Growing up, my family moved pretty much every year of my life. I have lived in Florida, Montana, Hawaii, and all over California. Although this strange migratory habit brought me a wealth of unique experience, it put me into almost complete isolation with my mentally ill mother. I had my sister, but my father often stayed in California to earn a living while my mother forced us to strange new locations, so the buffer between myself and her bipolar disorder was thin. She was emotionally abusive and completely blind to her illness; all she wanted to do was be a good mother and have a normal family. She herself was a victim to a damaging childhood and sought to create what she never had growing up. My mother lived for her children, but could not see how much she was hurting us.
Eventually we settled down, doing so in the mile high artist town of Idyllwild where I went to public school for the first time. Through these years of elementary school my sister and I interacted with other families and came to realize my mother’s condition. My sister came to this before me and I was in 5th grade when she stated her desire to live with our father. I saw it as trying to destroy our family, but all she was trying to do was save herself.
From there, things grew increasingly unstable as my sister and I matured and my mother began to lose control of us. By the time I was entering high school, I knew I could no longer live with my mother’s insanity and I made arrangements with my father to move out. This was starting new. LA, away from my mother and everything familiar. My sister stayed with a friend’s family back in Idyllwild instead of moving with us.
Throughout my life, I have always been aware of my family’s economic situation, but it was not until we were forced to get food stamps that it hit me with total clarity. My father brings in only $30,000 a year and until very recently, my mother was completely dependant. This left no room for a college fund and any university in my future is wholly dependant upon my performance as a student. The lack of funds and economic unsurity created great anxiety for me and I started to direct myself towards a career which would bring the largest income instead of something I actually enjoyed.
When I first moved to LA, I threw myself towards academics, focusing on my schoolwork rather than the emotional turmoil I was still experiencing. Rather than being the building blocks towards a joyful career, my academics were an excuse to hide my emotions and start towards a profitable job. I was away from my sister and could not recognize the many miles from healthy we still were despite having distanced ourselves from our mother.
All this changed when I was reunited with my sister and experienced what a normal family was for the first time. We started to come to terms with how our life with our mother had affected us and heal the scars from it. One of the most important things in my life now is this maintainance of a family and the recovery of my sister who was no doubt more damaged by our mother than I was. She is older and often acted to protect me from my mother’s illness, and in turn took the brunt of her emotional abuse.
Though my sister is more damaged than I, she still aims to help and steer me. It was in a conversation with her that I recognized the futility in my career goals. I thought that the money presented by the career would bring me happiness and stability and I could not see the impossibility of that idea. One needs to pursue passion and find purpose in what they love rather than what is the most economically beneficial. With her help, I reoriented myself towards my dream of being an environmental scientist and conservationist.
Throughout my childhood, the places I lived put me in touch will all number of environments and showed me the beauty and power of nature. In Montana, the snow which brought stunning landscapes and delightful flurries could also deal disaster, power outages, and death. In Idyllwild, the forests which were home to countless hours of play and adorable creatures could easily become fuel for massive blazes, consuming homes and acres of wilderness. In highschool, I have been given the privilege of participating in environmental monitoring and preservation of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands. The combination of all this ignited a fire in me to help preserve some of the most awe inspiring stuff in existence. Through work as an environmental scientist and conservationist, I could direct my love of nature into something worthwhile and have a career I actually enjoyed. With this knowledge, I have found new passion in my studies, seeing them as a path towards my dream rather than economic profit.
Though much of my life was fraught with insecurity and emotional turmoil, it brought me many unique and important experiences. The same isolation caused my my mother’s bipolar disorder also showed me the value of nature and nurtured my passion for it. Although I have always dedicated myself to schoolwork, I see the value of my education much differently now than in the past. Previously, my studies were a way to achieve profitability and escape the anxiety of economic insecurity, but now they are building blocks towards a career I am passionate about. In total, my tumulous past, though it spawned much sadness, gave me an appreciation for the family I have now and strong direction for my future life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.