My mental illness is a member of the family

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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 every 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?

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47 thoughts on “My mental illness is a member of the family

  1. sarahshealthmatters says:

    Thanks for sharing this Ashley,
    My daughter hasn’t made contact with me since the day I told her I was struggling with my mental health and it has been really hard for me not to hear from her. In my anxious mind I tend to think she doesn’t want me around either her or my granddaughter out of fear. I keep wanting to make contact but put it off daily which is completely debilitating for me. I told my mum and although she tried to be supportive, she basically made it all about her and now I listen to her tales of woe over how she feels mentally drained about the situation she is in.
    It’s really hard, and really lonely walking this path alone when all I want is a reassuring cuddle from each of them… It might get better, but sometimes I feel it will only improve when I do.
    Blessings you to my lovely for sharing your story xxx

  2. s.e. taylor says:

    I was out of contact with my parents and one sibling for several years. I finally got back in touch a few years ago. I’m lucky they welcomed me back. I don’t open up to them that much though. I limit contact with one of my siblings due to her being toxic. I’m from a severely dysfunctional family. I have to keep my walls up. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through so much. 🙁

  3. Liz says:

    My mum first had signs of mental health at the age of 16. But when I was first witness to seeing mental health issues, was when my mum was ill again when I was 11 to 12 years old. First memory of this was when she went to church but never returned home. Church was just a 10 minute walk away. Dad rang police and I remember having to go to bed on this and school next day before knowing after that mum was found. She had checked herself in. She had treatment on a unit. (I can’t remember how long.)
    I remember dad blacking out on one occasion in front of me, through the worry. I was scared with things that were happening next and I also had anger at one point towards my mum which involved the police talking to my dad, because mum went missing. He had to then delicately speak to me to find out what I had written. I remember I written a page and a half letter on A4 paper, but I cannot remember everything I written other than how I was angry towards her for sending mail to me at school, rather than home address.
    They apparently found mum at the bottom of a street in the next village. There is more that follows, but this comment would get extremely long.

    Regardless of all this and my dad worrying, as an adult compared to then as a child, I see mum’s mental health was not helped by my dad. When this all happened as a child, I can’t believe how dad was different for the better while mum was away. But it did not stay that way when back.

    Mum will always have mental health, but she is better now for many years to the level she will always be at then those times.
    I also have had mental health issues as you know, so it has been reversed where mum worries about me. Even when I am ok.

    My dad died when I was in my teens and although I cried for a few days after and when one time I was married and thought about him then, I would have nothing to do with him if he had not died then. Had he been alive still, I would have confronted him for what he did to me and my mum.

      • Liz says:

        It was and it was a very difficult time because I was bullied at school as well, before all of I started with my mum.

        • Liz says:

          All of this, in more detail is on my blog over several posts. Counselling I had two years ago dealt with my childhood, after she realised and got me to delve into it, that my childhood was effecting my present. Because the counselling was coming to an end, I had to get extra counselling from a different one with funding for counselling means you can have like 8 weeks I think. But although it was a different counsellor, it still helped and it was dealt with carefully. I had to deal with emotions I had from my childhood on quite different things than just mentioned, I had witnessed my dad be cruel to my dog many times and he threatened me one time with the shovel that he hit the dog with when i was screaming for him to stop.

        • Liz says:

          It was. I have had lots of counselling over the years, which all helped. But it was this particular mark where the counsellor wanted me to talk more about my childhood, when I started talking about it, for her to uncover that it was my childhood affecting the present. I have been more better in myself and how I respond to things than I have ever been. It’s still work in process, which I do things learnt from counselling as well as things I have come across that I find helps. But I know should I ever need to go back, I can. Not with the first counsellor, as that was through my work place, but the other one that followed elsewhere. 🙂

