Mental Health Matters: Acceptance (Part I)

Around 2005, I found my biological mother’s side of the family, and with that came a narrative about my family’s mental health. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services sent me a thick packet of information sealed in a manila envelope.

My mother had been diagnosed as having acute schizophrenia, undifferentiated type. According to the report she would oftentimes “walk around with an empty stroller” and could be found “lying on the couch, laughing hysterically.” Although she was an avid swimmer, in 1978, she drowned in Lake Michigan.

These images are not only vivid, but also profound. I immediately related to my mother’s psychosis. Finally, I understood part of myself.

I’d felt slightly off growing up. For example, in elementary school, it was difficult for me to walk in front of a class or across the cafeteria. Oftentimes, I thought everyone stared and talked about me. I had little reason to believe these imaginings, but in my mind they were true. However, I learned to cope. I’d pretend I was a horse with blinders on. I’d walk directly to my destination, ignoring anything in my peripheral vision, internally praising myself when I made it back to my seat without ridicule.

I never told anyone.

Learning about my biological mother introduced me to one of her sisters, Aunt Catherine. She outlined the remainder of our family’s mental health history. She suffered from depression. Her father, my grandfather had, too. Her mother, my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. Her two brothers were in prison; one murdered someone.

When I shared my relief that I’d finally found solace in understanding my off-centeredness, she rebuked it.

“Don’t try to be like us,” she said, “you’re not like us. You don’t have to be like us. Depression feels like you’re in a deep hole that you can’t get out of. You want to get out, but you can’t.”

I’d never experienced depression. In fact, my set point is joyful. So, I dismissed my newfound knowledge. Plus, who wants to identify as “crazy” anyway? I focused on other family similarities, like the tremors she, my daughters and I shared; all of our hands shake uncontrollably.

Still I knew something about me wasn’t normal.

When I was younger, I cried frequently for all reasons. One time I remember swelling up with tears because my paternal cousins had visited from North Carolina. They planned to drive to Bolingbrook, a Chicago suburb to visit another cousin. I thought I wasn’t invited, so I cried, until they consoled me and assured me I’d be right there with them. I was ten.

When my parents told me my father had diabetes, I cried because I thought he was going to die. My mother came to my room and asked me to stop. “Crying for hours is excessive for a diabetes diagnosis,” she said. I was twelve.

It was the 70s and 80s, so I was deemed sensitive. Anxiety wasn’t a household term, and therapy in black homes was unheard of. Instead, I received the proverbial, “Whatchu crying for now?” question, especially from my grandmother, who seemed to want me to be tougher, something I never fully achieved.

I researched schizophrenia and clinical depression. Aunt Catherine was right. I was neither of those; but, dots were connected. However, I dismissed them because they didn’t form complete pictures. They weren’t direct links. I ignored the idea that mental health is genetic; however, like brown eyes and curly hair, traces of mental health can linger in one’s DNA. Curl patterns may be a little looser and eyes a little darker, but characteristics are there.

So, while it’s no easy feat, I’ve taken some time to accept this trait. Subsequently, because I believe the only person I can change is myself, I’ll be publicly exploring it in more detail this year on this blog as a way to de-stigmatize mental health issues and to bring truth to light. What better way to do both than to begin with me?

Oh, and those tremors? They’re more than just biological markers; They are a physical manifestation of social anxiety disorder.

67 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Acceptance (Part I)

  1. I had a very similar experience as a kid (and as an adult, too), crying far too easily over minor things and being dubbed as “sensitive,” whatever that means. I’ve started sharing some of my experiences, too, over on my blog: https://theselfevolved.com . Mental health and treatment services are such complex issues, too! There aren’t enough qualified treatment providers, trying to get in to see a psychiatrist is nearly impossible in some places, and most insurance companies treat mental health as something completely separate from physical health services. Sigh. Thanks for sharing, representing, and taking steps toward reducing the stigma!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. …oh I’ve figured out what people mean when they say it lol and it’s not nice and causes suppression, which I’ll get to a little later in my mental health series.

      I love your blog, actually. We have some similar thought patterns.

      And yes, you’re right about the medical side of mental health. The whole thing is a mess!

      Thank YOU for reading and commenting. Looking forward to reading more from you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautifully, brave and honest post. I have nothing but love and admiration for not only the was style and genuine way in which you write, but also the road in which you’ve travelled.

