Life with a mother with severe, untreated Munchausen syndrome

My mother has been sick since before I was born, not, however, in the way she has always desired to be sick.
Before her children came along, her cat had seizures. Then my older sister had seizures and my mother convinced the pediatrician to write an anti-seizure medication that was not needed. My sister was never confirmed to have seizures, my mother was just taken at her word. Now that we are grown, my mother has seizures herself. In recent years, numerous hospitals have told us that there is no physical cause for her seizures. She’s actually conscious when they are happening. Because they aren’t real.

She will tell you that I almost died when I was born and had to be resuscitated. She will tell you that I was allergic to all kinds of foods when I was young and had a very restrictive diet. She will tell you that I could only eat cream of wheat by the age of six because I couldn’t tolerate any other foods until a surgeon took my tonsils out and I could eat again. She said my tonsils were so big that I couldn’t get any food past them except for cream of wheat.

None of this is true. I did have my tonsils removed and I had at least six sets of ear tubes put in my ears via surgery, but I’m not sure if all of that was necessary. My mother was very good at selecting doctors who trusted the things she said.

We are born to trust our parents. I once overheard my mother telling a story about a guinea pig that we had that the neighborhood kids adored. She went on to describe the funeral that we had for the guinea pig that the neighborhood kids attended. I didn’t remember this funeral so I assumed that I just wasn’t there that day. I didn’t assume she wasn’t being truthful, I assumed that I was somewhere else when that big neighborhood funeral happened. Why wouldn’t I trust my mother? I thought it was my own fault for not remembering this funeral.

 

I was ten when my mother lied about having cancer for the first time. I walked into her room after school and her head was shaved. She wrapped me in a hug and told me that it was ok, that her hair would grow back. She also told my sisters and me to keep it from my father.

This was the first of many lessons about my mother’s illness. The illness is to be protected at all cost.

If you are against her illness, you are her enemy. She will turn as many people as she can against you in order to protect her illness. It doesn’t matter if you are her child, her husband, a boyfriend, her parents, her sibling… you are her enemy if you are against her illness.

Anxiety has been my life long companion. I only learned the name for that companion as an adult. My childhood was tumultuous. We lived as if the end of the world was around the corner. My mother was always one night away from dying. She told my older sister a few times that she needed to take care of her younger siblings because my mother was going to die during the night. This was traumatizing for my sister.
I remember wishing on a shooting star in the midst of a panic, because I didn’t think my mother was going to walk through the door ever again. I couldn’t have been older than six at the time.
I never knew if I would come home to an ambulance outside of our house, I never knew if she was going to collapse in a store with me there due to crashing blood sugar levels… I didn’t have the safety of a mother to protect me. I spent my childhood feeling unsafe and this led to a lifetime struggle with anxiety.

The self-hatred came when I was older. When I eventually started to doubt her illnesses, she taught me so well that I was worthy of being hated that I actually hated myself for the majority of my adult life. One wrong move in my life with my mother meant I was her enemy and everyone surrounding her viewed me as an enemy as well. She made sure of that.

As a result, I had to be perfect. One wrong move in any relationship meant that I believed that every single good thing anyone ever saw in me would be gone in an instant. I had to react to every situation the way a “perfect” person would react and if I made a mistake, real or imagined, I beat myself up for weeks, sometimes even longer.

I hated every fiber of my being. This is the biggest life lesson my mother has taught me, that I am a person who is worthy of being hated. I was an enemy and she wanted the world to know. Eventually, I started to hate myself too. People would tell me how kind I was and with a heavy heart I would think “you poor thing, if you only knew me, you would hate me too. Just give it time to see who I really am”.

I’ve been my mother’s enemy for almost fifteen years. I used to fight with her and point out her lies and inconsistencies. She would create more lies to cover for the lies that I exposed and I would end up confused and doubting myself.

After a doozy of a fight with my mother’s husband, I left my house to stay with a friend and I wasn’t allowed back home, even to visit, for years. She made sure that my family knew I was an enemy. She told them that I did things that I didn’t do and she turned them against me. They believed her and I lost them for a few years.

