When I was little, I used to fantasize about being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. I knew nothing about what went on in mental hospitals; no one in my family had been hospitalized for mental reasons at that point, and I was also very young. I remember my mother talking about specific teenage girls from our church who were straight A students and on the dance team and preparing for college and how they would be hospitalized because of the stress of being so amazing at everything, and also anorexia. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be so amazing that I had to be hospitalized for it. I envisioned my mother and doctors and nurses stroking my forehead and telling me to rest, that I shouldn't work so hard.
Mental illness wasn't acknowledged in our house or in our extended family, in spite of my uncle's suicide and almost all my mother's siblings eventually being diagnosed with one thing or another. The only illnesses that were valued and treated (and faked) were physical. Stress counted as physical though. Only the best, hardest working, most put upon martyrs felt stress, so my mother was in a fairly constant competition to be the most stressed out person she knew. I think this is part of why I wanted to be hospitalized. I wanted the attention, and I wanted someone to acknowledge that the stress I felt was real too. I wanted a reaction that wasn't, "Why is that little bitch crying again?" or "Stop being so sensitive."
One of the best side effects of my mother going off the deep end was that she stopped responding positively to my ailments, including the ulcerative colitis I developed in college. I learned that I had to care for myself and no one else would do it for me. I could ask close friends for specific help, and they usually came through, and hired help is an option for almost everything if you have enough money, but I was responsible for making sure I had what I needed. No one else. No one would decide I was too sick or under too much stress and tell me to take a rest. If I let myself hit rock bottom, no one was going to come to my rescue. It is a little depressing to grow up wanting so much for someone to stroke your hair and take care of you and tell you not to stress yourself, and then to realize that will never happen, but it was an important lesson to learn, and it was a better situation than the one my mother had.
My mother's parents took care of her until they died. She lived within walking distance of their house up until they moved to the next town over in their 70s. I remember watching her mother cook for her, and her father giving her money when she needed it, despite her income via my dad's disability payments being several times that of my grandparents. She moved in with them after the divorce, when she refused to bathe or feed herself or find anywhere else to live. She always had a human safety net. Until she didn't.
Shortly after my grandparents died, my mother took a bunch of pills, called herself an ambulance, and ended up in the psych ward of the local hospital. Based on what I've heard as an adult, I imagine the psych ward wasn't as soothing or nurturing as I'd fantasized as a child. No friends or family came to her rescue that time, and they ultimately discharged her to a low-end assisted living home where she was required to see a psychiatrist. He was the one who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.
I don't know where she is now or how/whether she takes care of herself. I heard she left the assisted living home after awhile. My dad said they wanted her to pay something to keep living there, but I don't know if she got evicted or if she left because she wanted to go. She had tried to reach out to me via Facebook from that assisted living home to say my brother, my husband, and I were all the support system she had left in the world and she wanted me back in her life. It had been some three years since I'd heard from her at that point. I never replied. After she left assisted living, she talked about suing my dad for more monthly spousal support and wanting to pick up the things she'd left at the house after the divorce, including some major appliances, but nothing ever came of it and then she disappeared again.