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Aug. 17, 2022

Episode 40: Pursuing Normal When Your Parent is Ill with Michelle Hodgson

Episode 40: Pursuing Normal When Your Parent is Ill with Michelle Hodgson

🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro:Hello? Hello. Welcome back to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast. I'm Melissa. Today I have with me, Michelle Hodgson. Michelle grew up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. Michelle talks to us today about what it's like growing up in a home with just her father, because her mother suffered mental illness. She shares many of her experiences hopes dreams and what she wants for her children in this episode today. And as always, I'd love to hear your comments or no, if you have any questions. So head over to the blog site melissaebken.com/blog and let's keep the conversation going. Now let's meet Michelle. 🎶

Melissa Ebken  0:23  
Hi, Michelle, and welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. I'm so thrilled that you're with us today.

Michelle Hodgson  0:30  
Thank you so much for having me, Melissa, I'm thrilled to be here. I'm excited to chat

Melissa Ebken  0:36  
You have quite the story to share, you have had an experience growing up with a mom that has was ill at the time. And that has shaped not only your childhood, but your adulthood. And you're taking that and learning from it and growing from it and using that as a teaching point for others. And I really admire that in you. And I'm really thankful that you're going to share some of that wisdom with us.

Michelle Hodgson  1:03  
Thank you. Yeah, so telling my story is, I guess there's a million places that I could start but we'll start in childhood. I grew up in the 70s and 80s. And it was not typical in that I grew up with my dad, my dad raised me primarily. Nowadays, it's not so uncommon. But in the 70s and 80s. I had no friends, actually, in my immediate circle that even came from a broken home, much less a home where the father was the primary parent. That was my dad, my brother and I. And I lived with him my entire life until I moved out of the house as a young adult, except for a very short stint when I was around four, where it did stay with my mom. And I stayed with my mom for a little bit while my father got his ducks in a row after they separated, and my dad had my brother and I was with my mother. And we stayed with my dad's youngest brother, which was also very, an awkward setup, but I loved it. I enjoyed my time there because I got along really well with my dad's youngest brother, so my memories of it were fond. And then I went to stay with my dad once he kind of had all of his affairs in order so to speak. And my dad continued raising my brother and I. I'm four years older than my brother, so he was six months old, and I was four when our parents parted ways. So I've always given kudos to my dad. He was 25. And he had a four year old and a six month old baby under his wings. Wow. Yeah, like about the 25 year old me and I don't know that I could have managed. I give the man complete credit for raising to functioning adults. So after I moved back to my father's house, we didn't really hear much from my mom. And she would disappear for months at a time, weeks at a time. And no one really talked about it. No one really said anything no one really explained what where she was or what she was doing or why she wasn't around. It was all very hush hush. So my brother and I were fairly young and didn't really ask any questions. We just eventually accepted as the norm. And when mom came around, came around

Melissa Ebken  3:30  
That had to be difficult, though I would imagine. 

Michelle Hodgson  3:30  
It was it. It was difficult in that we had friends with both their parents and so I that's when my resentment towards my mom started as a kid is you know, why can't I have my mom around? Like my all my girlfriends had their moms around, they go shopping, they go for lunch, they go do all these girly things. And I wasn't a girly girl. I was very much a total tomboy. You know, climb trees, played sports. And you know, but still would have liked to have that side. Sure, growing up. Like all girls want, right? But fortunately, she did come around occasionally. And which started coming around occasionally when we were children, we noticed that she still wasn't like other moms. And there were just things that were different. She was a little bit more eccentric. She smelled like alcohol oftentimes. She acted very bizarre. And we didn't, again being kids, we didn't know what to do about it. And we would never say anything to our father about it because we didn't want to upset him or upset the applecart. So we just kind of let things lie. And I recall even when I was as young as like eight-nine years old, taking a bus from one city to another by myself to Toronto, Ontario, I lived in Southern Ontario and getting off the bus and getting in a taxi. By myself.

Melissa Ebken  4:57  
At what age?

Michelle Hodgson  4:59  
Yeah, At eight or nine, wow. And what, I don't even know how this was arranged. But when we get there, there would be a taxi driver and come up to me and asked me if I was Michelle. And it'd be Yeah. Well, your mom sent me here to take you to her office or apartment or the restaurant that she was at. And I remember thinking, wow, I'm so cool. But I think back now and I'm like, no that not not cool. And again, I never told my dad that because I didn't want my mom to get in trouble. I didn't want to get in trouble because I felt like I was doing something kind of. I don't know. I felt weird about it. But he didn't know why.

Melissa Ebken  5:36  
Kids internalized things like that. 