    You my dear, are blooming amazing 😘
    Xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s hard knowing that you have these genes in your heritage. I have a lot of family members who have died from drugs, suicide, alcoholism, or suffer from various types of mental illness. Now I am dealing with it in my children. Thanks for sharing. Glad Mitch shared your blog.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. At first it was very hard and I didn’t even want to face it, which I’ll get into a little more this year. I understand exactly what you’ve shared…this is part of the reason, I’ve had to finally accept my history; it’s affecting my present. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back and read more ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Dr. K.E. Garland (Kathy) of the same-named blog site. Kathy’s explorations of relationships and family are honest, transparent, courageous even. But more than that, they are insightful. Discover more about the human family with Dr. Garland and, along the way, discover more about yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch, I’m not sure if thank you is enough to express my gratitude for sharing this post and my blog, in general. I appreciate it and what you’ve written here is exactly my goal. I want us to all realize we’re all one and should treat one another as such.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. goodness, I know we all have probs, but some of us are given such heavier burdens than others – so sorry for your mom & all the lives she’s touched. you, at the same time, I truly admire for working so hard on yourself & forever seeking to help others ❤ a very happy 2020 to you, dear

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you da-AL! That’s the thing, right? …all the lives she touched, just by being her and living her life but that’s how it is for all of us. We’re all living life and touching/affecting/effecting someone else’s life the whole way through. Thank you for the kind words. Self-evaluation is hard work, but it is necessary for self-evolution. Happy New Year to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks so much for writing so honestly about this subject. Mental health issues impact all families, and most people, so it is long past time when we stop avoiding the subject. Plus, how can we address an issue that we don’t even want to recognize?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You know I read your post yesterday, and before I could comment I got distracted. So, I’m back. Your story is moving, Kathy. But I’m inspired by your openness and bravery to explore mental health here publicly. I certainly believe it’s important to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Looking forward to learn more from your experience as you shed light on some of the misconceptions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Khaya! I had to take a huge breath on this one. It’s the first time in a long time that I was a bit nervous to share, but moving forward I’m good…I think lol thanks also for reading and continuing to support.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mental health is Everything. Glad you are bravely looking into yourself. We all should periodically ask variations of “Who am I and why?” and follow the thread until satisfied enough to return to that “set point” of joy. Blessings.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sad hearing about this but also glad you have used your platform to talk about these taboo topics! This is relatable as my family also have a history of mental health issues. Nice to know I’m not alone 💞

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading and supporting Ash! I’m glad this is relatable for you, too. I think what you’ve mentioned is part of how we perpetuate the stigma. We can be sitting right next to someone with the same issues and never know and end up suffering in silence.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Studying this topic, I also learned that people often embrace labels as if it’s their identity. In addition, watched a presentation of a professor dismantling the DSM, that made me also question a lot regarding mental health. Thus looking forward to read more of your new series and your perspectives on this. Warm regards, Patty

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for adding this Patty. I agree and I think that sometimes it can be detrimental to take on the label, as if it’s a rationale for behavior or all that you are, but at the same time, it is important to acknowledge and accept one’s feelings (kind of like physical health) so it can be managed, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This history of the DSM and how we arrived at our current categories of mental disorders is actually kind of terrifying and disheartening if you really delve into it. It’s also an extremely complex and politically charged topic.

      An example: before the latest version (DSM-5) came out, there was a TON of research done on personality disorders. As it turns out, the 10 distinct personality disorders have very little scientific support (research actually points to one big diagnosis of personality disorder, then specifying features as either at the extreme high or extreme low end of the Big 5 domains of normal personality, plus one domain to capture oddity). But, when DSM-5 came out, there was virtually no change to the personality disorders section, despite tons of scientific evidence supporting the change. Why? Well, (1) researchers who study specific personality disorders like Borderline PD were afraid they would lose the ability to get grants to fund their research anymore if the 10 distinct categories were wiped away, and (2) there was a lot of fear that it would be too hard for mental health practitioners to adapt to the change and it would simultaneously create all sorts of problems with health insurance coverage for mental health problems.

      Yikes!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve had a similar journey with family mental illness. There were “incidents” during my childhood that were shrugged off or explained as “you know how he is.” Only I didn’t. It was only after reaching adulthood and relocating to another state did I find out the truth.

    I connected with an aunt I’d only met during family reunions, and she told me about my maternal great-grandmother who would sit and cry for days with no explanation, then disappear only to be found hours (or even days) later asleep in the field or barn with livestock because it was the only place she was “safe.”

