Introduction and apology…
This for me is a very interesting question and one which I have, in the past, often considered and indeed written about.
But in the past, when writing about this (or about directly related subjects), I have also been a little reticent about what – or how much – I shared.
But I find myself asking the question, “if my answering this question is to have any value at all (and I am very keen that is does), does it not require me to be both very open and very honest?”
Don’t get me wrong. Being open and honest is something which I have always tried to be within this blog. But it has, to a large degree, always been filtered through a desire not to cause discomfort or distress to my family and/or to those I know.
And as a result of this self-imposed ‘filter’ there have therefore often been times when I have been a little restrictive in the type and level of some of the information that I have shared. Likewise I have been cautious in how I have worded some of the information that I have previously shared.
But the fact remains that today’s question is a part of a challenge. A challenge specifically aimed at increasing awareness when it comes to mental illness. And it is a challenge (and a question) which is a very important one.
I am so very mindful that others may be going through (or have gone through) what I go through (and have gone through). And, through this post, I do so very much want to reach out and say, “You are not alone.”
I am so very mindful that others may have family members and loved ones who present similar behaviors or thought patterns and who ask themselves, “how can this be?” And I so want to reach out to you and say’ “As inexplicable as it is, for some of us, it can be and is. Don’t despair and don’t look to blame. Just try to understand and try to reach beyond what is experienced.”
I am so very mindful that others may have family members and loved ones who present similar behaviors or thought patterns. Others who regularly ask themselves, “How can this be?” And I so want to reach out to you and say’ “As inexplicable as it is, for some of us, it can be and is. Don’t despair and don’t look to blame. Just try to understand and try to reach beyond what is experienced.”
Ungrounded Relationships – An inability to fully connect…
As I have mentioned before, I have experienced mental illness or poor mental health for most of my life. Or for at least as long as I can remember.
Certainly, I became aware – as a child – that the way I felt, the way I thought, the way I processed and perceived things ( including the presence of internal [and seemingly external] dialogues that I experienced) appeared different to my siblings and to my peers.
But I grew up in a time when mental illness was not as understood or tolerated (I just can’t bring myself to say accepted) as it is today. Likewise we (society) were not, in my opinion, as aware of mental illness as we are today. And, looking back, I can see how (as a result of this lack of awareness, understanding or tolerance) not only did I hide much of what was going on inside my head, but also how much of the behavior – resulting from what was going on inside my head – was not even considered in the context of mental health. And was instead, purely seen as ‘bad’ or ‘unacceptable’ or ‘inappropriate behavior’. (And so consequently it was dealt with as such).
But please understand the setting and indeed the context in which I share what I share. I cannot – in all honesty – claim that I came from a bad family or dysfunctional family by the standards of the time. Nor can I (or will I) say, by those same standards, that either of my parents were abusive. In truth my parents generally reacted just as any other parent of that time. And to all intents and purposes anyone looking in would see my family as a ‘normal’ and even a’ close-knit’ family group.
Likewise, I was not ( and was not labeled as) the proverbial ‘problem child’ – acting up or bullying or being nasty or anything. No. I was just simply ‘different’. I saw myself as being ‘different’. I understood myself as being ‘different’ (although I didn’t really understand why). And I seemed to be somehow seen and in some ways treated as being ‘different’.
And this, I am convinced, had some very real and very damaging consequences.
In fact, even as a child, I would often sit within my family home – surrounded by my parents and siblings – and look upon them as the family unit which they were, but as a family unit which I was not really part of.
Even now I look back at such pictures of my family as the one above. Which has (back row) my father, my grandmother, my mother (holding my little brother), and my grandfather. Then (front row) my sister and my older brother, and then me at the end. And as much as I try I cannot truly fully see myself as part of that ‘family’ picture. Even though I am clearly in it.
And yes, I freely accept that it is irrational. (I mean, rationally, you only have to look at pictures – such as this one on the left – to see that I obviously was part of and belonged in my family.) But somehow – in my head [and thus my heart] this just wasn’t so.
In truth the irrational became (or was) the reality that I knew and which replaced (in me) the reality everybody else knew.
And I know, from observing and yes analyzing, my siblings’ relationships with my parents, that this had a direct and damaging impact on my own relationship with my parents and especially my father.
My; fear of, unwillingness to, and even inability to express, or admit, or communicate that which was going on in my head. Coupled with the lack of understanding of mental illness at that time and indeed a mistrust and unhealthy attitude towards it. Left my parents – and especially my father – in a position where my behavior was only seen as rebellion or simply my being bad. And in my father’s eyes especially, that was not to be tolerated and definitely something to be ‘disciplined’ out of a child.
