It’s easy for me to focus on how my mental illness has affected me, but it has also profoundly affected my family, and that’s something that perhaps I should give a bit more thought to.
When I first became ill in 2007, I didn’t say anything to my parents or brother, although my mom thought something seemed off. I’m told that I called my parents after I’d been in hospital several days since my 2nd suicide attempt, but I told them that I didn’t want them to come to visit me. My mom ended up taking a couple months off work and stayed in my condo while I was in hospital (they live 4 hours away). She didn’t approve when I became romantically involved with another patient, and as a result I stopped talking to my parents for several months.
When I got sick again in 2011 I realized that I needed to go into hospital, but I wanted to do it in the city where my parents live rather than the city where I live and work as a nurse. Apparently, my dad drove down and picked me up, and then took me to the hospital, where I would spend the next 2 months. My parents really noticed the memory loss I had from the ECT, as I would ask them the same questions over and over.
The next summer I completely fell apart just before leaving on a trip to Russia. I called my parents from my hostel in Moscow sobbing uncontrollably. I can only imagine what that must have felt like for them. Several months later I decided to return to hospital in the city where my parents lived. I was really unhappy with how I was treated during that hospitalization and fought the treatment team every step of the way. I was discharged still very unwell, and my parents were extremely concerned.
A couple of months later I attempted suicide and ended up back in hospital. I called my brother to let him know. He came over to my place to take care of my guinea pigs, and while he was here he cleaned up the mess I’d made when I urinated on the floor. When he came to visit me in hospital, I asked him to get rid of my suicide note so our parents wouldn’t see it (I didn’t realize at that point that the police had already taken it). That was the only time I’ve ever seen him cry.
When I got sick in 2016, I broke off all contact with my family for over a year, thinking that they would judge me and I couldn’t deal with that. I resumed contact last fall, but it’s been tough. I still don’t feel comfortable sharing much with them. My parents are judgmental; not in a malicious way, but more that they think things should be done in a particular way and doing them differently is just plain wrong. It’s how they are and how they’ve always been, but what I used to roll my eyes over and joke about with my brother and grandma is now something I’m very wary of. I also find that with my family I have a very hard time putting on the superficial act of normalcy that I would use with strangers. So I have nothing superficial and casual to say, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing anything deeper about myself, which makes for pretty scanty conversation.
I don’t think my grandma ever really did understand much about my illness, but now she has started dementing and doesn’t even remember that I have a mental illness. She occasionally makes stigmatizing jokes about crazy people, and I know I need to just let that go.
This mental illness journey is never one we truly walk alone, no matter how alone it may make us feel. It’s the kind of illness that leaves its mark not only on us but on those that love us, and I almost feel like I owe my family an apology, even though the depression isn’t my fault. I feel very far away from my family, and I don’t know when/how/if that’s going to change. But right now the only way to bring about any kind of change is by continuing to work on myself. The future will be what it is.
How has your family been affected by your own illness journey?
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.