Today, as part of the Passions Profile Challenge, I thought I would look at the whole subject of my family.
The picture to the right is one taken many years back of my siblings and I.
Yes they are matching pj’s (my mom made them) and trust me I have done you all a favour by putting up the black and white version since those particular pj’s were made of a bright orange striped material. (And they wonder why I have mental health issues? lol)
When writing my original Passions Profile I wanted to be honest about the thing which I feel passionate about and include them regardless of whether that passion came from a good place or a bad place or how easy or difficult it would be to explore that passion.
When it comes to my family, I am grateful that it is nowadays mainly a good place that this comes from whilst being mindful that this hasn’t always been the case.
I should perhaps first explain that I have two families really. ONe the one hand I have my biological family. The family I was born into and grew up with and on the other hand I have my adopted family, a family I believe God put together in order to help us all grow and to heal.
For this particular section of the Passions Profile Challenge I am going to be focusing in the main on my biological family for no other reason than this is a mental health related blog and since my mental illness has been with me for as long as I can remember it without doubt impacted my relationship with my family and without doubt had a knock-on effect for the rest of my life.
But again I really don’t think I am alone in this. I wonder how many of you had or have relationships which also suffered or still do suffer at the hands of your mental health or people’s reactions to it?
Growing up as I did, in a time when mental illness had even more stigma attached to it than it does today and where that stigma also very much spilled over onto the siblings and especially the parents of any child with mental illness I hid my mental illness as much as possible.
Asking siblings if “they heard those voices too” only to be looked at strangely coupled with further ‘sympathetic’ and yet ‘oh so concerned’ looks when I self-harmed, did something reckless, or tried to commit suicide, as a child soon taught me that sharing my problems was not an option. Add to this the media presentation of mental illness at the time and the seemingly regular stories of people being ‘institutionalized’ as a result of their mental illness and you get the picture.
But such was the environment and society’s approach to mental illness within southern england and for a child of a ‘respectable family’ in the 60’s.
Looking back and with the benefit of hindsight and a far better understanding of how my mental health effected both me and my relationships, I can see how it directly impacted those relationships, my decision-making processes and indeed my behaviour.
MY father was Royal Navy and a chief petty officer to boot and was, as I said in my post the death of…, an anachronism.
He was a fine man and a dutiful husband and father. But one of the saddest realities of my life is that he never truly knew me nor I him. This being as a direct result of..
a) my mental health,
b) his strict upbringing and his raising of us in a similar way, and
c) my fear and paranoia and subsequent inability to communicate what was going on inside my head.
My father is dead now, and he never knew (as I never got to telling him) the full extent of my mental illness and there is an important truth to be understood in this.
Given the strict nature of my father, and given the fact that he was kept ignorant of my mental illness it is little wonder that he saw my behaviour as being poor, unruly even rebellious and thus responded accordingly. He can I think, in part, be forgiven this, can’t he?
BUT when you are that child, even the child hiding the mental illness, you are extremely unlikely to understand or even forgive said responses and it will without doubt have a very real knock on effect in your life and in your relationships with the rest of your ‘family’.
This morning I looked up the definition of the noun ‘family’ and saw the following result…
I have to tell you that this definition is, to me, one of the most limited, empty and sad definitions I have seen for a long time. And yet I recognize that my reaction to it does in many ways speak more of me than it does of the definition itself.
Is ‘family’ only applicable to those living in one household? If an older sibling moves out do they cease to be part of the family?
But even more than that, where is the mention of; love, of support, of caring which should be present?
As a child my mental health without any doubt corrupted my perception and thus the accessibility of that love, that support, that caring. I t kept me in so many ways, whilst others might dispute this, apart from my family even though we were that “ group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.”
Some time back now I wrote to my mother, whom I now have an excellent relationship with, and tried to ask about her understanding, her perception of my childhood. I had decided it was time to be more open with my mother and my siblings about my mental health. In her response she mentioned several decisions I had made which hurt her or which she disagreed with and I can understand this.
What was extremely interesting however was the fact that most of those decisions (in fact all but one) I made as direct result of, or in direct response to, my mental illness. That same mental illness I had in many ways kept hidden from her for so long.
I don’t think I had before this seen such stark and finite examples of how my mental illness or perhaps more importantly my trying to conceal it, had damaged my relationships.
The sad part is that the same is true of my relationships with my siblings and even more sadly, whereas I have a much improved relationship with my mother now, those relationships with my siblings is still extremely damaged. I cannot begin to express how much this saddens me.
This of course has a knock on effect with some of my nephews and nieces, great nephews and great nieces. Which also saddens me greatly.
So yes when writing my Passions Profile my family on there as it is something I am very passionate about and I hope and pray that one day the damage that has been done can be repaired.
I mentioned before that I am blessed to have two families. My biological family and my adopted family. I love them both equally and I am so very blessed that in respect of my adopted family we have benefitted from many of the hurts experienced as a result of my mental illness and the lessons that I have learned with my biological family.
As a blogger who is totally is ‘out there’ and ‘extremely open’ about my identity and my mental illness I understand fully those who blog about their own mental health difficulties but so anonymously. I really do but I have to tell you that my personal advice, given my experiences thus far, is that if you have a family and are hiding your mental illness from them it might be worth sharing it with them and allowing them to be the source of the support, caring, and love that you need.
I am therefore going off now to write once more to my siblings in the hope of working towards repairing that damage I mentioned earlier.