See other bloggers posting for mental health week here: http://ow.ly/wQe0K
I wanted to talk about growing up as the child of someone who was mentally ill.
Mom used the religions of new age-stuff, fundamentalist Christianity, violence, and homeopathics to try to cure subtle things she considered behavioral problems. For instance, she often told us to do better in school by asking god for us to be better kids, to just be more intelligent, to just have better handwriting. It was the opposite of the growth mindset. She asked God to keep us safe, sane, happy, and healthy every day, and let me tell you, she asked for those things because I am pretty sure she didn’t know how to cover those herself. She used prayer like a weapon against people she didn’t like, making condescending statements about them, particularly my sister Rose, who she said was so smart, but who just wanted to dance and be loved and be around people and be accepted. These things weren’t her fault, she was raised by the same poorly-raised mom I was. And she was raised by a poorly-raised mom, too.
I remember when the internet first got big, and people would send shock porn around to make each other throw up. I had already watched Faces of Death while eating pizza with my friend Charles, and had seen the most horrific things imaginable to me in my family, which was my mother’s mask of rage directed at me with no light of compassion or sentience in her eyes for that moment. Charles and I had gone through some nutso shit and had some just plain harsh facts in our lives.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that people with mental health issues and those raised by them have good reasons for being intense, or strange, or neurotic, or whatever they are. Often, it is not under their control, and it is something they are working against every single day. Do you think anyone wants to be disturbing and off-putting to their fellow humans? Okay, maybe some people, but it’s an artistic thing. With mental health issues, these are the types of habits that systematically destroy relationships.
Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine approaching life with a mom who is abusive and irrational all the time, and nurturing about 1/10 of the time. It has some generic effects, sure, and these can make you an attention-seeker, because you know her good times are good for everyone. You become funny, because making her laugh almost always helps, and there is always something to get her to laugh about because she is constantly pointing out every single problem in her life and getting potentially destructively irrational about it. You become everything she wants you to become no matter how much it contradicts your own nature because your nature is caretaker for your mother. She sees things sometimes, has paranoid delusions on a daily basis, and prays for the world to end soon so she can get raptured.
She talks to Jesus, justifies any argument with “but god said…” and wins it with a raging tone of voice that you have seen accompany extremely brutal acts of unexpected violence. She expresses love in insults and lies about everything going on in her head. She hates everyone inside, because she has had a generally negative experience with any given human, because she interprets all of her experiences negatively except the ones coming from inside her own head. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be one of the positive experiences happening in her head.
When you become an atheist at 12 because your father is dead and you love science and philosophy and the god you’ve been told about all your life is definitely not even protecting you from your own mother, you are no longer a positive experience. You are now other, and you have revoked your own right to occupy a loved space in her head. As you both get older and milder, the resentment that peaks at teenagehood dies down a little bit, and you let her back in. Her gifts are meant to placate but seem like stab wounds. You feel creepy around her because of some things she has confided in you, things she did that you suspect she might do again because that rageful part that hurts people isn’t even human, and cannot be expected to abide acting human in a given situation. You feel guilty when you talk to her because you feel the resentment, the hate even, all bound up with the love that you have now experienced from other people in much lesser part. You have a hard time feeling that love without the accompanying resentment, too – your ideal of love came from mom and dad, but mostly mom in the early years, the parts that set up the deep inner sense of security. Truth looks like lies, lies look like truth. The whole reality becomes distorted when you easily mistake love for hate or disdain for affection or flirting. Relationships seem impossible, so you seek out people who understand or with similar experience or /who you will never tell about anything,/ for relationships.
Happy mental health week.
Dedicated to the memory of Roxy, and the presence of Kerstin, my fallen and fellow warriors in the fight to recover some sense of identity, meaning, or purpose from the carcasses of the selves we had to kill to be happy.