  4. Alexis Rose says:

    This is a really brave post Ashley. Thank you for writing it. Mental illness effects the whole family, and its a tough subject for people to openly talk about. The first 4 years that I was struggling with my PTSD symptoms was extremely hard on my husband and kids. We went from the 4 of us against the world to everyone trying not to drown in there lone boats. I guess thats the best visual I can use. Everyone needed their own help and learn ways to cope. Now, nine years later we have all established “the new normal” and are a united family, but it was a struggle for them for sure.
    Thanks for all the awareness you bring. ❤️

  5. Meg says:

    I’m so sad to hear this, and so sad for what you’ve been through. 🙁 You’re carrying a burden I’m not. In my case, my parents were abusive, so I’ve never had to feel guilty for putting them through my emotional rollercoaster hell. They pretty much brought it upon themselves (and me). In your case, you probably feel a burden for causing them pain, and I wish you didn’t have to feel that way. (I mean, we all know it’s not logical, but I’d feel the same way, ya know what I mean?) This is love, though–you’d do the same for them.

    I can relate to the grandmother becoming demented issue–it’s hard. With one of my two grannies, she had a hard time learning to call me Meg after my name change. It stabs me when people call me [M-word]. But darned if she didn’t try her hardest and eventually get it right!

    Your parents sound conservative and rigid, but they should be proud of you. (And I’m sure they are!) 🙂 You work and support yourself and all that. I have family members too in which our interactions are all fakey/superficial. I was almost never able to have a real conversation with my other grandmother. I can never get past the barrier with my brother, either. He and I have nothing against each other, and it might be his mild autism–not sure. I mentioned it to his live-in girlfriend, and she was like, “He has autism?” And I was like, “Oops.” 😀

    I guess it’s all part of the collective experience…. keep us posted!! You’re doing great now!! 🙂 Rock on!!

    • ashleyleia says:

      I definitely feel lucky that I had a very good family environment growing up. But I guess for most of us there’s going to be some kind of issues somewhere along the way, and we just have to deal with them as best we can.

  6. femmephenomenall says:

    thank you so much for sharing your experience. i just recently had the courage to begin sharing mine. i admire your resilience and your determination to turn this experience into something valuable and positive.

  7. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    Ashley, thank you for sharing this story about not only how difficult it was for you, but how it affected your family. When my mother and cousin noticed how bad off I was with my alcoholism, depression, and manic mood swings they said I was a ditto of y grandmother. I never learned about my grandmother’s mental illness until I attempted suicide. My Mom, Brother, Aunt, and cousin were very understanding, but my sister saw my illness as a weakness. My Mom and I talk about mental illness quite a bit, because she believes my Sister is going through the same thing as I did, but my Sister hides it from her. Mom understands me better than I do sometimes because she saw what happened to her own mom. She is very empathetic to my depression and anxiety, which is a huge support to me.

  8. 2angelsinmo says:

    I always knew that I was different at a young kid. I was always a very sensitive but moody person. Around 2007, I was diagnosed with Generalized anxiety and depression disorder. I started a Medicine to cont being a mom and to cont to work.
    I sleep alot, due to stress and no motivation. I have a hard time concentrating and can get bored easily. My son is 15 and we’ve talked about it more that he’s at a age, where he understands. He too, has some anxiety but nothing we can’t handle yet. Once hes older and needs meds, then we will cross that, when the time comes. My depression and anxiety causes issues in my marriage at times. So, I just keep those serious conversations open about Mental Illnesses. The disease runs rapid, in both sides of my gene pool. I try my best to educate my family and other’s daily. I have my outlet to vent where I have created a Facebook group called, “Families Affected by Mental illness!”
    I do admire you and anyone with this horrible and unpredictable illness. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us! And I will read more of your articles!

  9. Wandering Coopers says:

    Prayers to you! It’s rough and I can’t imagine what you are going through but hang in there and start looking into your diet? That’s where i began and it’s been much better since.

  10. beccaanne says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, from what you have written I can only imagine how hard it was for you to write this post. I also found it very difficult to open up to my family, not all my family know. Luckily my mum gives me alot of support when I am going through a rough patch the rest of my family don’t bother, not everyone understands do they? More education surrounding mental health is still needed in society. You are not on your own, we all struggle in our own ways <3

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