Michelle Hodgson  5:39  
They do. They do. Yeah. And then, as a teen, I recall, snooping as teens do in my father's closet I was looking for, I don't know, Christmas presents that was changed. I don't know. I was a shameful, angsty, rebellious teenager. And I kind of knocked over a box. And I saw a bunch of files and being the nosy teenager that I was, I looked inside of them and came across some custody and divorce papers about my mom and my dad's separation and divorce and custody. And I went through them and eagerly devoured all of them. My dad and my brother, I think we're out at one of my brother's hockey games. And I couldn't believe it, because I saw there for the first time. And I don't 100% know even how old I was. But I saw mental health issues, and depression, and bipolar and schizophrenic. And I was like, whoa, whoa, well, I didn't know what any of this meant. But I knew it wasn't good. We didn't have Google then. So I kind of just, you know, went into a bit of a, I don't know what this means, but it's kind of starting to explain why she's so different. And she's not there. And I knew she I figured she was an alcoholic. But I just thought, well, that's, you know, not as uncommon. And, you know, not that it's not a big deal, it is a big deal. But having this on top of it, I didn't know what to do with it. So I tried to figure out what I could and tried to point out when I could very quietly and didn't really tell any of my friends because I was so embarrassed. I grew up in the suburbs, and the stigma was incredible then. And so

Michelle Hodgson  7:27  
It was quited then, than it is now.  

Michelle Hodgson  7:27  
It sure was. It sure was. And I internalized that as well. So I went through and wasn't angry but confused and nervous. And it just didn't know what to do with that information. So I figured that if I just didn't have her around my friends or didn't involve her socially and just kind of kept her at arm's length, unless I wanted to include her in some things because on the other hand, she was also the cool mom, because she did drink and she lived in the city and she didn't have parenting skills. So if I was being rebellious, I could take one of my, you know, 14-15 year old friends and she would take us to a bar not knowing any better. And we would have some drinks with one mom with some random bums at a bar in downtown Toronto on a Friday night. And my friends and I thought this was the coolest thing ever. I hope none of the parents are watching, you're listening to this because they'd probably get really angry and even still, but anyway. And then my dad passed away. So throughout my life, my mom's oldest brother kind of looked over him her and watched over her and made sure that she was okay and got health care when she needed it. And didn't really involve myself or my father or my brother and my father knew what was happening. But he never spoke negatively about her. He always kept his thoughts and his opinions to himself so we didn't develop or or decided how we felt about it because we didn't hear anything negative or positive.

Melissa Ebken  9:05  
That's a gift. That's a huge gift.

Michelle Hodgson  9:09  
It really is. It really is. And it's, you know, been raised like my dad did a whole lot to make sure that my brother and I grew up to be healthy, functioning human beings. Based on the genetic hand we've dealt, it could have been a very different way, as we've learned over the years. But when my uncle Pat or not my uncle, my aunt, my uncle's wife passed away suddenly when I was 19 He had a conversation with me to the side and said, You know, I can't do this. I've just lost the love of my life. I'm struggling. And absolutely I understand. I said can I call you for advice and they always provided advice to me and support and guidance and what I can do next and what I should do to support my mom, and how I'm kind of keep watch over her and make sure she was safe. And that's what my My mom started resenting me. Because I had the unfortunate task of, of trying to ensure that she didn't get herself into too much trouble, which she did. Unfortunately, over the years numerous times. I think the first time I had to go to a justice of the peace to get an arrest warrant issued, I was around the age of 20. And I remember sitting outside of city hall where you had to go meet with the justice and explain your story and plead your case and provide them information details and evidence that they are either a threat to themselves a threat to others. And there's one other caveat that decides whether or not but it was really easy to convince them based on her medical history. And what she was currently doing.

Melissa Ebken  10:50  
That had to take quite a toll that to do that, let alone it 20 years old.

Michelle Hodgson  10:55  
And it's it's funny, because while I was trying to decide or figure out if I was okay, because of the possibility of having the genetic factors in myself, I had to shift because I didn't really have time to be self indulgent. And I didn't have I had to kind of set aside my existential crisis, because I had to deal with my mom and support her and help her. For years and years decades, she fought me with it, she divorced me a number of times, she's called me every name in the book. And eventually, she passed away in 2013. But in the last, I would say, five years of her life, she became to more accepting of the fact that she wasn't well, and that she did need support and that I was there actually, on her team and on her side as much as you can when you're mentally ill, and started being a little bit more accepting of me getting her help. Don't get me wrong, there were still many peaks and valleys in those years. But it was a really long road getting there. And it was full of tumultuous tales and a lot of humor. Because something my brother and I, I think started doing as a coping mechanism is laughing and making light of it. Because either you're laughing about and making not making jokes or making fun. But if you don't have a sense of humor about things, yeah, I think that you could wind up in fetal position in a corner, kind of crying, unable to function. So yeah, our method for dealing was with humor. And we've kind of carried that through our entire lives and our family's lives. Sarcasm and humor, for better or worse are a big part of how we communicate. Mixed in with a lot of caring and other things as well. Sure, right. Knowing a little bit of underlying that smart aleckness about our conversations and how we act. 

