How My Mother’s Troubles Led Me to a Better Life
Personality Disorder expert and counselor April Kirkwood suffered at the hands of a despotic mother. Her experience has shaped her life and her career and her soul-baring memoir Working My Way Back To Me, charts the journey she’s made in the process of healing herself and passing on the love and guidance to others. This is her story!
“In the sixties, there was no Oprah or Dr. Phil bringing issues out in the bright sunlight to discuss sensitive issues. There was a dark shroud concealing and prohibiting dialogue about mental health, addiction, rape, and sexual preference. There was a fear that anyone that sought counseling would have a black check mark next to their name. As a little girl, I was told not to seek help at school or anywhere because it would hurt my chances to have a successful career. I never did.
I remember in fourth grade there was a science project that gave each student the opportunity to pick their subject matter. There I sat copying all ten personality disorders as my report on mental health. My teacher was shocked at the length of time I dedicated to one small year-end assignment. In retrospect, I know I was searching for answers. I wanted to know what was wrong with my mom and what I could do to help her.
I wanted someone to talk to. No one ever came. After Mom passed, I would often run into people she encountered on a regular basis. Scattered like dominoes without any connection to one another were her hairdresser, the bank teller, and the cashier at the grocery store. Each one stopped me and spoke of the deep love and admiration she had for me.
Once again, the ‘normal’ feelings of confusion pulsated throughout my being. That was my first glimpse of the irrational, nonsensical war raged within a woman who longed for love but never could find it. I deliberated how her personality unconsciously spilled into me and how it caused many of the negative events in my own life.
I realized that her emotional attacks were not a lack of love on her part, but a lack of love for herself. She loved me more than the life she could not find for herself. Her sorrow wrapped her up in a web of self-destructive behaviors smothering her judgment until she slowly died from that illness. She could not help me because she could not help herself.
I have two masters in counseling and am licensed as an LPC with national certification as well as a guidance counselor and Language Arts teacher. I have been working in mental health for over 20 years. My specialty includes but is not limited to working with trauma victims focussing on women and children. My goal for the client is to be able to self identify the trauma, process it in a safe environment providing a space for healing, and find methods and practices to assist in their short and long term recovery.
On a broader level, I bare my soul through the writing of the memoir, Working My Way Back To Me, in hopes of helping others through the sorrow of my life. I stand in my past and walk through it with bravery encouraging others to do the same. My regrets do not have to be theirs. I am here openly for others so they can do more than just watch and cry, becoming a stranger in their own life. This is not what I asked for in life. It is my burden to free others of the debilitating messy effects of living with someone who has a personality disorder.
The characteristics of personality disorders are listed in the bible of mental diagnosis, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which keeps professionals up to date with new research and statistical findings. This book is used by trained professionals to assist in the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of personality disorders as well as other mental disorders.
There are presently ten personality disorders that show impairments with self and interpersonal relationships with one or more pathological disorders. Some of these include but are not limited to, odd, bizarre, eccentric, dramatic, erratic, anxious, fearful and paranoid behaviors.
Identification of a personality disorder, therefore, requires the assistance of extensive training to do a thorough intake and assessment of the potential client to assure the right diagnosis and care.
It is very upsetting to see someone who has been misdiagnosed carrying that stigma with them altering their self-perception worsening their condition. It is the worst kind of bullying when those who know little about personality disorders throw terms around loosely. It is an assault on the character of another who may be struggling through a difficult time but does NOT have an actual personality disorder. In short, taking one college psych course or reading pop psych articles does not give anyone a right to label someone with a personality disorder. Calling someone bipolar, psycho, or crazy is not amusing and inflicts irreversible damage to the core of another’s ability to thrive.
Personality Disorders are notoriously difficult to treat. But there have been positive results in a new type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It combines group therapy and training sessions. Clients practice skills of mindfulness, emotion regulation, and coping with issues that cause stress.
However, it is not uncommon for those with personality disorders to require hospitalization. Do not hesitate to reach out and do whatever is necessary to keep them safe. Psychotropic therapy alone is not sufficient for stabilization.
