The Constant Gardener

My mother is not employed, never was. Her “eccentric special interest” is gardening — her garden is worth 3 times what her house is worth, and she knows the genus of every plant known to mankind. She gardened instead of parenting me and my brother. (My father was alcoholic . . . which didn’t help the situation.) There are currently over 500 plants in her house. She hoards plants and everything else, including food. There is food in her freezer that has been there since I was in high school (I’m now 46 year old). She seemed to have no idea, when I was a child, that I was a separate person. If she had an interest, she couldn’t understand that I might not share it. If I had an interest she didn’t share, she’d either ignore it or insist that I didn’t have it at all (for example, she told me I couldn’t take dance lessons because SHE was not able to dance). She barely noticed I was alive, much less in trouble or in need of help. I had a severe episode of anorexia as a teenager, but she never noticed as my weight dropped to below 90 pounds. I was sick with this for five years, but she has no recollection of it. When the subject of eating disorders comes up, and the fact that I had one, she’s astonished. It’s as if, because it happened to me rather than to her, it didn’t happen at all. Her conversation is bizarre to say the least. Sometimes she holds forth on gardening, but more often, she engages in a sort of stream of consciousness soliloquy apropos of nothing. If others are holding a normal conversation, she will interject meaningless information into it. Sometimes her interjections are offensive, but if you tell her that you’re offended she has no idea what she might have said wrong. Often her interjections are hilarious or mystifying. The other day, in the middle of a conversation about local politics, she interrupted with: “Did you know that you could adopt a manatee? And give it a name?” She has no friends, other than members of her gardening clubs (she belongs to six) with whom she discusses only plants and gardening. I believe that her manner of relating would be offensive or confusing to anyone who doesn’t share this interest. When my family visits her (she lives several hours away), there is no food for us (other than the hoarded food, which actually ceased to be food many years ago). If she cooks, there is never enough–she doesn’t understand that when there are five people at the table, there needs to be more food than when it’s only her. I could go on and on. I have years of memories. I have always suspected that my mother was not normal. However, as a young child, how do you explain this to anyone else? How do you even know that you’re right? In my case, I did attempt to talk to my father about my mother’s differences but he would always tell me I was wrong or crazy. I guess he had a lot invested in keeping up a good front. But . . . I was astute enough to realize that my mother wasn’t showing me any love, which meant that something was wrong with someone, and if there was nothing wrong with my mother, that must mean that something was wrong with ME. I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it stands to reason that if someone grows up thinking that her mother is unable to show her any love because she’s too flawed to warrant maternal affection, that person is going to have some “issues”. And in fact I’ve struggled my whole life with the belief that I am too fundamentally flawed to deserve love or even a modicum of attention. I have had years of therapy and have finally learned to be comfortable with myself, but it has been a hard road. I am hopeful that someone in this group will relate to this. It would be so validating not to be alone.

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12 thoughts on “The Constant Gardener

  1. thank you for sharing. I have suspected for many years that my mother has Asperger’s. Your story sounds so familiar to my own. My mother was a licensed therapist and social worker for years, and my father was a marriage therapist. My father was very abusive and they ended their marriage while I was in high school. My mother has not been able to hold down a job since (23 years later). She is obsessed with conspiracy theories and tries to involve herself into local police investigations. She watches the news every night with the hope that they will mention her name in connection to a local investigation. She has written a book about her work as a therapist and gotten a lot of public backlash about it because it’s full of accusations and conspiracy theories. She too still has food in her freezer from when I lived with her 23 years ago. I rarely remember her cooking food for us, or taking care of us. One time my mother left me home alone and our house was broken into by a burglar that I came face to face with. Luckily, nothing bad happened, he got scared and ran off when he realized that I was home. But all she said to me about it was “well, you’re ok now, so nothing was harmed”. No police report was made, no locks put on the house, and she doesn’t remember this even happening now. She doesn’t remember most things we experienced in our childhood. She doesn’t have friendships and she has a hard time in social situations. It’s as if she just doesn’t understand how to converse with people. she overshares with people and has even talked to complete strangers about her conspiracy theories and why she is divorced, why she lost her job, intimate details about her children, etc. etc. I know she loves her children but I also have never felt loved by her. It always been hard to explain her to my friends, and now my children are starting to see her eccentricities. Each time I had a baby she tried to come visit to “help” me, and it turned into a disaster of me trying to help her do basic things like changing a diaper, putting a baby down to sleep and turning the oven on. She constantly feels bad about not being more involved, but she doesn’t know how to either. I do love my mother, and trying to see why she is the way she is makes it easier for me to understand her and try to forgive her.

