They say mental illness is hereditary. In my case, I have found that statement to be true. As a child mental illness was not something that was talked about in a positive way. I knew I had that “Crazy Aunt” who would go months where she didn’t get out of bed, didn’t shower or take care of herself. I had that “Crazy Grandmother” who would call 911 on herself just so she could get hospitalized because she enjoyed the support and attention she got while in treatment. She also knew while in treatment she always benefited from shock treatment therapy and would ultimately feel better. I would hear my parents talking about other distant relatives all being similar too. My parents would say things like “Why can’t they just take their medication like they’re supposed to”, or “They just like the attention they’re getting” or “If they would just get up, get out of bed and take care of themselves they would feel better”.
All these things are normal thoughts and stigma surrounding mental illness. They didn’t know any more or less than the next person about this disease. Back then mental illness was considered to be “Oh they’re just crazy”. We, just like the rest of our nation, didn’t know mental illness was linked to substance misuse.
These comments and outlook on mental illness is why I think my brother and so many others quietly suffered for so long with mental illness without speaking up and why when I personally started showing symptoms of mental illness, I didn’t recognize the signs. My brother started self-medicating with substance misuse just to feel normal, so he didn’t have to talk about it and be classified as “Crazy” like my grandma or my Aunt Vicki. I would blame my own uncontrollable outbursts and rollercoaster of emotions on PMS and my period. There was no way I could have bipolar depression like the rest of them.
The reality is WE are all alike. Mental Illness comes in all shapes and sizes. What we need to take away from this is: We need to educate ourselves on mental illness. Those who are silently suffering are afraid to speak up and speak out because we don’t want to be classified as “Crazy” or be made to feel different. If we educate ourselves, we can let those suffering know that it’s okay to talk about, it’s okay that we feel this way, it’s okay to have good days and bad days. What’s not okay is making anyone feel like they can’t ask for help. Together let’s change the stigma surrounding mental illness!