September 22nd, 2014
Health Journey: My Bipolar Parent


Mindful of my mother’s barometric weathers

Knoxville poet Linda Parsons Marion knew she had to “break and till the difficult ground of childhood and its aftermath” when she began to write her powerful volume of poetry called Mother Land (Iris Press, 2008).

As a child, her mother’s undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder drove the frightened girl “through Alice’s looking-glass, under quilts, [and] behind chairs until storm clouds lifted.”

At age eleven, Parsons Marion left her mother to live with her father and stepmother. “I can’t imagine making such a life-altering decision at eleven, but somehow I knew I had to save myself.”

Art by Rachel Travis. Used with permission.

Art by Rachel Travis. Used with permission.

The author’s mother, who is now 83, wasn’t diagnosed until age 73. “That diagnosis was an enormous weight lifting. It was the key that unlocked the flood of poems in this book.”

Award winning poet, Linda Parsons Marion. Photo by Rob Travis.

Award winning poet, Linda Parsons Marion. Photo by Rob Travis.

We walk into whatever light waves us through

As a young girl, Parsons Marion coped with the stress in her life by reading, watching movies, and developing a few close friendships. She began writing seriously as a young adult.

“All of these pursuits were lifesaving and helped to fill and center me. The reading and films took me outside of my private sorrow and anger. The friendships and writing moved me inward to explore, discover, and grieve-rather than stewing alone in anger and denial. I’ve read it’s important to find ways to mother/father yourself. Find an adult friend or relative who can help fill the emptiness and help you grow as a person, and turn the anger or disillusionment into productive emotions. It can set you on a firmer path toward wholeness and healing. I realize how very lucky I was to have a stepmother who gave me safety and shelter.”

She bundled me in woven creel, feathered fern and sage

“Because I moved a great deal as a child, the house/home and all of the rituals of domestic life represented the core of my longings and strivings in the world.” When Parsons Marion found the courage to leave her mother behind, she also left behind aunts, uncles, cousins, and a dear grandmother.

Art by Rachel Travis. Used with permission.

Art by Rachel Travis. Used with permission.

“Mother Land is largely a tribute to my stepmother, who married my father at age 20 and took me in when she had young children of her own.” The most touching and tender moments in Mother Land center around this young mother with the black ski pants, convenience foods, and excellent record collection.

Art by Rachel Travis.

Art by Rachel Travis. Used with permission.

In the poem “Aqua,” Parsons Marion describes herself as a minnow “swept along” in her stepmother’s “phosphorescent wake.” Parsons Marion says, “She saved me from an uncertain fate. My stepmother feels humbled by these poems, but, along with my maternal grandmother, she was my rescuer.”

While the earth ends one day barren, steaming with ancient argument, it wakes beloved with child, this ground, this slow brew of time

For decades, Parsons Marion endured tense and awkward visits with her mother. “Because the antiphychotics have softened her moods and temperament, I feel far less threatened now and don’t dread visiting her as I once did. She’s never fully understood why I had to leave. I don’t want to hurt my mother with this public display of her illness, regrets, and downfalls. Forgiving my mother does not, and cannot, ever erase her bahavior or lack of mothering. She is my greatest lesson.”

In writing Mother Land,  Parsons Marion said she had to speak the truth, “had to be heard, if only for my own sake, my own health. As I’ve promoted Mother Land, the audience has been extremely receptive. I feel the book has an audience beyond the usual poetry crowd. I believe this book has an expanding life that could speak to adult children of bipolar parents. I think just knowing we are not alone in our suffering and bewilderment-and that writing can be a therapeutic coping device-is a great comfort.”

Mother Land (Iris Press, 2008) can be purchased at Union Ave. Books or on

About the Author:

Linda Parsons Marion is an editor at the University of Tennessee and the author of three poetry collections, most recently, Bound. She served as poetry editor of Now & Then magazine for many years and has received literary fellowships from the Tennessee Arts Commission, as well as the Associated Writing Programs’ Intro Award and the 2012 George Scarbrough Award in Poetry, among others. Marion’s work has also appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. 

About the Artist

Rachel Travis is an illustrator, mom, and the daughter of [Linda Parsons Marion] an amazing writer who lives just six houses away. In the daytime she works at a Montessori School and at night she operates a custom, hand-painted pet portrait business called Boxie Pets. Making paintings for the past almost five years has been a lot of fun, so she has added the look of pen and ink in a new business venture of custom illustrated homes called North Hills Houses [see illustation in this article]. Rachel can be reached at

Cover art by: Rachel Travis

Article by: Debra Dylan

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