Sharing mental health issues is crucial to healing our relationships: Because I’m a woman and because I can
I was sitting in the pub last evening having dinner with my son (who is now legally old enough to drink, crazy!) and two men sat down next to us. One started talking and said, “So she told me that she couldn’t be with me anymore unless I got some help. And she left.”
I expected him to say, “She’s full of s**t,” or something along those lines, but instead he said, “So I drove to the nearest hospital emergency and checked in.”
I admit, I was impressed. Most people who need mental health help don’t go get it, or even admit that they need it. And he went to the emergency voluntarily and got the help he needed. Bravo to him!
I think we get to a certain point in our life where we realize we need help. That the dissolution of our relationships is not healthy, and our behaviour is at least partially responsible. That somehow we’re adding to the dysfunctional cocktail that’s mixing up our private lives. And sometimes not just our life at home either.
Some people can remain fairly “normal” at work and then unload the ugliness when they get home. Others unload it in every aspect of their lives. And that causes a lot of problems.
As he went on to talk with his friend, I overheard snippets of words like “bi-polar disorder,” “personality disorder,” and “I was admitted immediately.” I was very heartened that he got the help he needed right away and by seeing two men (who were obviously good friends) talk about a topic that can carry so much stigma.
I think for men it’s even harder to admit that they’re not strong, resilient, capable. But facing who you are and doing what you can to help yourself, and therefore everyone in your life, is being strong, resilient and capable.
And I know admitting that you need mental health help is not an easy thing to do.
It’s very frightening and revealing. You worry that you’re actually “crazy.” That you won’t be able to look after yourself and your loved ones and will end up wandering the streets or something.
My maternal grandfather was hospitalized three times with “exhaustion.” That’s what they called a breakdown in those days. He lived in the UK during WWI and fought in WWII, so after he came to Canada he was carrying all that within him. He became a minister and loved preaching and being the centre of his flock. But he fought with depression throughout his adult life.
Thinking back on it, for my grandfather to be hospitalized it must’ve been pretty bad. He was always a go-getter and liked being busy and doing things. He was social and dynamic too. Not the typical depressive personality. And likely a Type-A personality like a lot of my mother’s family.
I see bits of that depression in various family members and some may be bi-polar too. There’s a certain mania about some of them, and my grandfather may have had that as well.
I didn’t find out my grandfather had depression until after I had my breakdown. At least I don’t remember hearing about it before that. Maybe I did and just didn’t pay attention. I have found that my awareness about myself has increased greatly as I’ve gotten older. Also becoming a mother taught me a lot about myself too.
Everything you do as a parent affects your child. You can’t “hide” who you are from your children because parenting puts you at your most vulnerable. I have never felt more broken open and helpless than when I was looking after my son.
I have also never experienced so much joy or love either. Parenting takes you to extremes. And as Robin Williams said you can’t turn around and say, “Now it’s time for daddy to throw up on you.”
No when you become a parent you have to put your big girl panties on (or big boy panties on as it were).
It’s doubly hard to be vulnerable when you’re a parent because you feel you have to be a rock for your child. I used to feel like that too. But I couldn’t “hide” my breakdown from my son. And I realized he needed to know that we can fall down and pick ourselves back up.
That responsible people do it all the time and that sometimes it’s necessary to get the help we need.
We all carry different burdens within us for very personal reasons, and they’re not always easy to share with others. That’s why I was so impressed with the man sitting next to us.
I believe that if women and men had more conversations like that our world would be a lot more open and a lot healthier place.
I was thinking of how I’ve let go of my anger, my deep rage that became a part of me over the years.
I used to be fueled by it. Driven. Recklessly.
A lot of the decisions I’ve made were based in rebellion. They weren’t coming from my gut or my heart, but instead my rage.
Rage at being bullied, yelled at, belittled, ignored, trapped, neglected as a very young girl.
That kind of deep rage.
As a child I felt imprisoned, sentenced to I didn’t know what, hence my claustrophobia. That sense of being confined in a space that’s going to grow ever smaller and run out of air.
It took me many years before I realized my rage was attracting other people who carried it as well.
Some of them took responsibility for it and didn’t pollute the world with their crap, others didn’t. Some of them spewed their crap all over everyone they came in contact with, especially the people they supposedly loved.
It was after I saw this pattern that I started to see it within myself.
I wasn’t a spewer, but I attracted the ones who were. Over and over again in my friendships and relationships.
I know now that they were being attracted to me so I could learn this lesson about myself. I had to stop raging within myself to stop attracting toxic people.
And that meant I had to stop hating myself. Stop believing I wasn’t worthy of love. Stop blaming myself for being abused basically. Because she always tried to make me believe it was my fault.
