6. Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?
Yup. I mentioned already in #5 that I have a strong family history of mental illness and addiction.
It is no coincidence that I have immediate family with depression, schizophrenia, self-harm & alcoholism. On the next level I have depression & heroin addiction. I firmly believe there is a genetic “weakness” or “pre-disposition” in my family…a tendency towards mental health issues and/or addiction.
Instead of answering the same question again, I’ve been thinking about my exposure to these illnesses and how it impacted me.
One of the most influential biographical facts about me is that I have a depressed parent. This parent dictated the tone of each day. On waking in the morning I would plod down to the kitchen to discover the verdict – was today going to be bearable or not. Within moments, without a word uttered, simply from the angle of their head or the movements made in preparing a cup of tea, I knew. The rest of the day was determined in those 10 seconds. Would I greet the parent and ask how they slept or silently prepare my cereal while trying to blend into the kitchen cabinets? Would we have a chat about a piece of family news or would I endure a lecture about my not coming home to visit enough/not having any problems so how could I understand their life/favouring my other parent (delete as applicable)?
I live with an underlying, vague, uncomfortable sort of guilt. Many things were (apparently!) my fault, and so I learnt from an early age that it was safest to assume the default position of guilt, all of the time. It’s been hard to shake.
What’s odd is that even as an adult, the irrational guilt stays with me. I work from time to time in an office building that has a temperamental receptionist. It is often joked in the tea room that she is “mad” or “mental” but I don’t find her presence in my life quite so easy to laugh off. As soon as I encounter this person I revert straight back to the silent-cereal-ninja of my youth. I sense her mood the moment I step into the building and I adjust my behaviour accordingly. Printing goes un-requested and I search the cupboards for supplies instead of asking for help. Though it is physically impossible that I could be the cause of her mood, the guilt surfaces. I overcompensate – “oh what a nice bracelet”, “can I help you with that pile of boxes” – the words slide out of my mouth as I choke over their insincerity, a shameful vocal acknowledgement of my inner demons. I resent this person for reducing me to this self. I resent her for reminding me of the guilt I carry within me and of the lasting legacy my parent has gifted me.
It is often joked that you can’t choose your family. Well you can’t choose a lot of the other people you spend your time with either. Which is why the ones you do choose become all the more important. And when it becomes unbearable…well you can always work from home!
What’s this all about then eh?
I found a pretty cool challenge on a blog from last year – 30 days of mental health posts. I’ve decided to give it a go, despite being a year late to the party! You can also see the other participating posts. This is my sixth entry. If you prefer, you can read from the start.