring herself.)
The next day at school, I go to the library and learn a little about epilepsy. The spoon thing is a myth. Repeated concussions caused by seizures can result in long-term damage. The aftermath of a seizure is much like a severe hangover, and worse if there are injuries. I realize that Jo must feel like this a few times a week at least, and I have a renewed respect for my friend who’s so gentle, but much stronger than anyone knows.
I’m sharing a room with Jo until I can find a place of my own, so over the next month, I sleep lightly and, when she needs it, I help her as best I can. When Jo’s mom finds me a room to rent, I’m excited but worried about leaving Joey. When I find out that my new place is just next door to their house, I have a feeling Jo’s mom wants to keep me close and, instead of being offended, I’m actually grateful to know that someone’s looking out for me.
Prior to this strange life event, I’d never let anyone know what I was going through, because I feared judgment, and I assumed people wouldn’t understand. But, in this situation, despite my aversion to vulnerability, I had to let others see my weakness. When I let people in, my burdens felt lighter, and my friends helped me in ways I didn’t expect, and couldn’t have gotten by without.
Looking back on the situation now, I can see that support networks don’t all look the same. The classic “parents and family” support network doesn’t apply to everyone, and it didn’t apply to me (although my inner optimist certainly did try to get blood from that stone, even years later).
This experience also taught me to trust and love myself. Before this, I was used to being written off and devalued, and I started to feel like I had nothing to offer. I was unfairly vilified, and it really shook my sense of self - sometimes I wondered if I was truly as awful as my mother said. Trusting my friends, and being away from my toxic family environment, allowed me to understand myself better - to see myself as a kind and caring person, and a person worthy of kindness.
T. Sunday is a photographer and writer. She is interested in lots of issues, including, but not limited to, mental health awareness and suicide prevention, women’s and LGBTQ rights, and environmental protection. She is from Toronto, but currently lives in Chicago.