  2. Hi – I can’t quite describe my feelings after readin your article – I’ve only recently started to think that my mum has AS – I’m a 38 yr old man. My mother never told me she loved me unless it was as a justification for some sort of normal punitve parental action on a child. I was not abused in any manner or form. It’s just that when I was grounded or something like that, then I’d be told ” we’re doin this because we love you” She was also very adversarial. I used to suspect ath she felt most comfotable in an argument cos it’s easy to know how other people feel when the emotions are so extreme. The same women, to date, would still act like a shy 6 year old when being introduced to new partners. I don’t remember any hugs. It wasn’t until I started reading about AS that I foudn out that folk with it believe that you know that they love you – so, from their point of view, why bother with all the hugs. You and I, on the other hand, truly know the value of a good ol hug when you really need it -for me, I can put up with a lot of cr*p but it ain’t until I get “the hug” that my brain gets its cue that “it’s ok to be vulnerable with this person here and cry… you have an ally who cares enough to hug you” MY problem is that I grew up believing there was something innately wrong with me. After all, why would a mother not show a bit of love to her baby boy? Just to prove that nature’s got a wicked dark sense of humour sometimes, I was gifted with a very high degree of empathy for others – almost too senstive – but i like it and have always been quite comfortable with my emotions and the emotions of others…don’t get me wrong…if there’s a nasty below the belt “couples” argument goin on at the next table, my toes will be curling inside my shoes like the rest of ’em :))) …but, it’s been through this sensitivity I had found beautiful qualities in a lot of people…but, still, to this day, lies a pervasive feeling of “I’m just OK” and, whilst I do not hate myself, I find it difficult to hold myself in “unconditional positive self-regard” Now I’ve reached the point where I think I shouldn’t have babies of my own cos there’s something wrong with me. Part of me thinks, that by having a child and showering love upon them, I could learn what it means to love myself..I mean, how could you not, when you have a beautiful babe in your arms who just adores you? But I always reach a point and think “nah – cos I’m probably no good” I know that’s crazy but there it is – something’s been hardwired into my brain when I was little. I’d love to get your therapist but, here in the UK, therapy isn’t such a big thing and is in relative infancy compared to the states…so you couldn’t even be guaranteed you’re getting someone who’s had much experience or is any good. Still, your story has given me some hope. I have a wonderful partner but it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me as to why she stuck around but, hey, that’s not exactly a profound observation. I’d say I share that sentiment with half the people who are happily coupled…we all have those pillow epiphanies when you behold the beauty of your significant other and ask yourself “how the hell did a great person like you end up with a schmuck like me” hahaha. She values me, of course…It’s just in me that the lack of worth lies. I used to hate my mother. Growing up felt like Stalag Education. Any upsets to the “routine” of the household would be met with alarming childlike temper tantrums and a torrent of “I’ve had enough” and “I” this and “I” that and “you’ll all send me to (insert local physiatric ward)”..and, even at the age of 8, I was left thinking “what about everyone else here in this household? What about their feelings?” When she was angry, she would cover her lower teeth with her tongue and kinda stick it out..(is that the “repetitive physical movements?”).remember even back then thinking it was odd…very secretive about herself yet did not respect privacy of others…you did not write a diary in my house…. There were six kids. I was the youngest. we rarely brought friends (never girlfriends) to the house. Certain “same sex” pals were “approved” for some obscure reason like maybe they were from my mum’s home city. She was also very critical of everything. One year I scored 96% on my Maths exam. Rather than praise, I received “there’s no reason why you couldn’t have had 100%. Go figure. Dad would be the one to come in later, all hush hush, squeezing some money into my hands and telling me that he was proud or well done. But it was never enough…I was left thinking: Why does Mum not think so? I thought mothers were supposed to be the unconditional love-giver and, finally of course, what’s wrong with me? Holidays were often cancelled right at the last minute (everyone’s in the car waiting for Mum…even if we’re running late) because she went into a mood. Could this be another indication? You know, any change to the “routine”?? Her social skills are poor. She has good and bad days. A good day would be that she appears to be with you in the conversation, listens and responds appropriately…although sometimes I suspect that the obseravation of these minor social graces places a heavy demand upon her resources; subsquently, she might appear to be listening but is using all her focus *just to* appear that she’s listening. ON a bad day, forget about any meaningful form of conversation. You could walk in and announce that you’d won the lottery and she might not respond to that. You could say “Hey I met a great girl last week. She’s amazing” and MUm might reply with a complete non-sequitar or a random “Oh, look at that bird in the garden”. she will repeat stories again and again, even when you casually say “Yeah you were telling me that last week” she’ll continue regardless. Needless to say she doesn’t seem to listen and when I make eye contact, I often get the impression that she gets lost in my eyes Ironically, it’s when she doens’t appear to be listening..head down,turned away whatever that she seems to absorb more. Gosh, I’ve wriiten loads and loads..sorry about that:) Still, just wanted to thank you for your honesty. You’ve helped me feel a little better about myself and, more importantly, that Mum wasn’t a complete you-knw-what, she was just the best with what she’d been given…sh@t now I feel a little guilty for having judged her so harshly in the past. Darn these emotions! haha. x

