Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's All Relative...

See what I did there? It's a pun. Today's post is going to be about relatives. Specifically, the correlation of your family history and mental illness. Your family members can not only pass down their good looks, their hair and eye color,  but their mental illness as well. My family has more mental illness in it than you could shake a stick at. It was a virtual Russian roulette game which one I would end up with. A couple of weeks ago I was reading up on OCD. I find it helpful to keep up with news that pertains to my specific illness. This person that was presenting themselves as a doctor claimed that OCD was not hereditary. They had the gall to say that it was from feeling emotionally insecure as a child....Really. I truly hope that this person questions his/her qualifications to comment on this subject. I know I question them.
My grandmother is cute as a button. She has a good heart and amazing personality.To say we are really close is an understatement. Her knowledge at seventy three is invaluable. When she was my age she was stunning. I'm talking movie star gorgeous. She was a terrific mother and raised four smart, entertaining, and well rounded children. Back then she would have been considered "quirky". As she aged "quirky" was changed to nagging or harping. When I was diagnosed with OCD we all realized that I wasn't the only one in the family to have it. Grandma was suspect number one. She wasn't actually nagging to be a nag. She had OCD. Her anxiety made her harp at others. She would worry and worry until it came out as nagging someone to do something that they needed to do. It wasn't done to aggravate or hurt others. She just couldn't help it.It makes since that she would have it, because I am compared to her all the time. Not only did she give me her beautiful red hair,we are both bossy, feisty  and stubborn as an ox. I take that as a compliment. If I can be half as strong, wise, or magnificent as her than my life would be more than complete.
 Suspect number two was my Uncle Woody. He was the oldest of her children. He was funny,sweet, and a lovable teddy bear of a man. Not only had Grandma's red hair passed down to him, Ocd had too. I don't think he ever realized that. He was fastidious. His appearance was always perfect. In the seventies when the unkempt look was in, he never had a hair out of place. If you smoked in his house the second you dropped an ash in the ash tray; he would grab the ash tray, wash it, dry it out, and place it right back in front of you. If you flicked another ash, the cycle began again. His house was so immaculate that I was afraid to touch the wall, lest the oil on my fingers make a smudge. I affectionately call it Woody clean. I have yearned and tried for years  to be able to master Woody clean but alas, I cannot.
I realize that it can't of started with her. Somewhere along the line we have passed OCD down like an invisible inheritance. No one realized this. Beyond a certain point, OCD was known by a plethora of other names. Terms like lunatic, neurosis, mania, odd, nut job, nutter,whack-a-doo, and quirky were passed around. Mostly it wasn't called anything because no one spoke of it at all. It was safer at that time not to talk about it.
I find it greatly amusing to think that four hundred years ago one of my ancestors probably had the cleanest, shiniest, hovel in the town or the most well groomed sheep. They may not have been clean freaks but I'm going to take a shot in the dark and bet that they were. If you look back in your family you can probably find keys to unlock the heritage of your mental illness.   Now that doesn't mean that I have the same OCD symptoms as my Grandmother or Uncle. She has the worry symptoms. My uncle had the contamination and germ a phobia. I have intrusive thoughts,checking, contamination, germ a phobia platter with counting on the side.   It has been freeing to talk with her about what she experiences with OCD. As we grow older with each other we realize that she and I are even more alike than we already knew. So if we were to call mental illness by the old names I guess I would be all of those terms  and yet I am none of those terms. I am just a person trying to get through life sharing my troubles and wisdom with the world. Give and take, live and thrive, grow and learn. That is her. This is me. This is us.
                                                              Neurotic Nelly


  1. Lovely post. I have a history of mental illness on both sides of my family (from a paternal sense). I've always sensed it - but like you said, people don't talk about this stuff. I'm proud to be the first in my family to face the struggles of mental illness openly and in a manner that encourages understanding, education and advocacy. Just like you :)

  2. Thank you very much! Yes it is a struggle to talk especially to family about our issues. I am fairly certain that most would talk about it if there was less of a stigma about mental illness. Some don't even realize they have a mental illness.