Hugging a Cactus

I write most often about my life as a mother, but another large part of me is my role as a daughter...

I recently heard a powerful comparison by writer Angie Warren that loving an addict is like hugging a cactus. From my own experience, the same thing holds true when you love someone with a mental illness. The tighter you hold, the more painful it can become. It can be difficult, and emotional, and some days it leaves you completely undone. But still, you hug, because it’s your cactus, darnit, and because you worry about how it would get the water it needs without you. So tonight, we hugged my mother in the form of talking in the dining hall, taking snapchat photos because she thinks they are hilarious, and playing with a toy that is just as fun for her as it is for my four year old.


I’m not a saint, and I still get frustrated. There are still times when my heart hurts because she doesn’t remember our birthdays, or because she says things that are painful to hear. Depending on the day, our visits may be long or they may be short. Nothing is predictable. Never has been. Never will be.


But the single most helpful “a-ha!” moment I ever had was realizing that there were other people out there who walked a similar path. Who had a cactus of their own. For the longest time, I guess I thought I was the only one. If you love someone with a mental illness, and you don’t know this already, then I’ll tell you now: You are not alone, my friend. It took me a long time to realize that, so I just wanted to pass it on to anyone who might need to hear it.