    • I know what you mean. I never received any hugs, reassurance, encouragement, or positive guidance. My childhood was very controlled and I was very isolated. My asperger parent was very rigid and controlling out a compulsive need to maintain order, but my sociopath parent was rigid and controlling out of a need for dominance and manipulation. I never in my life had a normal casual conversation with either of my parents.
      I’m in my late 30s and I’m still learning how to navigate in this world as an okay, socially adept person.
      Don’t feel guilty for “judging” your asperger mother. You are just trying to understand her and the impact she had on your life.

  3. Your life sounds like the life my grandchildren are living right now. Thank God I am able to live next door and care for them. She is a “stay at home mom”. Not! she’s just too crazy to hold a job. I wish I could hug the little child in you and let it know you are loved and cared about. May God bless you.

  4. It is so validating to read about your experience with an AS mother. I also had an episode of anorexia as a teenager. It was one of my teachers who brought it to the attention of the school counselor, who then contacted my parents about it. My mother, being focused on her own world, hadn’t noticed any weight change, exhaustion, etc.
    And after I had started counseling, my mother was just incapable of a normal level of maternal sympathy and support. The closest she got to being sympathetic was, “You have a lot of self discipline to loose x pounds in a month by dieting.” She couldn’t talk to me in a way that I felt was authentic or sincere, even though she was trying. And I couldn’t pretend to be comforted just so SHE would feel comforted.

    I always felt hesitant to criticize her, because, as a career mother, how could she be wrong, right?
    “which meant that something was wrong with someone, and if there was nothing wrong with my mother, that must mean that something was wrong with ME”
    That is what I had internalized, also. And it is a huge thing I am trying to fix.

  5. This does not sound like Asperger’s, rather schizophrenia. My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic and displayed the same “it didn’t happen because I did not experience it” at the severe episodes.

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