In part one of this blog post, I discussed the “quirks” of my mother—her OCD and her irrational paranoia and how they affected me as a child. Looking back, however, I don’t consider any of the aforementioned behavior toxic to the point that it damaged me or my brothers. My mom’s depression, on the other hand, was. Major Depression is toxic both to the person afflicted and to those around them. Living through my mom’s depression was like living inside one of those “Depression Hurts” commercials I’m sure we’ve all seen. I could usually hear crying, or her deep sighs filled with melancholy from behind her locked door. When she got like this, she was less affectionate. I now know it wasn’t intentional.
As I got older, I found myself taking care of her often. Literally picking her up off the floor at times. Keeping up with her medications and whatever else she needed. It didn’t give me very much time to be a child. I was a full-time caretaker. I still am.
Her depression threw my anxiety into overdrive. I was afraid to leave her alone. Her illness kept me from being what I wanted to be, despite her best efforts to push all of us to be our absolute best at whatever we did. It kept me from moving away for college, and even came between me and my soon-to-be ex-husband. I was worried that if I wasn’t there to stop her from wanting to self-harm that I’d lose her. I felt that I was the only thing keeping her from spiraling out of control.
Can you imagine the stress that this puts on a child? Children are supposed to live worry-free, clueless to life’s real struggles until right before they get tossed out into the world. I was denied that luxury. I knew all too well how dark the world could be by watching my mother wallow in her depression. I saw how terrible marriage to the wrong person could be. I saw how stressful juggling work, bills, and kids could be. I was raised right, but I wasn’t shielded from the horrors of the world.
In another two-part blog post, I discussed my own bipolar disorder. Growing up, my mother knew I was sick, too, but just didn’t know how to help me and herself at the same time. She tried hard, though. She made sure I went to therapy, even though therapy wasn’t all I needed. My illness went unchecked medication-wise until I was about sixteen.
Now my biggest fear as a parent is that my boys are going through what I went through. I’m afraid that they don’t know exactly what is wrong with their mom and feel like they must take care of me or put their lives on hold. I want them to be children for as long as I can manage it. And just like my mother did, despite her illnesses, I will continue to instill in them the same values that she gave me and my brothers. I will try my hardest to weed out the learned toxic behaviors and keep my own “quirks” in check. In order to do that, I have to continue to go to therapy and take my medications, something my mother struggled with. I must practice mindfulness, which is hard to do, but a very helpful skill in managing any mental illness.
If you have kids, did you ever think about how you were raised, and try to weed out the toxic behaviors to stop them from being passed down? It may very well be the key to better parenting. You know better, you do better. When I say that, I mean take charge of your situation. If you know something is wrong or your life is being disrupted by an untreated disorder, then it is your responsibility to get help or find coping mechanisms that help. Being aware of the problem is the first step.
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/advisory-boards-and-groups/namhc/reports/genetics-and-mental-disorders-report-of-the-national-institute-of-mental-healths-genetics-workgroup.shtml – toc-i