The cold, hard fact remains that this disconnect, this inability to fully connect, had a direct impact on my relationships and indeed my grounding as a child. And I know, without any doubt, from conversations and correspondence with my parents, that this placed them in such a difficult position and indeed cause them just as much hurt as it caused me.
And the truth is that this continued throughout my life and on into other relationships.
As a youth and as a young adult, so many of the things that I did, so many of the decisions that I made (and which impacted on my family and especially on my parents) were as a direct result of my mental illness. It was either my trying to manage it, cope with it, reduce it’s potential to do damage, or to simply continue keeping it hidden.
But of course only I knew that. And so only I saw the reasons or understood the logic or the thought processes behind them. So what to me was a necessary and logical and understandable action or decision, was far from necessary, far from logical, and far from understandable to my parents or my family. And that therefore resulted in a great deal of concern, confusion and even hurt felt by them.
But we get older don’t we? Our involvement with, our dependence on, and our need for (or acceptance of) guidance from our parents, lessens. And our growing independent becomes more acceptable and increases. Just as the expectation for us to develop other relationships and start our own families does.
The desire and need for our own relationships…
There is, (or at least there was at the time of my young adulthood) a process which was commonly followed. Children grew up, started their own relationships outside the family, fell in love, got married and had their own children. It was how things were commonly done. It was an expectation placed upon us and indeed an expectation which grew within us.
There is, I think, an intrinsic need, a desire, within most of us to be loved. And even (perhaps especially) where you have struggle throughout your childhood and youth to belong, to fit in, to feel accepted, to feel loved this need, this desire continues.
And perhaps (or so your mind reflects – or at least mine did) – this time, now that you are choosing and forming the relationships, it will be different.
But desire doesn’t always equate to or result in success, does it? And where the inability to fully connect is somehow inbuilt within you (or where the ability to fully connect has been somehow robbed from you) nothing actually changes. Especially where you are still trying so hard to hide your mental illnesses or at very least so frightened of revealing or discussing them.
And so history repeats itself. Or at least it did in my case.
Relationships which I formed and which I so wanted to be ‘normal’, to be ‘full’, to be ‘mutually intimate’ presented the same block, the same disconnect, the same fracturing.
Is it because you are (in part at lest) still living a lie? Yes, maybe that is a part of it. But trust me, in my experience it goes so very much beyond that. It goes so very much deeper than that.
Even when I got married, and even when the most wonderful and awesome thing happened, the birth of our son, this blockage, this inability to fully connect was still there.
I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times I came home from work and would stop outside my house and look in through the window. Look in at my wife and son playing together or interacting with each other. I cannot tell you how many times I would see that picture and know deep down inside that I simply did not ‘fit into it’ or ‘belong’ as a part of it.
And so in many ways, whilst I personally could never fully justify my wife leaving me, or indeed the way that she did it, and whilst I would never have done the same thing to her, I can at least understand it. And it comes as little wonder to me that our marriage broke down.
But can we reach out beyond the reality which we know or with which we are presented?
The question set today asked: “How has your life been effected by your illness(es)?” And it offered some suggestions. “(Some ideas are: relationships, career, school)”
In my answer I have chosen to focus on one very real, very personal and (in my opinion) important aspect of how my mental illnesses have effected my life. – That of relationships. And I have done so because (in my opinion) this is an aspect which often fails to be discussed and an aspect which (in my experience) went throughout my childhood, my youth, and my adulthood and which still exists within me today. And it is an aspect which can impact so much of a person’s life – home, family, school, career, church.
Do I have personal relationships? Yes, I have a few. But I have to tell you that they really are few and far between.
Do I have intimate personal relationships, close personal relationships? Yes, but even fewer, if truth be told. And I am convinced that these exist more as a result of the grace and compassion and character of those I am close to than they are as a result of me.
“I am so very mindful that others may be going through (or have gone through) what I go through (and have gone through). And, through this post, I do so very much want to reach out and say, “You are not alone.”
“I am so very mindful that others may have family members and loved ones who present similar behaviors or thought patterns. Others who regularly ask themselves, “How can this be?” And I so want to reach out to you and say’ “As inexplicable as it is, for some of us, it can be and is. Don’t despair and don’t look to blame. Just try to understand and try to reach beyond what is experienced.”
I want to end this post there – having repeated those words and to answer the question which entitled this the last section of this post.
“But can we reach out beyond the reality which we know or with which we are presented?“
I truly believe that the answer has to be – yes, we can. Because the truth is that we have to.