A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me the following personal essay. It was originally published on stigmafighters.com. She asked me to share this because sharing our stories has great power. Talking about our struggles can help heal one another, and reduce stigma. If you have overcome your childhood, this writer wants you to know, you are not alone.
Mental Illness Is My Mother by Anonymous:
When I was asked to write for Stigma Fighters by Sarah Fader, I was a bit baffled at first. I don’t suffer from mental illness myself. I thought about it though and decided that maybe, just maybe, there were other people like me. Others who were raised in the same manner that I was. Hopefully, this will help them realize that they are not alone. That even if you were raised by mental illness, the actions and behaviors of your parents are not your own.
I don’t remember spending a lot of time with my mother before the age of six years old. The few memories I have are of two different women. One woman was soft, kind, and loved to laugh. She would sing and dance with me, make me feel like I was her entire world. The other made me quiver in terror in a corner while my father tried his best to talk her down. She would wave a gun around and threatened to shoot him or herself. After those moments of horror, my mother would leave, and I would beg my father to find her. To keep her safe. As an adult, I wish that I had never begged that of him.
When I was six years old, nine months after the birth of my sister, my parents divorced. This was when I started to understand that mental illness existed. I can still see them fighting in my head. My mother screaming, “Just kill me!”, at my father while stripping her clothes off and holding a butcher knife out to him. I would wrap myself around my sister and protect her as well as I could from the harsh words. She has no memory of this, and I am thankful.
I developed stress-induced asthma and had to start seeing a therapist at school in first grade. My mother broke, and my father remarried. My mother made me feel as if the divorce was my fault. “If you would never have been born, this wouldn’t have happened.” That was a hard statement to swallow when I was seven years old. I was trapped between a rock and a hard place. You see, my mother has schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, and a handful of other mental disorders. My step mother was bi-polar with a jealous streak a mile wide. These women made my life miserable. They projected their issues onto me. I became a scapegoat in two households.
At the age of ten, I added the title of keeper and protector of my sister. One day during her third year, she broke something of my mothers like toddlers are prone to do. My mother back-handed her across her fair cherubic cheek. That precious baby had a hand print on her face for over a week. I couldn’t let that ever happen again, so I began to take the blame for anything my sister did. As punishment for these things, I was forced to stand against a wall in nothing but my underwear while being struck by a belt on several occasions. Welts littered my back, buttocks, and thighs. But, I kept my sister safe. After, my mother would come back to herself and hug me, stroke my hair, and tell me she loved me, that she was sorry, until I fell asleep. This was when I learned that trust was a fickle beast. Trust could be broken.
When I was at my father’s home. I stayed out of my step-mother’s way as much as possible. It didn’t help. She made a point of ridiculing me. Of making me feel like a failure. A worthless shell of a person who didn’t deserve affection. I was too skinny. My hair was too stringy. I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough. I was never good enough and was begrudged every small thing. I was a late bloomer. So at first, I wasn’t feminine enough. Then, when I finally began to fill out, I was a lesbian whore. I became a doormat. Insults were hurled at me with every smoke-laden breath. I could do no right. I am severely allergic to cigarette smoke. When I would become sick, my chain-smoking step-mother would say, “She is just acting that way for attention. Just ignore her.”
I contemplated murder at 15 years old. I had it all planned out. I knew exactly what my legal punishment would be, and I was ok with that. I should have never been pushed that far. Thank God that my conscience kicked in. I began to realize that none of these things were my fault. This was when I learned that the opinions and actions of others could be devastating, but they didn’t change who I was.
My father’s words still ring in my head. “Let it go in one ear and out the other.” His cowardice baffles me to this day. I will never understand how he just sat by and watched this all happen. Fathers are supposed to protect their babies. I was a child. I had no protection. None. I was an innocent, and I was left to the wolves. Now, I understand that I was not the only victim. He was one as well. We all just react differently to pain.
My story began well, and it did end happier than most, but the middle was fraught with shadows and monsters. I got out. I broke the cycle. Did I come out a little warped? A little jaded? Of course. But, I love who I am. I love me, and that is all that matters. I have forgiven them all, although I will never forget.
Being raised by mental illness is different for every person. For each of us who have lived through it, just remember – The Forge made us all a little different. But, we have all been through the fire. We survived. We overcame.