"In the absence of honest story telling, people are abandoned to the beating of their own hearts."
My internal reaction went something like this: Talk about it on the internet? - but I've been diverting conversation from the topic of my mother's mental illness for over twenty years!
Now, I see the issue differently. And I'd like to take a moment to engage you in a conversation about this response.
The CROOKED HOUSE has a new team member. Did we tell you? - Probably not, because we're still getting better at that (I'm still getting better at knowing what information you want to hear about). This amazing new woman is MK. In her first meeting, she wanted to talk about stigma. For the most part, we balked at the word and any possibility that we might hold some stigmatizing attitudes about people with mental illnesses. - "NO, no! We don't stigmatize ourselves or our parent." We shut down any chance of that conversation.
Instead, we preferred to talk about the shame. Calling it shame allows for the possibility that we don't have stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness. "That's not why we disguise that piece of our story. We know that mental health is not everyone's birthright." But, we don't talk about it, we do our best to avoid sharing information about our childhood. Why is that? It's because we are ashamed, and shame is inextricable from stigma (a stereotype which carries a derogatory value). And, MK is right - we've internalized, at least I certainly have, society's standards. Those standards lead to communicating about mental illness and mental health in words that perpetuate the stigma. If it's something to be ashamed of, it must be just as bad as society say's it is!
In my initial reaction to the Crooked House, I was buckling under the power of stigma.
Isn't sharing my story selfish? It was and is my mother who struggles with a severe mental disability - I shouldn't be the one complaining.
If you're like me, you spent most of your childhood hiding. Hiding from your ill parent's overwhelming and confusing emotions, hiding what made your family "different" from your friends and schoolmates, and hiding any behavior that might seem odd or cause for concern.
I spent hours building forts in our small backyard. I would steal away from the house at any opportunity. Landscaped circles of scrubs became great fortresses, or witch's dens where milkweed mixed with eucalyptus rendered a potion capable of changing a little girl into an animal. It was up to the power of my own mind to create a safe world. A world where I could be a child.
But to live the way I want to now, I have to fight my automatic "runaway-and-hide" mechanism. And make room for a new response. One which owns this piece of my identity.
My name is Alix. I am the daughter of a brave woman with a mental illness. I was raised in an unstable and traumatizing environment. This history informs how I react to the people around me because I am habituated to stress. The responses are patterns I can work to change. That transformation will take time. Telling the story - the WHOLE story - is an integral part of that transformative process.
Stand with me and share your story.