My mum is bipolar, get over it.

I didn’t have your average upbringing. Everything was great until it wasn’t. That’s not to say I had a shitty childhood. It just wasn’t a particularly conventional one. there’s no need to get your hankies out. This isn’t that kind of blog by the way.

But yeah, my mum’s mental health has been a constant worry in my life. for about 20 years really. The shit hit the fan when I was about 10 years old. I can’t say for sure what triggered it. I don’t even know if there was a trigger or if for the previous years she had just been perfect at hiding it. Then again, I was too busy playing in the mud and generally being a kid to pay attention. But when it started, it was fairly brutal. Gone was the happy go lucky mum that would take me to the woods to listen to birds, show me which mushrooms to pick up and which one to avoid (rule of thumb: the prettier the mushroom, the deadlier). But in was the moody, withdrawn mum.

My siblings are all much older than me and had already left the home for uni, army or the bright lights of Paris. So it was down to me and my dad to cope. At first mum was diagnosed with some sort of nervous breakdown. Then it became something like paranoia (her meds made her think we were out to get her), then maniaco-depressive. Ultimately, after far too many years, she was diagnosed as bi-polar.

This mental illness was heavily taboo back then, it still is to this day, maybe a little bit less thanks to famous people coming out of the wood saying that they are bi-polars. Mum spent a great deal of time in and out of it. In or out of clinics. It’s always been a struggle keeping some sort of normality through out secondary school and then university.

It was hard to deal with, and as close to unexplainable to other people. There’s a big stigma about mental illness. I never acknowledged the fact that my mum had a mental illness till I was in my late teens, it just didn’t seem like something that could happen to us. I always thought it’d pass and she’ll get back to how she used to be. When asked what was up with my mum I tried to dismiss the question without giving a straight answer or I’d say she has a heart condition. People ask less questions. Beside, if you say that your mum is bipolar, people automatically assume that you too are bipolar. That one day you too will snap.

The thing I found the hardest to deal with were the mood swings of mum. She’d be on a high, ecstatic state of euphoria followed by dark moods, and various suicide attempts. These were the worse though. Coming back home to see the ambulance parked in the driveway if dad was home first. Or having to start CPR and all that if I was home first. And the cleaning of the mess.

Again, I am not saying that for you to pity me. Far from it. I just need to get it out of my chest. I’m being totally honest with a bunch of strangers.

The trigger of this is that my mum is reaching the end of the line. Thing about this disease is that it takes over your mind, it destroy family lives. I know how my mum is medicated and non-medicated. She knows, just as well as I and my dad know, that if she stops her medications, usually after feeling great for a while, the shit will hit the fan. It has happened far too many times for her not to know the consequences. This year, she stopped her meds 2 month before my wedding, resulting in her being hospitalised shortly before my wedding, and a suicide attempt the day before my wedding. Telling you that it crushed me is an understatement. But I’m used to it. I don’t have any answers as of why she did that. She just did. She’s been in that clinic for months now. Doctors are struggling about what to give her and what dosage.

I’m not even sure she wants to get out of that clinic. I am at loss with what to do. Right now, she’s so drugged up she thinks I’m a nurse. She knows who my siblings are. But she doesn’t know who I am. I, the one who spent many days nursing her, who fed her, bathed her, bought her clothes, took her out, stayed to the local university instead of La Sorbonne so I could be home every week end. She doesn’t know who I am. Am I bitter? maybe a bit.

What weighs on my mind at the moment is what my other half thinks. I know he is worried that I may ‘end up like my mother’. He doesn’t need to say it, some things don’t need to be voiced outloud to be heard. I don’t think so, but I can’t promise him that. I think my mental state is a lot more stable than that of my mum. Or more to the point, if I knew I wasn’t feeling great, I’d seek help, unlike my mum who spent years in denial, refusing to see any specialist because she “wasn’t crazy”.

Over the years I have read as much as I could about what the bipolar illness is about. Seems that I’ll never fully understand it, why it happened to her, how it works and the likes. I just tried to do the best I could. I’ll be honest though, I left France because it was the right thing to do for me, not just in terms of work and such, but because I couldn’t carry on being some sort of carer for my mum, moral support for my dad. I needed a break. I needed time to be a carefree young adult. I wrote, I called and I went back, and I still do go back. But if I hadn’t done that, goodness know what state I would be in. For sure I doubt I’d be in the happy place I’m in.

The constant in my life through all this have been cakes. I’ve baked cakes to keep busy, baked cakes to bring to the hospital, baked cakes to cheer up, baked cakes to forget, baked cakes to keep that link with the past, with those days when mum wasn’t ill and she was showing me how to make a meringue, how to be creative with ingredients and all that. And I am looking for the cake that she’ll take a bite off and suddenly remembers who I am.

Petits Choux

I realise I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been around though, mostly reading other people’s blogs and marvelling at how amazing people are at telling their stories.

My story right now is about my newly rekindled affair with petits choux. They’re the core to what makes profiteroles. They are gluten & wheat free you know. Takes about say 1 hour from start to finish to make. And what fun!! I always loved making them with my aunt. Making them, either in the shape of what would be turned into a profiterole or an eclair, or a religieuse (yup, we have a delicacy called ‘the nun’ in France..), was always such a treat, especially as we’d have to make a creme patissiere (the baker’s custard) which is used in so many French pastries. There’s a knack to it. To quote the professor/chef in Sabrina: it’s all in the wrist.

It’s also about patience, something I’ve often lacked as a kid in the kitchen. If you go too fast, chances are both the choux pastry and the creme patissiere will turn into some weird scramble eggs combo. The creme might be over cooked and bur if the gas is on too high. 

But if you work the pastry really hard and fast and for as long as it takes, the result will be worth it. The consistency will be just so. Perfect for piping (you can just use spoons, but it doesn’t look as lovely). 

I just love baking those choux, plus they’re pretty versatile. Add cheese to them, they’re called gougeres, add big bits of sugar, they’re called chouquettes, pipe into them creme patissiere, they become profiteroles… And the lovely smell that takes over the kitchen… brings me back to my aunt’s kitchen. Happy times.

I’m going through the old recipe book that I’ve somehow inherited, since none of my siblings are as into baking & cooking as me. 

When I last went to my parents, I found some old school pictures, with notes from my schoolmates. Most of these notes are about me baking something, and words of advice about not baking so much I end up eating all the cakes. Made me smile. 

Especially as I hear my husband telling me to so stop eating all the choux. Ah some things never change!