Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Let's Talk - A Mental Health Break

You know...when I posted my first installment of Let's Talk a whole year ago, I thought it was going to be a monthly post for me. But then life happened. I mean I can't seem to keep up with everything no matter how I organize myself. And then there is the inspiration. You see...I told you a bit of my story last year and how I feel about creativity and mental health and I was kind of at a loss of where to go from there...until just the other day.

I was with a friend...her daughter is about 12 we'll call her Jill. Jill was with her friend Nancy. Nancy was telling us that her father is on a new job site, he is working at a mental hospital (he is a contractor of some sort). This is when they started making jokes about being crazy and how he would find space for Jill when the hospital was ready if her mother liked.

I sat there and I found myself becoming internally inflamed...I wanted to say something angry, something that would make the girls uncomfortable, but I stayed quiet. But what I really wanted to say was "The Creative Kids' Uncle lived there for 6 months."

I thought. And I told Mr. CB. And I thought. Then I realized that I could have said something  but not something angry...something accepting, something informative, something that might cause them to think the next time they are in a situation that they might make fun of a population with a stigma.

 Want to know what made me angry? I grew up visiting 2 South...the place everyone made fun of at my school. The Creative Kids don't know much about their uncle's mental health but they do know that he is different and we love him anyway. But I know, having grown up listening to jokes about the hospital ward that my father was in and out of for much of my childhood how much it hurt.  It really HURT. A LOT.

No one really told me that there was anything wrong with my dad...I just knew...we knew when he was off his meds, we knew when to stay out of his way, we didn't know anyone else with a father like ours. A father who was okay one day but not so okay another day. A father who talked about people who probably weren't. A father who was paranoid. A father who spent much time in 2 South.

A father who was strong. A father who rose to the occasion. A father who loved his family even if we couldn't always see that. A father who believed in his children. A father who pulled himself together when his son needed him most. A father that I am so very proud of. You see, when my brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder it was our father who became one of his most important support people.

There are 2 sides to every story...especially mine. The side of mine where I was terrified, embarrassed and uncomfortable and the side where I came to see who my father really was and I became accepting, proud and comfortable with who he really was. My only regret is it took me a long time to travel that path. I am thankful that I arrived there just in time. A month before he died. One month. Now I can love my father with no shame, guilt or regrets.

The stigma ends here.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Heather. This is a powerful post. Thank you for sharing.
Jen Spilker

Anonymous said...

I have a special needs child, and I wish people would not jump to the conclusion I am a bad parent, with a bratty child, when she's having a meltdown- people need to think before they speak.

Thanks for sharing your story

Heather said...

Our stories aren't always easy to tell but there is so much we can share. Our youngest child has a speech delay. People often comment on my being able to understand him (which I often feel I can't) or even make fun of his speech (grown adults are the worst for this).

As parents to children who need a little extra love to get by we have an opportunity to help those around us understand. It is often hard to get past our frustration and anger for their ignorance but if you can take one of those negative moments and turn it into a teaching opportunity that person may start to see things a little more clearly.

It is hard not to be angry or to feel cheated for our children...but if we can get past that imagine what we could achieve.

That's how you stop a stigma. You talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Well said Heather. Your father loved you so much, more than anyone can imagine. He struggled to stay well, often working even when he was suffering. He felt strongly the responsibility to contribute to you and your brothers care. His greatest pleasure in life was his time with his children. Through the haze of mental illness, his love for you was clear. Loads of love, Aunt Debbie