As traumatic as that was, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced a separation from my mother that allowed me to watch her and study her from a distance.
My self-hatred has been gone for about a year now. As I learned to accept myself, as I learned that I really am a good person who wants good things for people, I started to allow myself to just be human. I saw that people embraced me more when I allowed myself to just be me.

I realized that people are complex. You can be annoyed by someone and still love them with all of your heart. I realized that if I love someone who is flawed, maybe, just maybe, it is possible for the people in my life to love me even though I am flawed. That realization allowed me to explore the possibility that I am also worthy of being loved even though I am flawed.

I am still my mother’s enemy. She went through a phase where she lied about events instead of illnesses. These imagined events led to her claiming PTSD, anxiety, and dissociative disorders. She will tell you that she’s been attacked, she’s been stabbed in the chest, she’s had a car trunk smashed on her head which led to her seizure disorder, she’s been raped, she’s been beaten by ex-husbands and ex boyfriends. She even went into safe houses for a brief period of time to get away from the people who were attacking her. Her story was taken at face value. The attacks never happened and people were not after her. But my mother was trusted. Who would lie about attacks like that? She’s back to what she knows best, faking illnesses. She’s been on a seizure kick; she’s perfected her act so well that doctors actually think she’s seizing until they get close to her and realize that she’s conscious.

Her second cancer lie a few months ago was a lie of convenience. She claimed to be vomiting so often that she crushed a disk in her spine and when the hospital did a scan of her back to check, they found a cyst that the surgeon wanted to remove. Thus, her second cancer lie was born. She told us that she had inoperable spine cancer in two places that would kill her. She was able to lie for a few days until a surgeon told us that they removed a cyst and they were not actually doing a biopsy of her inoperable spine cancer like she said they were.

This is what can be so confusing for people who are not well versed in her illness. She will get sick; she will get colds or the flu. People think “she had a positive flu test so this is true, she’s not lying”. The illness takes it a few steps further. She was hospitalized for the flu and then needed physical therapy to learn how to walk again during the same hospital stay. She was in a car accident and she had to be rushed to the emergency room for blunt force trauma. I still remember that phone call from my sister: “everyone is ok but mom had to be taken to the hospital for blunt force trauma”. I was onto her by then so I rolled my eyes and thought “of COURSE she did”.

There are the massive lies, then there are the lies of convenience, and then there are the completely unnecessary lies like the guinea pig funeral that didn’t happen. It’s like she has no control over the lies that she tells, however, she tailors them to whatever audience she has at the time. The lies are calculated but she just can’t stop telling them. She never spoke of her first cancer lie again, that lie ended in a custody hearing because she was found to be lying without a doubt. She was caught so she knows not to lie about that instance ever again. While it seems like she has no control, she knows which lies she can tell and which lies she can’t tell based on her current audience.

She’s now pretending that she had a stroke by slurring her words because she couldn’t keep the cancer lie going. I’m not sure how long she will be able to keep the stroke lie going, it’s a lot of effort to constantly slur your speech.

Anyone caught up in my mother’s web believes me to be a hate and rage filled monster who is obsessed with the past. It amuses me that they think I’m obsessed with the past when my mother has never recovered from her illness. I’m not obsessed with the past; I’m protecting myself from things that still happen to this day. Her Münchausen didn’t stop, in fact, I believe she’s become more extreme as the years have passed. It’s like she completely lost herself to the illness.

A few people caught in her web have actually tried to set me straight. They’ve only known my mother for a few months, yet, they believe that they need to set her abusive, hate filled daughter straight. I refuse to have contact with anyone caught in her web for that exact reason. These people are constantly changing as she only stays in one place for a few years at a time. She takes off with no warning, leaving everyone behind, in order to find a new audience.

It’s taken me a while to be able to brush these people off. As I learned to accept myself, I began to surround myself with people who only brought positivity to my life, people who accept and love me for me. As I started to separate from people who treated me like I was a bad person, I was able to stop worrying about what strangers thought of me.

If the people I surround myself with know that I am a good person, what does it matter what strangers think?

It’s actually a little funny, she tells people that I’m full of hate and rage, and they believe it to be true. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. I don’t want bad things for my mother, it actually makes me feel sad to think of hurting her feelings, but other than that, I’m indifferent to her.

She holds no power over my thoughts and I’ve undone as much of her damage as I could possibly undo.

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