And until I could see that it really wasn’t, my rage wasn’t going to leave.
And it’s really only in the last few months that I’ve let my rage go and stood up for myself and my right to be treated well.
And in doing that it became very clear that what my mother did to me as a girl was insane. That she has a mental health issue that she’s never really addressed. I don’t know what the DSM-5 would call it, but it’s definitely something clinical. There are triggers that make it emerge, but it’s always there under the surface. And not necessarily controllable.
And once I realized this and it really hit me that her abusing me was not my fault, that it was not because of anything I did or didn’t do, it wasn’t because I was unworthy or unlovable, I truly changed within myself.
Instead it was because she has a mental condition that has gone untreated and therefore unaddressed.
That doesn’t mean that the way she treated me was any less heinous or cruel, but it does mean it was not out of an inherent evilness that she reserved only for me. As a child I think I did believe that she was evil, but I believe that no longer.
And that sense that I must submit to abusive people is now gone. I have progressively learned over the years, as I healed, that I have the right to not give in to the bullies and toxic people.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. I have felt a range of emotions for standing up for myself and some of them haven’t felt good at all.
The worst were guilt, shame, anxiety and even panic.
But once I faced each of those the rage started falling away.
And I feel so much lighter. It’s as if I’ve lost 10 pounds of negative energy from my body. It’s really a very remarkable feeling.
And I am finding as a result that the people who I am attracting now care about me for who I am. They aren’t wanting to unload their crap on me, in fact quite the contrary. They are supportive of my journey and who I am.
Not something I’m used to at all.
And I’ve learned above all that the way people treat me is a reflection upon the way I’m treating myself, and through others I can continue to learn how best to be within myself.
Priceless. And incredibly liberating.
I have a tribe. I found them kind of by accident a little over two years ago.
My tribe is not my extended family. It’s my women’s group.
I started going to a church about two years ago that was open to alternative forms of healing. Something that was and is very important to me.
They believe in prayer, of course. But they also believe in heart-based healing, which is taught to them by the United Church.
I had already learned about heart-based, or quantum healing, from a client of mine, and had experienced it firsthand. So when I found this church, I was thrilled.
Through the church there is a women’s group open to any woman in the community whether she attends the church or not.
We are a very diverse group from all different backgrounds, age groups and upbringings.
But it never fails to astound me how, despite our differences, we all have so much in common deep down.
We are all females who’ve been brought up in a patriarchal society, so we feel the same societal constraints and pressures despite out cross-generational group.
And as I sat listening to the women last night, as we all shared our stories about our lives, I was struck by how hard life can be.
I don’t feel I’ve had an easy life. I’ve dealt with abuse, emotional and sexual. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety because of that abuse. And I’ve had difficulty choosing relationships that are healthy also because of that abuse.
But some of the women last night have had harder lives than I have. For me the most striking were the women who have had to live with the loss of a child. To me that seems the ultimate in hard.
And sometimes I wonder how they can go on. One woman said she’s had PTSD since her son died 30 years ago.
And listening to their stories puts mine in perspective.
And I believe that’s what a tribe is for. To hear you and to help you learn that heartache, pain and resilience are all an integral part of being human.
And most definitely being a woman.
So as I came home last evening still fresh with the feelings of loss, survival, acceptance and love that moves through our meetings, I knew without a doubt that I can do this thing called life.
Yes, sometimes I need help. Sometimes I cry because it all seems too much.
Other times I rage because I’m fed up with not feeling good enough or deserving enough.
But I know after spending time with my tribe that I’m not the only one.
That instead we’re all in this together.
And to me there’s nothing more beautiful or reassuring than that.
I feel as if I’m staying in a hotel or at the spa, and I realize that’s the only time I’ve been alone on purpose before. To recharge.
But instead I’m at home, surrounded by my things and animals. Feeling, as I watch the planes fly past my living room window on their way to land, that I’ve made a really good choice being here.
It’s really starting to feel good. To feel right.
As I said before, it was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made. I felt guilty for leaving my verbally abusive fiance, for renting an apartment by the water where I’ve wanted to live for years, and for choosing to live without my son.
And it’s funny how things fall into place when you listen to your heart.
My heart said, Leave your fiance! So I left after he was particularly abusive with me verbally, and I found and rented this apartment within a few days of leaving. Somehow I just knew in my heart that I had to get out of there. That I no longer felt safe with him emotionally, and I didn’t know if any physical abuse would follow.
And the apartment I chose was where I really wanted to be. Living in a village by the water. It’s beautiful and busy, yet peaceful. There’s a relaxed sense of life here, and people stay here because life is good. And when I walk my dog every day, we walk by the water. We see the weather coming in and know that this is now home.
