Author: Latisha Carr, MA
I’ve been practicing this for over four years; sharing my story and being vulnerable with the world about my unconventional life. I still do not find it to be particularly easy for me. It has taken me years to genuinely except the cards I was dealt in life and not try to avoid my truth. I learned at a very early age that the world was not a safe place to be vulnerable, so I built walls that were tall and strong to keep me protected from the [perceived] judgements and opinions of the world.
In recent years, I discovered that those walls that once protected me as a child were my biggest hindrance as an adult trying to navigate friendships, relationships, work, and everything else that world has to offer. Those walls have been tough to break down because the harder I try the more I am able to remember why I built them in the first place and how they have been a mechanism of coping with an unconventional upbringing. This post is to dig a little into how mental illness has and continues to impact my life.
Ever since birth, my life has been interesting. I was born to a mother who at the time had fairly recently been diagnosed with a mental illness during a time where mental illness was not publicly or even privately discussed. My mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has only been on-again, off-again medicated throughout my life. Her mental illness has become one of the cornerstones in my life because it has impacted me at every milestone of my life. My mother did not even tell anyone she was pregnant and that she had a child so my family did not know I existed until I was three months.
Throughout my life my mother’s mental illness has had a lasting emotional impact on me. Many of the biggest moments in my life she missed because of her illness including my high school, undergraduate and graduate school graduations. The thing about that is not that she missed those moments, but the shame I felt for being too embarrassed by her behaviors to even want her to be there if she could. Those emotions however are something I rarely talked about when I was younger. I never expressed to most the shame and embarrassment I felt as a child, and now as an adult how those feeling now manifest themselves as guilt. Those emotions are strongly tied to the anger I felt that she could not “just take her medications and be okay”.
I also never expressed the sadness I felt that I did not have a “normal mom like everyone else”. I had my grandmother and aunt who raised me, but I always had a strained relationship with my mother. Her illness made her behave impulsively and erratically and it was hard for me to get beyond that even when she was medicated and doing well. In my mind, I rationalized that no one would understand what that felt like or that they would judge me (and her) for my feelings, so I kept them all tucked away and to myself until very recently. I now know that I was not the only person with that sadness. My aunt had that sadness for her sister and my grandmother likely carried a similar sadness for her daughter that I could never imagine.
It’s rare mental illness only impacts the diagnosed. It can have lasting effects on everyone from the immediate family to the local community. It has played a major role in my emotional development. I’ve gained a gift of compassion and understanding of others through my experiences, but I also learned to bury my own emotions in the midst of understanding others. In my journey, this first decade of my adulthood I am unlearning some of those maladaptive ways of showing up in the world, and finding ways that better support the woman I choose to be.
Sharing my story is just one of the ways that allows me to release the shame, embarrassment, anger, sadness, and guilt I have held onto for too long. I am also accepting that resiliency is a gift that was birthed from living this unconventional life and that my own vulnerability can free me from the weights that mental illness, although not my own diagnosis, had shackled to me.
I encourage anyone who is a child or family member of a person with mental illness to seek your own supports. Do the work on yourself to identify what you may need healing from. Find a therapist, a support group, and other resources to help support you. The impact of another person’s diagnosis is not only their burden. You also carry your own burdens related to it that can easily manifest themselves into issues for you in the long run so find the supports you need so that you can take control of your life, your emotions, and your well-being as well.
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