Melissa Ebken  12:54  
So did you? Did you and your mom ever find, and I hate the word normal but did you ever find kind of a baseline for relating to one another?

Michelle Hodgson  13:04  
I think we we eventually found a normal that we could both live with. I never really understood the full the magnitude of what my mother experienced and where she was at different times in her life. Until after she passed away. Something that my mom she was diagnosed as with schizoaffective disorder. So it's kind of a tricky blend of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression and it changes and is constantly manifesting itself. And it's hard to treat with with drugs because as people with mental health issues grow older, there are chemicals change, and you know, things that are affective one year might not be so affective the next. So I tried to I became more of understanding as I grew and learned, of course, I had empathy. And she understood that I wanted to help her was there to support her. And she also became very involved in my kid's life. So my kids were absolutely a a safe place for her. She had an incredible relationship with both of them. And that is something I'm very grateful for and they adore I they adored her and she doted on them in a way that she didn't dote on my brother and I. So while, she was not the best mom, she did make up for it in spades with my children. So that that is a positive that came out of me kind of hanging in there and sticking to it because because I was kind of helping her and trying to support her as best I could. I ended up bringing her to the same city that I lived in and she lived with me for a time, a short short time. But she was always within five minutes driving from my house so that I could make sure that if she needed my assistance I could be for her. Or if she needed to be taken to the hospital, I can assure that she got the care that she needed as well. So I think we developed a normal, it's not normal for other people. And a lot of people, a lot of people would have seen our normal is absolutely out there. But it was normal for us. And we got along really well, you know, we, we had our rituals, we watched a British soap opera called Coronation Street. Yeah, we had our things that we did together, and we laughed a lot. And my kids loved her. And we got to, they got to spend, you know, the first number of years with her, which is great. And I'm grateful for that. So after she passed, however, I'm really kind of understood more about who she was as a person and her insecurities and the things that she struggled with, and how she was so insecure. And with her mental health issues, she was very paranoid and always requested all of her medical documents. So when she passed away, and I was going through things, I came across numerous medical files. And again, as the nosy person that I am I went through everything, and I learned a lot about her. And the resentment turns into I didn't resent her, you know, for most of her life, but it turned into a different kind of empathy and understanding and, and understanding where she was. And the thing that makes me most sad is that I hope that she was in a good place at the end of her life, because I know that she struggled all of her life. I know that my kids brought her a lot of joy. I just, I hope that that she was content and at peace. So yeah, kind of came full circle, though.

Melissa Ebken  16:48  
Most things do many things. 

Michelle Hodgson  16:51  
It's so true. 

Melissa Ebken  16:53  
How are you? Are you vigilant about self care, to guard against your own expression of poor mental health? Or is it never come up? How does that work? For you?

Michelle Hodgson  17:10  
Yeah. Well, I was going through my experience and journey with my mom, there was a time where I started journaling. And the journals that I kept, were mostly digital, but some were written in, you know, paper journalists strewn around, you know, in different bedside tables, and closets, and boxes, and such. And I put them all in a digital file, and I locked them. And I just kind of set them aside. So that was kind of my self care while I was going through things. And I've always, I've always read a lot. So that's always been a way for me to kind of unwind and listen to music, podcasts. And hanging out, I used to play a lot of sports. Now, that I'm a little bit older, my body is saying it's time to slow down on some of those sports. But hockey and baseball are really hard on your body, when you get over 50. So so at one point, my kids asked me if they could read my journals, because they really wanted to understand their grandmother, and our relationship as we went through life together. And when I was younger, and they're both adults now. And I opened that file with the password. And I started reading through it. And there, a 80 pages of type single spaced journal entries. And I started reading through them, they were pretty raw, some of them were very raw. And I started kind of putting those stories into a longer form that's a bit more palatable for my kids. And then I was talking to a girlfriend of mine. And she said, Well, why don't you just make it into a memoir, you have such a great story. And there's an over, you know, an overreaching theme here that that could impact people and could help somebody and even if it helps one person. You know, it's worth it's worth that. So now, on of my self care exercises is to actually write. I find to be really relaxing, I've taken some courses, and I love doing it. And one day, my plan is to publish a memoir, based on, those records of mine and my mom's journey together.

Melissa Ebken  19:25  
That's going to be a great memoir. And I know we can go to your website and get on the mailing list and stay up to date and know when it's released. And that will be in the show notes.

