Have you no shame? Why are you talking about this?
The drawing above I call Transformation Heart Mandala and it dates from the week after mom died, in April 2012. The act of drawing soothed me, allowed me to move from sobbing, to a much needed quietude. I encourage any and everyone to explore mandala journaling as a daily practice or during times of stress or loss. Will devote a post to this in the future.
The drawing below depicts one of my childhood memories from about the age of six or seven. Even though it is rendered in a cartoon format, because I consider it potentially disturbing, I am posting it at the very end and discourage those who think they may be bothered by viewing it to skip this post. I was my mother’s confidante during one of her paranoid hallucinations in which she imagined my 14 year old sister gravely injured. None of it actually happened, only in her troubled mind. I drew this on my birthday, as I reflected upon the milestones of my life. It was comforting to externalize the memory. Drawing out the trauma, having an image to show a witness, getting the memory out of one’s head and onto the paper, talking about it with my art therapist – it makes one feel less alone.
Some people may react with surprise, distaste or even disapproval and wonder why I am writing (and diagramming) in graphic detail about mom’s mental illness on such a public forum. Where is my sense of decency? (after all, I am not Paris Hilton) Have I no shame? (I have no plans to run for office.) Isn’t this embarrassing? ( well, yes, maybe just a little) Don’t I have respect for my mother’s memory? (Yes, I actually feel honored to have had her as my mother)
As for the shame, well, yes, I had literally decades of shame, guilt and isolation. Now, at the nicely rounded age of fifty, after birthing three children, living through my child’s battle with cancer, and burying both of my parents, I truly know that the additional layer of suffering that comes along with having a family mental illness is not the illness itself but the ignorance surrounding the illness. As my father always said, education is vital.
I think we do ourselves and society a disservice when we “hush” up problems. Like any wound that needs fresh air and sunlight to heal, social issues like mental illness, domestic violence, abuse, addiction and the like, can only be addressed in an atmosphere of disclosure, transparency and positive intent. Shame, blame, guilt and secrecy hinder healing and promote stigma. I believe that the more we talk about these matters, we create greater opportunities for solutions to arise. And we eliminate the isolation that suffering can cause. Stop treating the mentally ill like modern day lepers.
When a child with cancer suffers, the family suffers, and this is often met with great sympathy, and an abundance of social resources. (As the mother of a survivor of childhood cancer, I know this from first hand experience.)
An adult woman with paranoid schizophrenia clearly suffers, the family suffers. Sympathy? Social resources? Not so much. ( As the daughter of a woman with schizophrenia, I also know this from first hand experience.)
As a child, I must have had inner resources and strength that kept me from going batshit crazy. And of course I had my dad, who was the epitome of even tempered, patient and gentle love. And then there was religion. The nuns’ academic and moral instructions, going to church, saying prayers, the comfort of the rosary. Books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Secret Garden, Little Women , The Yearling and the like. And finally my art, a lifelong faithful constant . I drew, painted, kept at diary, photographed, visited museums and was suckled by beauty.
Or maybe I was just lucky.
So yes, I let the shame go a while back. Had quite enough of that, thank you very much. And now I am writing this. For myself. And for any other individual whose life has been touched by schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, addiction and so on and so forth.
“ Don’t turn your eyes away from the bandaged place. That is where the light enters you.” Rumi
Oh and contrary to what I wrote above, there do exist some excellent resources for family members of individuals suffering from mental illness.
Two I heartily recommend are Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS) of the Mental Health Association of Essex County and National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy agency extraordinaire. The free services of both agencies include professional counseling, community education, family advocacy and compassionate support. If you have need, pick up the phone and call them. Coincidentally, this week is Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Thank you for reading and may you go gently and with love into the week.