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Rated: E · Essay · Family · #2175823
mental health and aging grandparents

         Most grandchildren love both of their grandparents equally. However, I always preferred my grandpa to my grandma. Despite the factor of proximity (my grandpa lives next door to me), no matter how much time I spent with my grandma I never felt as connected to her. Both my grandparents were trailblazers in the sense that they came to America from Serbia to start new lives. Both were previously married, divorced, and finally married each other and then divorced. When my grandma moved from Arkansas in 2008, I got to see her more often.
         My mom and I would visit almost every weekend. We were three generations sitting together on Grandma's bed all in our t-shirts and underwear watching crime shows and eating fried spaghetti. These weekends spent together sound pleasant. However, I left out the years of trauma and verbal scars between my mom and my grandma from decades of arguments. When I was in fifth grade a reason for my grandma's irrationalness was starting to become apparent.
         It started with Grandma whispering, "They are spraying things in the air vents..."
Who were "they"? Like an FBI agent I began to analyze what my grandma had just told me as if I had received the most top-secret mission from the Pentagon, and I was the only one who could complete it. After my mom bombarded my grandma with What are you talking about?s and When did this start? I asked a simple question, "What times of the day do 'these people' spray things in the air vents?"
Grandma stumbled for an answer. She struggled until she could settle on, "...sometimes in the mornings..."
But her response wasn't convincing. "And how long do these sprayings last?" I methodically questioned as if the top-secret mission could self-destruct at any moment.
Grandma was more puzzled than last time, but she didn't show it for long. "A couple hours at a time," she responded, her eyes focused on the ground. Even with all of my questions answered I was sent back to the evidence board where my duty as FBI agent would be to piece together my evidence.
         It took two years for my evidence to come together and for me to finally get a lead. After three apartment moves and a couple of remarks contemplating suicide, it was time for Grandma to see a psychiatrist. After the first visit, the psychiatrist was able to provide medication for bipolar disorder. However, this diagnosis alone did not satisfy the psychiatrist.
The stories of people spraying things in the air vents became stories of people trying to kill my grandma. My mom and I wanted to believe her because maybe if we finally saw what she saw, we could make her feel safe, and she could finally have a restful night. But even as an FBI agent, equipped with my analytical skills, I never once saw what she saw or deduced a rational explanation for her claims.
The lead clue, her bipolar disorder, provided answers to her strange behavior. Yet just when my mom and I thought we had cracked the case, accomplished the mission of understanding Grandma, we were told she was borderline schizophrenic. My whole life I have avoided my grandma, less because of her irrationality than her lack of a motherly instinct. I used to wonder why I could never quite connect with my grandma as I did my grandpa? Why after just a couple of hours, when the spaghetti was eaten, and the crime shows were watched, did Grandma and my mom get in the rhythm of their usual dance titled Argument?
One plausible answer is Grandma's mental illness. As she has gotten older, her illness is more recognizable. When my grandpa was told she is taking medicine for schizophrenia, he retorted, "I always knew there was something off about her." To him her mental illness is a reasonable explanation for the things she has said and done. I agree with him.
Grandma can't help who she is. My mom calls her "a survivor" because she has always worked hard. But she only worked hard for herself. "Every paycheck I earned went straight to your mom and your grandma," my grandpa remembers. "I never saw her paycheck, not even once." They were married for nine years. But I don't blame her. She did what she knew best, and she can't help who she is. Just looking at my grandma, a stranger might see a sweet, frail, and witty woman with snow-white hair. But what lies beneath is a much more complex, manipulative, and intelligent being.
My grandma is mentally ill, which may or may not be why she is manipulative and selfish, but she is still hilarious and naturally intelligent. For a woman who came from a village, she understands more about life than many far more educated people. Whenever I see her, I internalize what she says. When she asks me how I am doing, she seems to really want to know and, unlike my mom, refrains from judging my current life choices but rather just listens.
My grandma is eighty-five now. She takes heavy medication everyday but gets through it with the help of my mom's daily visits. I have neglected to see her as much as I did in our spaghetti eating, crime show watching days. Now I see her maybe once a month, instead of every weekend. I'm not sure how much time we have left together, but one thing is for sure, there is no one quite as genuine and willing to openly listen as she. My grandma may be mentally ill, but she is more human, more raw, more unapologetically herself than I could ever be.


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