By now, I am sure most of you are wondering why we would ever be so gutsy, brave, crazy, or whatever, enough to post our personal stories of mental illness for anyone to read. The fact is reading about the ugly side of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder is very uncomfortable and difficult. If you do understand where we are coming from, it is more likely because of personal experience rather than hearing about it from someone you know. Posting our stories is like visiting a past life so long ago, it hardly seems like it happened, but it did.
I realized something from Jac’s post. Each individual person in my family privately experienced the effects of mental illness. It turned us inward. Everything was about survival. We took life moment by moment, breath by breath. We each grasped to take control of a situation that was completely beyond our knowledge and power.
You must understand our life wasn’t all bad. When I was very young, I remember my mom always kept our home spotless. She cooked us wonderful meals, baked bread, sang to us and played with us. She was a wonderful mother.
I am the oldest of four children. My youngest brother was born weeks after my 8th birthday. I adored him to no end, but when he came home from the hospital, he brought with him an entirely different mother. I am sure she was overwhelmed with her situation…Getting used to having 3 children plus a new baby, and holding things together in her business, where she taught children singing and dancing.
My 8 year-old self saw her mother, who was once full of ambition and love for life and her family, sink down into an unbearable despair. She would get angry very quickly and I didn’t understand why. I heard my mom cry, I heard her express thoughts of feeling crazy, and she didn’t understand why either. I am pretty sure this was before doctors even thought of post-partum depression as a diagnosis for new mothers.
One day, I went to school at the end of my 2nd grade year, literally terrified that she wouldn’t be there when I got home. She said she would probably be taken to the funny farm, where the crazy people went.
The day my mom started taking Prozac, was the day she fell asleep mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually for 10 years and my childhood ended. During that time she would cycle through ups and downs, her “PMS” symptoms out of control…no one knew just what to expect or how she would react.
My role as the oldest daughter took on a different, however self-appointed, role. My job would be to make sure mom was happy, not to cause any rifts in the sand or waves in the water. I wasn’t always successful. We were all about surviving one day to the next and when I didn’t succeed at my self-imposed job, I took the failure very personally.
By the time I was in junior high, I was stressed out, struggled to find my place with friends, and attempted to keep up with my responsibilities at home. I was given an assignment to do a research paper in my favorite 9th grade class. I wanted it to be perfect, but perfect wasn’t in the cards.
I experienced my first full blown catatonic anxiety attack the night before it was due. My parents were very concerned about my state of mind and set up an appointment to see a counselor, who taught me coping strategies. I learned very quickly that if I gave the right answers to the counselor’s questions, I wouldn’t have to keep going back. Counseling was for crazy people. I didn’t want to be THAT person. It was mortifying!
I learned to fake my way through every day. I put on my happy face at school, at church, and with my friends. I was the good girl, not wanting to cause problems, so I did what was expected of me. I held everything together the very best I could, careful not to express what was really happening inside of me. And then, it would explode out of me at home, in full blown panic, usually after an altercation with my mom. I felt completely out of control, but at the same time completely in control in the safety net of non-responsiveness. It was the only time I didn’t have to keep it together because I had already lost it.
Graduating from High School and going to college meant an escape from my life into a new world where I didn’t have to worry about my crazy mother or take care of my younger siblings. I promised myself and my parents that I would NEVER return home. I always did, out of necessity, but I stretched it out as far as possible, calling home only when I needed groceries or couldn’t afford to do my laundry.
I felt that it was a good thing for me to be away, not only for me, but my mom too. It was about this time that my mom had enough of her medicated slumber through life. It was getting to be way too much for her to bear.
Mental illness is in our past. Do we have our bad days? Yes, of course, we do. But, we are healing. We are healing together. We now have the knowledge to take control of this once hopeless situation and hopefully, help others awaken the healing power within them.