It’s been quiet here in Wondrland, and it’s not because I haven’t wanted to say anything. I’ve been wanting to talk about Mental Illness, and haven’t been certain how to approach the conversation. Cos, you know, that’s something you’re “not supposed to talk about”. But since there’s not a day that goes by when I’m not faced with evidence of mental illness in someone I know, including myself, I want to talk about it.
As you probably know, mental illness can be hereditary or it can be a response to events in a person’s life. Something that you may not be aware of (I wasn’t for a long time) is that a mental illness can begin to appear at any point in a person’s life. Childhood, adulthood, or any other time of life, things can begin to go…sideways. The part that matters most, I suppose, is when the “differences” start to be addressed and treated.
When I began to have concerns about my child’s behavior, I was told “that’s just how boys are!” and also, from my family members, “You were the same way at that age!” Which caused me to wonder if that’s just how the boys in MY family have always been, and if there was something going on with ME at that age that might have been handled differently, and had a seriously more positive outcome?
So I began searching the web for information to explain the things I was noticing in my boy. I found a lot of answers to the questions that had been running through my head, and raised some new questions! For example, I had not been aware that symptoms of ADHD/ADD look very different in boys than they do in girls. I accredit this ignorance to the fact that nobody was talking about ANY kind of mental illness in children back in the 60’s and 70’s. At least, nobody my parents or I knew.
I can’t even describe the feelings I had when I heard that when I was being punished for being “lazy” or “daydreaming” or “lying” about things I was POSITIVE I had not lied about, that it wasn’t my fault. As a young girl, I was disciplined for all of these things. Rigorously. And often. I now know that my Dad had been through essentially the same traumas when he was young. Come to find out, I’d had the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder as far back as I can remember. Growing out of that period came the depression, “generalized anxiety disorder” and PTSD that have been my continual companions ever since. The realization that there was something unusual about the way my mind processed things motivated me to find out as much as I could about psychology. I knew I was different by the time I was about 12 or so, but didn’t know what “IT” was, exactly. I’ll never forget the first book I read about a person my age that had a mental illness. “Lisa, Bright and Dark” told of the daily life of a teen girl who was behaving increasingly strangely, and how it was ignored, denied, and finally addressed. It shined a light on a part of me that I’d never taken out of the shadows before. It told me that I wasn’t the only one.
You can find more info about Lisa, Bright and dark on Google or Amazon. (I tried to post a link for ya, but it doesn’t seem to be working.)
I remember my Dad asking me what I had to be sad about?! I had such a good life (and it’s not wrong, by many standards, I was VERY blessed), and I was so “ungrateful” I should be “ashamed”. And of course, I was. For a very long time. I’m not certain that I’ve gotten past that shame, even now. It seems like a good time to write down what the difference between guilt and shame is. As I have come to understand it, GUILT is the feeling I get when I’ve done something wrong, or BAD. SHAME is the feeling that I am BAD or WRONG. Period. How many times did our parents tell us “Shame on you”? I couldn’t tell you, but I did share what I’d learned about the difference, the next time I was told that I should be ashamed.
So, it took years of discussion with my Mom before she accepted that antidepressants weren’t “drugs”, and they didn’t cause you to feel high. Thank God, she wasn’t so hesitant to get me to a counselor when I hit my teens, but medication was a tougher pill for her to swallow (see what I did there?). Several years ago she was even able to be helped by taking them for a while. I’m happy to say that she doesn’t seem to need them at this point.
And so, now the generational “quirks,” we’ll call them, have shown themselves in other parts of my extended family. As the children grow into their teens and young adulthood, they’re giving (me) reasons to be concerned. I see the same symptoms that I showed at that age, and I can only hope and pray that the stigma and “what will the neighbors think?” won’t keep the adults from getting the kids to a Dr. of some sort. I understand that everyone is busy, running as fast as they possibly can to…I don’t know, rest? And I absolutely know that the cost associated with mental illness treatment can be intimidating. But guess what? If it HAS to be done, we find a way. (And if we’re not willing to address/treat the problem, we find an EXCUSE.)
I can’t help but think of my Dad, and his distaste (translated: refusal) in asking for help. When I was probably about 10, I was at my Dad’s house and he was “partying” and dancing around, having a good time. I think Elton John was playing loudly on the record player. Well, somehow, Dad danced in the wrong place and caused the horizontal blinds to fall down onto his foot. THAT ended the dancing. For the next 2 hours or so, my stepmom and Grandma tried to explain to Dad that the end of his toe was BARELY attached, and he needed to get to the ER. He didn’t think it was that bad. He musta been HIGHHIGHHIGHHIIIGH.
Then, many years later, when his life was in a downward spiral because of his drinking and drug use, he again insisted that he didn’t need any help, thank you very much. If the helicopters would stop flying over his shed, and the spies would stop creeping around his house, he would have been fine. But just in case, he always had a loaded .38 handy. It takes some of us longer than others to have our denial broken down. Thank God he did get clean/sober, and the rest is wonderful history.
So, it makes me think of Dad when I hear adults replying (re: getting their kids to see someone or see if perhaps medication would help) “Counselors are a waste of money” or, even better “We don’t have time”. I love what I heard James Dobson say about parenting older childen. He said that up until that time, it’s like you’re on a ship with them, teaching them the roaps and how to stay safe, etc. Once they get to their teens, we have to pick our battles carefuly, and just keep them from jumping ship. My kids have done infinitely better with negotiating the rough waters than I did, and I attribute that to their getting help when they did. I just happened to have personal experience that allowed me to recognise the symptoms in my children.
Depression in kids may not look the way you’d expect it to. Kids aren’t likely to necessarily let you see the depth of their despair. (I was told to stop being such a baby when I was unable to keep my sadness from coming out.) Kids and teenagers, AREN’T supposed to be continually sad or angry (anger is what we see when sadness isn’t “allowed”), and it’s not just a part of that period. Sure, moodiness is guaranteed to be a frequest visitor when the hormones are flying around, but that’s different from being angry or sad ALL THE TIME. The worst thing we as parents can do is to be overcome by pride, not wanting to find out what “they” would think. 10 or 20 years down the road, “they” won’t even be in your life, and if they are, they still won’t be as valuable as your child’s wellbeing. Right?
I am sometimes hesitent to speak up about matters of mental health. I was shamed and punished enough to make it quite clear to me: act normal and don’t talk about anything. It’s still a subtle influencer on my decisions today. I appreciate your taking time out of your day to read this. I feel strongly about these issues and I’m not sure if I am able to make that clear in my writing. So I throw it out there, and hope someone catches something they can use.
What are your thoughts? Have you seen addictions and mental illness moving down your family’s bloodline? How is it dealt with, or is it?
From my cabin in the woods.