I grew up through the seventies and eighties when talking about mental or emotional illness was taboo, frowned on, sneered at, scary, even dangerous.
Talking is good.
It’s okay to be silent too.
For as long as you need to.
Forever, if you want to.
But it’s okay to talk, too.
My dad was a violent, paranoid schizophrenic with auditory delusions. I wasn’t aware of his actual diagnosis, and I didn’t have any of those words until well into adulthood. As kids, we watched him struggle.
I’ll speak for myself. I watched him struggle with what surely seemed like a demon in his mind. I watched him lose control like clockwork. We lived in exhausting and terrifying three-week cycles. And he put us all through hell on earth.
Most of my friends had nice, middle class lives in functional families. What would I have done without them? I could look in on their lives and see what ‘normal’ was. Even if those same friends look back on their own childhoods and call their families ‘dysfunctional’ it’s mostly to be quippy in the conversation. Dysfunction is a matter of degrees.
My friends didn’t have the same life experiences I was having, so they weren’t feeling with the same things I was feeling. The therapist said our family dysfunction was a 9, where 10 was one family member murdering another family member.
And I remember struggling alone every single day.
At first, I struggled simply to be a kid who was loved. I wanted to be noticed, asked about, cared for. I wanted to be loved without being abused. I wanted to arrive on time to all my before school, lunchtime, and after school activities.
I remember joining things so I could be out of the house as often as possible.
But I remember feeling that I needed to stay home too, to stay vigilant, to guard and protect, to be ready to help my mom if I could. But I couldn’t. I remember our helplessness.
I remember deflecting energy and interrupting violence. I remember choosing to become the black sheep because it was a role that did more good than harm. I remember absorbing the harm.
Through years of turmoil in my childhood, I remember being hot with anger about all of it. But I grew up through the seventies and eighties when emotional needs were considered vanity, a weakness, an indulgence. The last thing I wanted was stigma or pity hindering me.
I was determined to live a normal life.
But I also remember (and this was my saving grace, I suppose) not being very normal. I remember being very aware, intuitive, emotionally grounded, and mentally strong. I remember being told by a well-known psychic (one of City TV’s regular guests in the 80s), that I’m psychic. Whatever that means.
Some people are born to dance or sing or build houses. I was born to hold the space, to do it during life’s darkest moments if necessary, and to do it with a loving spirit, lifting, feeding light back in to the space. Whatever that means.
I can’t tell you if those are the right words, but they’re the best ones I have right now. It’s hard to talk about all this. Impossible, often.
For a long time, my own emotional needs and anxieties had no name. I remember physically losing my voice more than once – and the stabbing physical pain in my throat when I would try to work through emotional pain. It felt like I was pulling a wagonload of my heaviest memories uphill with a rope tied around my neck. It’s been hard to talk about all this.
But, let’s talk.
Feel broken if you must, but don’t break. Be lost for awhile if you feel lost, but you’ve come a long way down this yellow brick road. And when you’re ready to talk things through, there’s someone willing to listen.