With all the illnesses in the world to pick from I had to get mental illness. I had to get the only kind of illness that condemns you and destroys you for having it. If mental illness does not kill you on its own the stigma related to its name will eventually destroy you.
I am hurt and deeply saddened today for many reasons but one of them is because my own mother has been slowly killing me for twenty-five years because of stigma. My entire life my mother only loved me if I was good and perfect. There was no unconditional love and if she had it she did not know how to show it.
When I was diagnosed with mental illness twenty five years ago that was the day my mother’s daughter died. I was dead in her eyes. She never saw me the same again. I saw that look of disgust and pity in here eyes each time she looked at me. I felt the pain I caused her every time I spoke to her. She could never hide it and I could not forget it even though I tried desperately to. I always tried to make my mom happy and love me. Everyone wants their own mother to love them but mine did not have it in her to even try anymore.
Her views of mental illness have always been archaic. She was old school. Mental illness was something to laugh at and be ashamed of and fear. This is what her oldest daughter had become.
My mother’s way of dealing with my mental illness was to not deal with it at all. Maybe if she pretended like it was not real and I was not real, we would both go away. Just don’t think about it and it will all go away.
The problem with that was that I was very real and I did not go away and neither did my mental illness. While she was pretending my mental illness was not real my mental illness became more severe and real nearly killing me many times. My mother continued to stay away and pretend. It hurt her too much. My mental illness hurt me too much too, but I could not leave the “too much” as I was the “too much.”
My mother is a very smart woman, but she chose not to educate herself about my bipolar disorder . Don’t talk about it. She said things like, “Nobody talk about Suzie’s mental illness. Shhhh… Don’t say anything. Don’t bring it up. Shhh…”
Let me tell you what shhhhh… does.
Shhh… makes you feel like you don’t matter.
Shhh… makes you feel like NO ON CARES.
Shhh… makes you feel like you aren’t worthy of anyone’s words, care or concern.
Shhhh… slowly kills.
The other day my mother complained to me about how awful it was that none of her children came to her Ovarian cancer meetings. I visited my mother in the hospital many times and sent her beautiful flowers and many cards. I painfully reminded her that for 25 years she never once came to my mental illness family meetings. She never once visited me in the hospital even when I was near death. She never once bought me flowers. I am her daughter but she couldn’t find it in her heart to care enough to even visit me in the hospital. She barely acknowledged the illness that is and has been killing me for years.
I thought after 25 years she was better, but I was recently reminded how I was sadly mistaken. Yesterday over the telephone my mother was making fun of my “crazy” (great) Aunt Lilly. Great Aunt Lilly was never spoken about and my mother only told me about her five years ago. That was how shaming it was to have an Aunt Lilly in our family. She was the relative you held your index finger up to the center of your lips and said shhhh… That was how Aunt Lilly was referred to. Her family, my family, put her in a psychiatric hospital (Insane Asylum) and threw away the key. My poor beautiful Aunt Lilly never got back out. She never got to go home and died in the Insane Asylum.
I am the “crazy” Aunt Lilly in our family today. They didn’t lock me up in the Psychiatric Hospital, but maybe only because they couldn’t today. Mental illness stigma has decreased and treatment of people with mental illness is better—at least that much better.
My family still calls my beautiful Aunt Lilly “crazy” Aunt Lilly and laugh about it. It breaks my heart. Don’t they understand? Don’t they care?
Why can”t my mother and the rest of my family understand that when they laugh about “crazy” Aunt Lilly they are laughing at me?
Why don’t people understand that when they make fun of people with mental illness they are making fun every person with mental illness?
Will I be known as “crazy” Aunt Sue? In my family, I think so. I am trying to help them understand and I keep trying, but my family has a very hard surface to break.
Will stigma only end after the older generation dies. Maybe.
I believe the younger generation will be much better about treating people with mental illness wisely and compassionately. We need to end mental illness stigma now, so we do not have to wait another generation for it to improve.
We need to end mental illness stigma now, so we do not have anymore “crazy” Aunt Lilly conversations in this lifetime.
Start normalizing the dialogues about mental illness.
Let mental illness become part of a “normal” every day conversation. Mental illness is much more “normal” than you realize.
~written by Susan Walz
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