I'm Drowning Beneath The Weight Of My Family's Mental Illness

Or at least, sandwiched between uncertainty.

Shannon Ashley
May 12 · 5 min read

A couple of weeks ago, my mother, who has been living on my couch for nearly 6 months, told me that she lost her Section 8 voucher for subsidized housing.

That means there are even fewer apartments for her to choose from down here in Tennessee. As somebody on a fixed income through Social Security Disability, she is basically limited to Section 42 subsidized housing.

According to my mother, somebody in the local housing office made some filing error, but blamed it on the California office where my mother came from back in November.

It's not for me to say what happened. I am basically just waiting for my mom to leave.


I’ve written a lot about my mother’s mental illness over the past year. Lately, I write about it less because I don’t know what else to say.

This is the woman who raised me. A woman whom I love and appreciate. Yet she is also a woman who has abused and wounded me, sometimes it seems her damage has gone too far beyond any hope of healing.

Over this past month, she has been much harder to live with. She hasn't been to the doctor once since moving to Tennessee. Isn't trying to manage her diabetes. And now she's even let her cellulitis go.

My mom's calves look awful. Purple and red skin, bruised, blistered, and seeping. She sits all day in the kitchen, watching sermons on YouTube and supposedly prophetic videos about the end times.

We can't talk about the reason she won't go to the doctor. She believes she has lymphedema from radiation torture, and that the torture follows her wherever she goes.

It supposedly started in the Twin Cities, where we're from. And then it followed her to California. Now here in Tennessee.

You can't argue with anything she believes. Jesus is coming. Jesus is always coming. Any day now. Jared Kushner could be the antichrist. Oh, how she hates AOC.

Since my mom believes her body is being heated up by radiation torture, she uses ice packs on her body every waking hour. She's got about 20 different ice packs in my freezer.

And I don't dare explain to her that ice packs are a terrible idea for long-term use. Well, I've tried to show her the facts but it's always ended in her tears and accusations.


Meanwhile, there are issues with my 5-year-old. As a baby with hypotonia, she has pretty much always had sensory processing disorder and issues with rigidity.

Hypotonia and sensory processing disorder often go hand in hand with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). At this point, it’s pretty clear that’s what we’re dealing with as my daughter now attempts to wash her hands repeatedly and refuses to use her hands even after they’ve been cleaned.

I'm used to my kid being rigid and thinking she has to have everything a certain way. I'm used to her nervousness and anxiety over the unknown.

Recently though, the obsession with handwashing has taken her issues to a whole new level. She was already sensitive. Already a picky eater.

All of her symptoms are heightened now.

My job as a mom isn't to placate my kid. Motherhood is typically about comforting your child, but when they suffer from OCD, you can't let their anxiety win.

Much of my job revolves around teaching her how to live with uncertainty. And much of my day now revolves around letting her know when she can (but mostly can't) wash her hands. Right now, I've got it limited to washing before meals, after meals if the food was messy, after using the potty, and certain singular circumstances.

Like an accidental sneeze on the hands.

If it was up to my daughter, she'd be washing her hands constantly. And even now, as she watches her bedtime show, I can't help but notice her two little hands balled into a fist.

Anytime she doesn't want to use her hands, she curls those fingers. Even in her sleep.


Being a single mom is tough. But tackling my daughter's OCD and anxiety is this whole other level. I'm realizing now that our entire lives might be like this. One new issue after another.

I don't know how to reject the guilt that maybe I'm to blame. During the pregnancy, I was drowning in anxiety and prenatal depression. I was suicidal and prayed for a miscarriage. I hoped for my own death and grabbed a knife or medication more times than I can even remember.

Every time, I intended to die. But every time, I chickened out. I feared that I might fuck things up and wind up making it all even worse than death.

I got through the darkest days of loneliness and depression. Made it through horrific anxiety when I became a mother, and I was pretty proud of the mother I turned out to be.

But now I wonder how proud I can be after all. My daughter’s anxiety and OCD tendencies were real fears of mine in 2014. There were times I begged her dad to give me a break. To help me cope. Or play nice.

I showed him the studies about stress during pregnancy.

And 5 years later, I now feel like it's all my fault.

Like I'm responsible for this.


I never expected to find myself a part of the sandwich generation. Never planned to be a mother and certainly never dreamed about having my own mother live with us... even temporarily.

Becoming a single mom was pretty much my nightmare, but I wound up choosing this life because I didn't believe I could mentally handle an abortion or adoption.

It's a little ridiculous, I know.

I chose the lifelong commitment because I had too much baggage to deal with the other stuff. I'll never pretend it made any sense.

It was just... that thing I thought I might be able to live with. And then I had to live with it because it's what I chose.

In reality, I'm lucky. It took time, but keeping my daughter allowed me to fall in love with her. I was worried that I might resent her, and I was petrified that I might yell at her when I was weary.

I'm grateful that choosing to love her (before I ever actually felt that love) became the real thing.

In the meantime? I'm sandwiched in this mental illness and on some days it's sink or swim. Dealing with my daughter's and my mother's illnesses. Dealing with my own.

Forging ahead to write a better life, the kind with a future... that while still uncertain, is just a little less scary.


Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, fulltime writer, exvangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer. http://www.patreon.com/shannonashley

Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

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