They are the whispers traveling on the breeze. The haunting of the mind. The crop circles in the carpet. Things heard and seen that aren't really there. Askew perspectives, false perceptions, misguided misconceptions.
It really is no surprise I am the way I am. I can trace back the mental illness in my family over years, decades, and in some cases centuries. There is poison that runs through this family tree. A necrosis of the nerves. Voices of the past mix with our voices of the present and we are much the same. Most of us have not spoken publicly about the terror that goes through our minds. Many have never spoken about it at all. We are strong people and strong people don't talk about such things. Strong people don't admit that they too, have weakness. Strong people don't talk about mental illness let alone accept that they have one. At least not in my family, at least until recently in the last twenty years. Before then, it was only discussed in hushed whispers followed by haunted stares and only if someone was put in the asylum. Which, not surprisingly, some were.
My great great grandmother seemed by all descriptions to have suffered from OCD. As did her daughter (my great grandmother), and my grandmother, as well as my uncle. And then there is me and quite possibly my two children....For us, it wasn't discussed. In fact, until I started really talking about what I go through and asking my grandmother what she goes through, I do not believe they even knew that what they had was a mental illness. Sadly, they are all gone but my grandmother and my kids. The conversations with my grandma, I believe, have healed us in many ways. We now share more than just the love of grandmother and granddaughter but also the companionship that comes between two sufferers of the same illness. We understand each other on a very deep level. Different symptoms same debilitating disorder. Different severities and yet the same understanding. We have OCD. We are OCD. We reside in its confines and adhere to its anxiety.
I am not sure why we as human beings tend to want to hide the deepest most painful parts of ourselves, nor do I understand what hiding these things are supposed to achieve. Really, not talking about something like mental illness only promotes guilt, shame, loneliness, and despair. And who wants to live like that? Not I. Not my grandmother. No one wants to suffer in silence. Why do we blame ourselves for something we never asked for in the first place? Why are we weighted down by the sheer shame of having a mental illness when mental illnesses are no more than a simple chemical imbalance in the brain? Or a trauma to the cerebral cortex? Why do we carry guilt around for something we are not the cause of nor have we ever been?
I wish that I had known it was okay to talk about these things years before. Maybe I would have been able to have connected more deeply with my uncle and great grandmother. Maybe we could have had the deeper understanding like I share with my grandma. Maybe we would all have had a chance to heal a little more. Maybe...
If there is one thing I have learned in the thirty one years of suffering from a mental illness, it is that keeping silent doesn't make you strong. It makes you lonely. My old family motto was wrong. It was hurtful and it may or may not have contributed to the suicide of my great uncle and the attempts made by mother when I was younger. Strong people don't keep things in. They don't bottle up all the hurt in the world and swallow it down like poison. They let it out. They offer up themselves on a platter and they refuse to hide. They remove the curtain that shelters them from the sometimes cruel judgments of the world and they stand there unprotected and vulnerable. Not because they enjoy being ridiculed or ostracized but because they are tired of living in the shadows. They long to feel whole. To stop living in fear and darkness. To stop hiding like a thief or a criminal. They don't discuss the pit falls of their issues because they enjoy hearing themselves talk. They do it because they know that someone somewhere is hurting, someone feels alone, and they don't have to feel that way, because they are not.
I have to admit that talking and being open is not always received well. It can get touchy. It can be utterly terrifying. It can be exhausting and sometimes extremely off putting to others, but I really can't think of anything more courageous than to put yourself out there and let the chips fall where they may....except doing it doesn't really make you feel very brave. Crazy maybe, but not brave. Then again, not everything you do makes you feel like superman now does it?
Superman isn't always super, he is plain old Clark Kent half of the time. Those of us that share, are more the plain type of superman. Not really all cape and spandex but the more practical, less flashy, type with glasses. Still superman, just less exciting.
Trying to discuss what suffering from something that so many misunderstand and are scared of can be complicated and frustrating. To try and get others to see that we just want to be treated like normal human beings can seem almost impossible. In a world where other human rights violations are front and center it is painful that we are not included. Whether it is willfully or accidental, it still hurts. It still feels like we are being somehow ostracized and forgotten. Where are our rap songs, our protests, our political platforms? It makes me wonder and it kinda saddens me as well.
We are oftentimes left to our own devices when trying to openly discuss our trials and tribulations, the discriminations against us, our media image. We are left with only a few films, books, blogs, and a handful of great organizations trying to educate and shine light on our plight. And the only thing that keeps that going is the sufferers willingness to speak out and be heard and the wonderful people willing to help by continuing to support us.
I have decided to go against my old family motto that has done nothing but keep most of us hurting and muted. I talk openly to my family members. I offer a conversation full of truth and honesty. I make sure to communicate with my children that having a mental illness does not make you doomed or any less valuable as a person. It isn't anything to be ashamed of or frightened of. It isn't dirty or scary or offensive. It simply exists and simply is, and like anything else, it has a right to be talked about. It needs to be talked about. It deserves to be talked about. I think it is most important to be open with them about the fact that I and many others in my family suffer from mental illness because, they are our future and it one day will be up to them to change it. And I want them to change it not with anger and misunderstanding, but with compassion and with truth.
I have chosen to call this piece crop circles in the carpet because as an OCD sufferer I am really weird about shapes in my carpet. I try and make straight lines with the vacuum because I feel like the carpet ins't fresh if I don't. Then inevitably, my oldest will come in desperately to concentrate on something and unconsciously take his pencil eraser and and draw large round circles in it. Circles that I don't see until he has finished what he was doing and goes into the other room. Circles that remind me he was just there. It has become a sign to me. A sign of presence. A sign that if he was there, I was there too, and so is my whole family history. Our history of struggles, achievements, values, strengths, our truths, our love, and inevitably our history of mental illness. Our sign that we existed, we matter, and we no longer have to suffer in silence. The circles are a sign of us. They were here. He was here. I am here.....They are our footprints of not only what we have been, but also what we have yet to become. Whispers on the breeze, hauntings of the mind, and crop circles in the carpet.