17287955450_144585fc78_oI wrote this poem on Saturday as a part of the #slamstigma slam poetry close for the conference “Mental Health and the Faith Community’s Response“.  The event was publicized as follows:

1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. Many times they are stigmatized, feared and shunned. Others suffer silently, afraid to share their stories or unable to access the resources they need. As communities of faith, how do we address these issues and minister to those who need help? How can we turn our faith communities into safe havens where those struggling with mental health issues feel welcomed, loved and cared for?

I originally intended to write my piece about the effects of sexual violence on my mental health and the PTSD I have experienced from being stalked, etc., but as I sat down to write, having listened to the conference thus far, I realized that the deeper truth of my life has been growing up as the child of a parent who has mental illness.

As I wrote, I just followed what flowed from my fingers without censoring it. I wrote this through tears. And as soon as I finished, I realized with horror that I was about to break some of my original rules about not speaking or betraying my mom; my piece offers no fix it or easy way through mental health’s impact on our (my) life. And I didn’t know what to do about it…dare I share about my wounds in the midst of a group of people that included many who have and do live with the shame and stigma about their own mental health challenges?

You see, part of my story is that I always believed I would be OK and it was/is my job to take care of and fix people who have struggles that are more acute and real than mine. But as my therapist has long been reminding me, I get to count too, and part of my (and our) way into healing and breaking of the stigmas around mental health is that we have to own our own stories, our feelings, and our wounds. And my wounds have been deeply shaped and formed through relationship with a woman I have long loved and hated: my mother.

So today I share this with you as a way of breaking my own silences and shame around mental illness, and in hopes that through my sharing my story I might become a deeper ally in the work of honoring those who struggle and those who love them.

You can listen to me read it slam poetry style and/or read it below.


I didn’t know much when I was a kid
Meaning-about you or how this works
But I knew I loved you
I loved you fiercely
I tried to save you
I tried to save myself
Three years old i decided to never be
on the other side
of the ones who betrayed
The ones who made you cry
I would be better
I would show you
you are loved mom
But I didn’t know then
And I couldn’t have known
that this burden of yours
I could never carry
I tried mom
I tried until it almost killed me
I tried even as it did.
through the laughter
but more importantly through the things I couldn’t remember
like the fear- the terror really of you, of your strength and of what might happen to
Luke (because I could never let myself think of me)
and I loved you
and I hated you too
and I’ve hated and hate myself that all of this was/is true
I knew you weren’t well, but I didn’t know why
I didn’t know what it meant other than
times of friendship
and times when I cried because people became evil in your eyes
in and out and out and in
months and months of no food in the house and hopeful desperation
“mom- I love you”
“mom- I’m sorry”
and you told me “I know who you really are”
and I believed you
in fact, sometimes I still do
I didn’t leave home until I was 24- not really for you owned me and my identity was subsumed
and I didn’t know how to leave for how did I leave you, knowing what that might mean
It wasn’t your fault, and I knew that
but neither was it mine
for your mother’s mother lost her son- and her mind, they say
the church folks said “you made you bed; lie in in it” and so she did
but as she lay, trying to make out her life
she bore your mom, who bore the scars of absence of crazy and of violence
and that gave birth to you
Oh my mother, I’m sorry for what you’ve known
I’m sorry for what was and is done to you
I’m sorry because I couldn’t carry
any more
for you almost killed and took my life too
and out i had to come
“come with me
take my hand if we be friends”
puck says it in the end
of this land of ferries in this dream world of a midsummer’s night
“take my hand” I cried
“take my hand” I had been crying
and now,
my hand is empty
and I hate you for your absence
though I know it’s not your fault
but I know it isn’t mine
Mother made from flesh and earth
Beneath your skin I couldn’t breathe- couldn’t be
so I died to you
and maybe never truly
but your terror almost killed me
Yet I carry you with me
Mother- Juli
 I know it’s not your fault
but I know it isn’t mine

2 thoughts on “Mother(s)

  1. Beautiful, heart-wrenching poem, Sara. Thank you for sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to end the stigma. I admire your courage and strength and am inspired by your to be more fully myself.

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