It is the penultimate day within the “Questions To A Parent With Mental Illness” challenge that my daughter set me. And I have to admit that it has come around so very quickly.
Your question this morning is a very interesting question. And the rational part of me wants so very much to answer, “No, of course not. I have no control over whether or not I have mental illnesses.” But the more realistic and honest part of me can’t allow that answer to stand alone. Because the question asked was “if I ‘sometimes’ felt guilty for having them” and the truth is that yes ‘sometimes’ I do.
But guilt is a very complex thing honey. And additionally, guilt is, I believe, the cuckoo of the emotional world. Often laying its eggs where they do not belong. So I think my answer requires a little more explanation…
In truth it is generally less a case of my feeling guilty for having mental illness and more a case of my feeling guilty for the effects that those mental illnesses often have on my life and on my relationships – especially on my relationships with my loved ones. “After all”, the dialogue goes, “it is my mind, they are my mental illnesses, and therefore – to some degree or another – I am responsible.”
So yes generally it is more a feeling of guilt over the results of my mental illnesses and even over whether I did anything to bring that particular episode of poor mental health on. Or didn’t do something to prevent it.
And of course, again in the rational – the detached and clinical – is the realisation that the very nature of some mental illnesses is the inability to control them and thus the outcome of them.
But it is here where a basic conflict lies. Do I accept this fact, and thus defeat? Or do I try to live beyond my mental illnesses and to try to control the potential effects and thus the outcome of those illnesses?
Isn’t this a difficult area for those living with, or caring for the sick or the disabled? That delicate area of trying to encourage someone to live beyond their illness or their disability, whilst at the same time recognizing the challenges or limitations caused by that illness or disability?
But I am my own worst critic honey. And often the love and understanding that I would automatically afford others, I fail to afford myself. And whether this results from the voices or from those darned critical internal dialogues, the result is the same. Yes, when things go wrong I get very frustrated at myself, very critical of myself, and yes I therefore often feel guilty.
“Did I fail to recognise the signs that my mental health was slipping?” “Did I fail to do something to stop the decline?” “Did I do something to induce or increase the decline?” “Could I have, should I have been stronger?” “Couldn’t I have stopped myself from…?” “Shouldn’t I have…?” “Why didn’t I…?” Are all thoughts which flood my mind after a bad episode. “After all”, the dialogue goes, “it is my mind, they are my mental illnesses, and therefore – to some degree or another – I am responsible.”
And yes honey I do see, that whilst in some circumstances those questions can be legitimate, there are also dangers and also injustices within those thoughts. And I also recognise that so many of them stem from or flow out of the very mental illnesses which we are speaking about.
But when they reside in your head, when they resound through the voices, when they are echoed by unsympathetic, accusatory or critical onlookers, they are so hard to come against. So very hard to rid yourself of. And as I said above honey: “Guilt is, I believe, the cuckoo of the emotional world. Often laying it’s eggs where they do not belong.“
So yes honey, I do sometimes feel guilty for having mental illness and I do often (even more often) feel guilty for the results of my mental illnesses. And yes honey sometimes I could have done more. Sometimes I could have done better, when it comes to managing my mental health.
And no honey, I never want to stop trying to do more, to do better in this regard. But what I do need to do is to try to be forgiving of myself, more understanding of myself and of my mental illnesses. And honey, to be more loving towards myself. Just as I have always tried to encourage you not to take ownership of that which does not belong to you, I need to do the same. And honey, I need you to help me do this.
With all my love.