My mother sought refuge at church and through many years of crying at the altar, confessing her transgressions, and studying scripture, little progress was accomplished in terms of her mental health. Mom also sought out therapy. She had many men who she had sex and she overdosed on prescribed medications. The treatment, of course, was counterproductive. She eventually became unrecognizable to herself and to us.
The goal of writing Working My Way Back To Me is to provide a safe place for others to explore their story. I want to inspire others to bravely revisit their lives from an adult perspective. With awareness, healing can take place and lives transformed. Carrying the sorrow and repeating self-destructive behaviors are counterproductive to oneself and those you care most deeply for.
I wrote the book for my son, my daughter, and my new granddaughter. I wanted to cut the root of the tree of mental illness and end the mad cycle of self-destruction. Little by little, we are finding what healthy happiness looks and feels like. We are a testament to those who suffer from multi-generational dysfunction and we are finding better ways to view ourselves and our stories.
Unfortunately, little progress has been made in pinpointing the cause of personality disorders. There are two possibles. One is genetic and the other is caused by the environment.
My grandmother often said that her mother told her that something wasn’t quite right with her firstborn daughter. Mom was reported to have screaming bouts in elementary school where she had to be moved the desk and all to a quiet space. My mother also said she was molested by her stepfather. If the above accounts are accurate, Mom had a plate full of reasons to have a personality disorder.
The three main categories of the 10 personality disorders are:
Suspicious – paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal and antisocial.
Emotional and impulsive – borderline, histrionic and narcissistic.
Anxious – avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive.
At this time, there is no quick fix but remission is possible. There are, as mentioned above, treatments available that can be quite effective with individual and group sessions. Family education is also recommended to increase the potential of long term positive results. Medication is also carefully prescribed and monitored as needed.
Living with someone with this condition is a challenge, to put it mildly. It’s essential to their wellbeing to seek support gathering as much information as possible about the diagnosis, treatment options, and most importantly, how to help yourself. Whether you presently recognize it or not, the drip has no doubt affected your view of yourself and the world around you. The poison of the behaviors of mental illness silently slip into the minds of those closest to those who suffer. It comes to a time when you have to place your welfare first.
Growing up with a parent who has a personality disorder is heartbreaking. My mom was supposed to protect me, be there for me, and do what she promised. She never did. I was left confused and constantly on my toes waiting for her to go crazy, cry, shut down, or leave. I found some normalcy in the care of my grandma and Aunt Ginny. But my mom never liked it when I turned to them creating more unwarranted rage.
My entire life I tried to make her happy. I never could. I often felt like a failure as her daughter. As a high achiever, I felt like I never quite got it perfect. All of my romantic relationships mimicked seeking others that would not, or could not, return the love I desired with all the glitter and glamour of a big screen tragedy. I had troubles listening to authority figures. My career suffered. I made some poor, impulsive decisions. Yes, my emotional DNA was changed and I wasn’t aware of it. Living with someone who has a personality disorder distorts what ‘normal’ looks and feels like. I thought I was doing ‘fabulously’. In truth, I wasn’t even close.
I’ve witnessed lives shredded like delicate tissues wet by tears, tossed away into nothingness. As a therapist, I’ve been given the opportunity to visually see the worst possible scenarios. Teenagers dying of an overdose. College students destroying a bright future by not showing up for classes, random sex, and unwanted pregnancy. Mothers incarcerated.
Fathers’ aggression turned outwards assaulting anyone within listening distance. Guns at the hands of the sick killing innocent children. Those demonized by irrational guilt, self-persecution, exhibiting outward acts of violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, prostitution, and murder. Impulsive behaviors with permanent consequences.
The seriousness of having a personality disorder cannot be overemphasized. The onset is usually in teenage years to young adulthood. It is not uncommon for some behaviors of certain conditions to have symptoms that aren’t recognized until adulthood.
Personally and professionally, I mourn for a world that doesn’t understand personality disorders and the global effect it has in creating a torrent of catastrophic events met with confusion, despair, and fear. We fear what we do not understand and that fear keeps us trapped in it.
Let us love those who have this disease with understanding and forgivingness while creating a space for our safety and wellbeing. We do not let a child run into traffic, but we let those with personality disorders destroy themselves and others in their path. It makes no sense, yet no one does anything. If my book creates a space for conversations about this, my life will not have been in vain.”