    She did many other things my aunt recalled–including roaming the streets at night, trying to exorcise demons from the furniture, and stockpiling ‘weapons’ under her bed–and the family just ‘dealt’ with it. The only real ‘help’ for African-Americans in the late 1800s/early 1900s was to be locked away in an asylum and her husband wouldn’t allow that.

    My great-grandmother was never diagnosed with mental illness but the family knew better. Still, as it manifested in other family members over the years, it was (and still is) something not openly discussed despite suicide attempts, substance abuse and alcoholism by family members.

    I’m sure the stigma of mental illness plays a big part in my family’s charade, but I also believe it’s the belief that if you don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist. How many times have we heard the churchy, “don’t claim that?” And people suffer, never reaching out for help.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing this Felicia. I really appreciate it. The thing for me is those stories are 1800s? early 1900s? We have to do better (all of us) in 2020+, you know? But I do agree with what you’ve said, because that’s how I felt. If I just pretend this isn’t me, then it’ll go away, but ya know…that doesn’t work. And, don’t get me started on the church ‘don’t claim that’ and ‘pray it away’ :-/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. But yet if you don’t claim something, how can you pray it away? I swear, that drives me crazy. You can’t treat something you don’t claim! We have had this talk with my parents before.

        Thank you both for sharing your stories.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. I am worried about someone close to me who may be depressed (or something) but I am scared to talk to him about it because I know he grew up in a time when it was not okay to need therapy or help. I am pretty sure if I brought it up he would get angry at me. It is such a difficult thing to deal with. I wish I knew what to do and I bet there are lots of others in the same boat. Looking forward to reading more posts on this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Irena, I agree that he may get angry, because it’s also a very personal thing. I mean how do you bring something to someone’s attention that is so huge? However, I’ve also begun thinking about mental health/illness the same as you would physical health/illness. If your friend were sneezing and coughing, then you may ask him a question, right? Or, maybe you would say, “it sounds as if you’re coming down with something.” I’m no expert, but I do think there’s probably a gentle way to nudge him to think about it.

      Thanks also for the support!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree with KE that there is definitely a gentle way to go about it. And also, to your comment about him probably being angry if you broach the subject, I would say: you never know. (I actually wrote my dissertation on depression in men, so I might know a little bit about the subject.) Culturally, in the U.S. at least, the masculine ideal is someone mentally strong who only expresses “masculine” emotions like anger. Your friend might be feeling societal pressure to squash his feelings, but he might also be silently hoping someone will acknowledge them. Just don’t start by saying “are you depressed,” because that’s too deep a place to start and will probably cause him to shut down.

      Asking questions and really listening to the answers without trying to solve or change anything could be a good start. Something to the effect of….Hey John (random name to make it easier), how are you doing? It seems like something is bothering you (this is, in fact, a question). What’s going on in your life? Oh, tell me more about that. How do you feel about that situation?

      The key here is to ask open-ended questions (things that don’t have yes/no answers); listen and acknowledge the feelings—-that sounds frustrating, that must make you angry, etc.; probe for more information—-what happened? what makes you say/think that?

      What/How questions tend to be better than Why questions—-Why makes people feel like their parents are scolding them (why didn’t you clean your room like I asked, etc.)

      I hope this helps a little!

      Like

  13. I was sad reading about your mother’s tragic death and mental illness, Katherin. It’s very inspiring how you’ve been able to understand your own mental health better, as a result. Acceptance isn’t always that easy, but it sounds like through the years you’ve reached that place. I can’t imagine it was easy and I’m sorry for the anxiety you’ve struggled with.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My eyes were glued to every single word of this post. It’s beautifully written and very honest. Mental health was not something brought up much in my home either. My mother chastised me for seeking therapy while I was college (literally said “don’t let those white people take your money!”). Learning to care about mental health as an adult made me rethink my entire childhood. It also makes me cautious of how my son grows up. Thank you for taking us on this journey with you and I can’t wait to read more!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Awww thank you so much! I totally understand about the therapy conversation. I once told my grandmother I was in therapy and she was shocked…then I was shocked that she was shocked, given my life’s history lol

      And yes…learning about yourself definitely changes how you parent your own children. Thank YOU for reading and supporting.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for sharing this. It’s hard to see things, face the truth, or just face things we may be uneasy about. But we sometimes need to just accept, and then we can move on

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Happy New Year Ann! (Anne?) I can never remember about the e. Thank YOU for reading and supporting. You’re right. It’s hard to get to the point where you actually face it, but once there (at least for me), the rest is easier. It’s that first step, you know?

      Liked by 1 person

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