I had a good long talk with my cousin today during our trip to Arlington National Cemetery.
It was a conversation of understanding. We haven’t been able to talk and catch up for so long and yet we’ve always felt close and so discussing sensitive subjects between us is ok. We caught up on family, what we’ve been up to and how our kids lives are progressing. Which of course leads to the thrills and frustrations of parenting. I’m sure our struggles are like most parents and we aren’t unique in our worries.
We discussed my trip for quite awhile which of course included discussion about this blog and how raw it can be for me. It’s hard being this open and laying it all out there.
Between these two conversations of parenting and opening up, we talked about how our families had histories of mental illness that neither of us had known about until we were adults. It wasn’t until we, or our loved ones, were struggling and trying to get help, that we finally learned what we needed to know.
Why is it that if a family has a history of cardiovascular disease, you know about it? I’m sure if your family had a tendency to develop diabetes, you’d learn all you could to not get it. Your parents may talk to you about it. Your doctor definitely would.
If it’s a mental illness though, it’s a secret. It’s shameful. Families hide it from public view so they don’t seem weak or get embarrassed.
No, having a talk with my mom about our history of depression wouldn’t have prevented my PTSD. It may have been a warning flag though that I might have deeper struggles with it than most if I did develop it.
I want to see the stigma of mental illness go away. I want people to feel like they can open up and talk about it with those whom they feel most comfortable with. Our families should be our greatest support network. We need to be able to talk about this.
I am forever grateful that my mom sat down with me and talked about our history after I’d been having issues. I didn’t feel as much like an outcast. Like the odd one out.
My aunt made a point of coming over to my house to make sure I knew that I wasn’t alone and that she understood. That meant the world to me.
If you have a history in your family of any mental illness, make sure your kids learn about it. Don’t stigmatize it. Don’t blow it out of proportion but maybe mention that they might tell their doctor when she’s asking about a history of cancer but forgets about anxiety, because doctors still don’t get it.
Maybe if we keep opening up, we can make those who suffer feel less intimidated about coming forward to ask for help.
I might have.
Maybe someone considering suicide might reach out to a parent or a brother or sister if they felt they could talk about it.
Hell. If you don’t have mental illness in your family, you can still help break the stigma.
Ask yourself, if a coworker goes to the hospital for a heart attack, how does the office react? Probably with an outpouring of support, get well soon cards and flowers.
If a coworker goes to the hospital after a severe anxiety attack, how does the office react? Probably with hushed whispers, silence or pretending it didn’t happen.
Start a conversation. Get it out there.
Now for some random pictures from my day and night in D.C.