Michelle Hodgson  19:38  
Yes, absolutely. Thank you. I'm excited about it. I don't know how long it's gonna take to actually finish that work. It's an ongoing work I have all of the stories is just making them into something that is readable and something that someone can consume without going I have no idea what this woman is talking about, because it was a very disjointed and bumpy ride at some times, but sure, it made me who I am today. And I'm grateful for the experience in hindsight, it's made me aware of taking care of myself and checking in on my mental health. And if I'm not having a great time to, you know, talk to somebody. Call my Dr. Call my nurse practitioner. There, just find, you know, now that I have Google that that's also very helpful. And make sure that I'm just aware of kind of where I am mentally, the pandemic has not helped any of us as a population. And now it's even more important and prevalent for all of us to kind of manage ourselves care and manage and know where we are. And hopefully, if something good can come out of this pandemic, hopefully, it's to lessen the stigma of mental health issues, and have people understand that this this isn't, it doesn't make people dangerous, it doesn't make them criminals, it just means that something's going on. And they're still people, and they still have feelings, and they're still loving humans. And they're always going to be outliers. But for the most part, you know, they just want to be understood.

Melissa Ebken  21:13  
Now, having children is terrifying. And it's wonderful. And it's aggravating, and it's joyful. It's all of those things wrapped up in the experience. How was it for you, having children and raising them knowing that this might be expressed in them?

Michelle Hodgson  21:39  
I've always kept an eye. And communicated with them. One of the things that I struggled with as a kid as I felt like I was always in the dark, and I didn't know what was going on. And I had to learn on my own. So I've always worked really hard to keep the lines of communication open with my own children, in the hopes that if they are feeling or struggling with anything that they they feel like, they can come to me and talk to me about it. And they're adults. Now they're, you know, 23 and 25. And they're both functioning. They're great kids, you know, they have their goals and their dreams. And I wasn't, you know, sitting outside the courthouse having either one of them assess for mental health issues. So I'm grateful for that. And I think making sure that they're, they're happy and secure as young kids, I think was also a big part of it. My mom suffered abuse when she was a kid. And studies have shown now that a lot of mental health issues stem from trauma as a child. So if you can, you know, work hard to eliminate trauma in your own children's lives, that might give them a step up and a step ahead, and then helping them to manage their own happiness and self care going forward as adults.

Melissa Ebken  23:01  
Would you do? What advice would you give to someone who's caring for someone else with mental illness?

Michelle Hodgson  23:10  
Be patient, be patient, be patient, be patient. And if they're willing to communicate, just, you know, talk to them about how they're feeling you talk to them, like, like, they're, they're people instead of children, because unless they're children, of course, but and to have a sense of humor, you have to maintain a sense of humor. Life is funny, and there are funny moments, and tragic moments and, and difficult moments. And I think it makes everything a little bit easier. And if you can keep, you know, a sense of lightness about you, and to take and take care of yourself. It makes everything a little bit easier to manage and deal with as you go through the rough patches. And, most importantly, don't forget to take care of yourself. You can't take care of someone else unless you're taking care of you. That's huge. Absolutely, yeah.

Melissa Ebken  24:05  
Michelle, I look forward to reading your memoir. So get it written,

Michelle Hodgson  24:10  
I look forward to sharing with you, I'll be sure to send you an advanced copy. So you can give me your honest feedback.

Melissa Ebken  24:18  
I'd love to read it. And I'd love to share it with the listeners too. It's such a it's not only a timely topic, but gosh, such an important topic. Mental illness isn't just one thing. It's so many different things. And even the same thing can manifest differently in different individuals. But you know, you mentioned being patient and having a sense of humor. Some of those things are going to be universal in all of the different situations. And knowing that wisdom and those common truths, that will be really helpful.

Michelle Hodgson  24:56  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you taking the time. Time to chat with me. It's been an absolute honor to be a part of your podcast. Thank you, you. You deal with so many fascinating and important topics. So I thank you very much for including me. And

Melissa Ebken  25:13  
Well thank you. I appreciate it. You know, difficult things come up in life, uncomfortable things come up in life. And if we try to pretend like they don't, we're doing ourselves and those around us a disservice. But when we can lean into them, overcome them, learn from them, share what we've learned with others. That's what changes us and changes the world. So this little podcast is hoping to be a part of that and you being present and sharing your story is a big part of it. So thank you. And maybe we'll come back and catch a, where is she now update at some point.

Michelle Hodgson  25:48  
I would love that. I would absolutely love that. I think that would be wonderful. And I look forward to it.

Melissa Ebken  25:58  
All right. Be well, we'll talk soon.

Michelle Hodgson  26:01  
Thank you. You too. Take care Melissa.

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