Today doesn’t feel much like the 4th of July at our house. We are not really able to go anywhere because of the crowds. The things we usually do on the 4th like go to a movie and out to dinner aren’t possible. So while I am grateful to be an American, I don’t feel much like celebrating. There is just too much wrong with our country to have a celebration. Too many people are turning a blind eye to Covid-19 so they don’t have to be inconvenienced. So, I decided that today was going to be MY Independence Day. The day I announce that I am writing my memoir. Now, many of you who know me are thinking, she is just an ordinary woman-what does she have to write about. I am declaring my independence from the secrets of my past. The secrets that everyone in my family turned a blind eye to for most of my life- I am talking about mental illness.
It has taken my whole life (58 years) to be confident enough to write this. Those who know me now cannot imagine that I was anything but a confident, intelligent woman with a nice life. Those who knew me in K-12 think, boy she really came out of her shell and made something of her life. Both are true. Both are painful to talk about. Both almost killed me.
My maternal grandmother had schizophrenia. She was a cold woman that I really never knew. It took lots of counseling and lots of self -reflection to realize what her mental illness did to my mother. And what it did to my mother, she did to me. My mother never told me I was pretty. She never asked me how I was feeling about something, even when I was upset. She never put my needs before hers unless she got something out of it. She always gave me the feeling that I had to live up to her standards of the day to gain her attention. I could never talk to her about what was going on in my life, even when I was little. I was taught to be quiet and stay out of the way. My mother could make me feel like the biggest disappointment in her life. There would be times where I would think we were close, and then something would happen that would take months to repair.
Schizophrenia doesn’t just make you “see things”, it controls your emotions to the point where you can show neither joy nor sorrow. My mother was never diagnosed with ANY mental illness, but I know she suffered from many. How do I know? She raised me and I suffer from mental illness. It is genetic and it is brutal. It is especially hard when it is ignored, as it was with my mother. One of her greatest skills was gas lighting. She was wonderful at getting people (including my beloved father) to believe her reality. It isn’t easy being raised by a gas lighter. I never knew what was real. My mother could make me feel like I was worthless, so when I did well in school or someone wanted to be my friend, I didn’t have the self confidence to believe I was worthy.
Things started to change for me after high school. Even though I lived with my parents while going to IPFW, being out in the world and meeting new people made me realize that my family life was not normal. I loved my mother, but I started lying to her on a regular basis in high school. She never knew the real me after about age 17. It was the only way to survive.
I will be writing my life’s journey in and through mental illness. It is a long story filled with pain, anger, denial, love, hate, but most of all; it is a story of resilience. The resilience of three generations of women living with mental illness and dealing with it the best they could. I loved my mother, but she was not an easy person to love. Yet, I wanted more than anything to please her. When she died, there were so many things left unresolved between us. So, here, in my blog, I will be writing about the journey of writing my memoir. It is emotional and heartbreaking at times. More than anything, it is my truth and I finally have the courage to write it. The picture for this blog post I just took. It’s me, sitting on our couch. No make up, just the confidence to show myself for who I am. I hope you will join me on this journey. I have no map for where this will take me. I just know I need to go.