And living without my son was hard at first. I missed his voice and his constant presence. But as the days went by I saw a change in him. He was starting to grow up. Learning to drive and enjoying not living with his mom. So all these choices, as hard as they were, have come to good in the end.
And I have renewed a friendship with an old friend that’s also really helping me heal. Somehow we grew apart at one point, but now we’ve come back together. It’s been a miraculous and transforming experience for me.
My friend has helped me realize the continuity of friendship. That my writing kept them in the loop as far as my life was concerned, and that they were thinking about me and even worried about me without my knowledge.
And that has caused me to believe that relationships move on a continuum. That there is not really a true beginning or an end, but there’s a fluidity to life that I feel I’m only truly beginning to understand.
And this has caused me to believe in my writing even more. And that is such a good thing. To never give up and keep reaching out.
Because I don’t know who I’m touching.
I felt sorry for myself last night.
Not because I was alone, but because I felt invisible, like a secret kept well hidden.
And as I went through feelings of anger and frustration with myself, I realized I am not invisible.
That is a sore point with me. My mother often wished I were disappeared. Gone from her planet anyway.
But life isn’t black and white and situations come up where all can’t be revealed. I get that. I’ve lived that.
So, for now, I’m unnamed. I accepted that from the beginning and it’s not disrespectful. Not this time.
It is so weird for me to be living for myself alone. I still feel as if I should be tied to other people’s lives. I hate that word “should.”
It’s old patterns creeping back.
No, I choose to be in people’s lives. I love people on purpose. But my year here, living alone here in my apartment. is for this exactly.
It’s to come to terms with my past of giving away too much of myself, too easily to people who used me badly.
This is my year of saying over and over again in different ways, No more!
And it had to happen for me to go on. I see that so clearly now.
I can’t be half a person. I can’t be trying to fit in who I am around other people’s lives anymore. Always feeling as if my wants and needs only deserve to come after everyone else’s.
My heart firmly said, No more!
No more verbal abuse, blaming, shaming, manipulation.
And so I am here to learn that I need not be named to be all that I am.
I am in my own right here, writing and expressing who I am and how I feel.
How it feels to be an independent woman concerned with all the mundane issues of life like everyone else. Such as, Can I pay my rent? What do I want for dinner? Will I ever finish writing my book? Can I save some money to go to the spa? Do I need another sweater?
And in the middle of all those things I write, I edit, I read, read, read. I come up with ideas that excite me. I watch the news. I get more ideas.
And I learn more every day what it means to be me.
Not the me that other people think I should be (there’s that word again!), but the woman I am.
The woman who is a writer and an editor, and who has been for almost 17 years.
And is only now feeling confident enough to say that to the world and go it alone.
I’m a writer, hear me roar!
I’m a woman, hear me roar louder!
Reading John Doyle’s article in the Globe yesterday, Ending House of Cards is the best disruption, I have to agree with him. People have to lose their jobs before people are going to take sexual harassment seriously.
So House of Cards is over indefinitely because of the allegations towards Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate behaviour with a minor.
I’m not sure what Kevin Spacey thought he was doing when he put a fourteen-year-old boy on his bed and climbed on top of him, likely he was running on his twenty-six-year-old hormones thoughtlessly. But if he’d known he would lose his job for his behaviour way back then, would he have “controlled” his urges?
That’s the question.
I think we’re going to find out. Maybe not with Kevin Spacey. He’s “come out” after apologizing for this incident. But he’s the most recent in a long list of men who’ve been accused of sexually predatory actions.
And not only Spacey lost his job. All his co-actors and support staff and writers and so on lost their jobs too. So when one person behaves in an aberrant way others also pay the price. Like ripples in water after a stone is thrown, Spacey’s selfish and frightening behaviour affects lots more people than just him and the fourteen-year-old boy he scared.
For me that’s why I believe things will change. Because when an actor loses his job, it tells perpetrators that their behaviour will be questioned, and also helps victims feel safer coming forward.
Because if other people can do it then so can any victim and be taken far more seriously than they used to be.
I was sorry to hear Kevin Spacey was up to no-good. I like him as an actor. And if he ever acts again, I won’t be able to respect him the way I did before. And now when I think of his role in American Beauty I will never feel the same about his character.
It’s like when you find out that someone you thought you knew did something you can’t get past. You just don’t feel as if you can trust anything they do or say anymore. And you don’t really want them in your life after that. They make you feel creepy somehow, and unsafe.
So the actor loses his job and reputation to a large extent. It will affect his personal life. Apparently he’s been with men and women throughout his career, but now he’s come out as being exclusively gay.
Who would want to be with him now? Who would want to work with him? Or hire him? Who would feel safe with him? Or consider their children safe with him?
That’s a lot of ripples in the water.