Adult Children of Mentally ill Parents

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Adult Children of Mentally ill Parents
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A Rant From A Recovering Adult Child

I always knew I was a perfectly normal freak of nature. Non-human. Humanoid. Like I grew out of my father's head, rather than inside of my mother's womb. I developed uncertainly, while the people around me sat idly by, silently sanctioning our self-imposed exile. They watched and did nothing, while I fell deeper and deeper into my mother's quagmire of mental illness. Her life swallowed mine. I was a sacrificial lamb, not a person. Even orphans get to have families, people who care about who they are, and what they want. Not strangers. Not enemies. Not hungry lions. Not enablers. Not the collective cold shoulder. I had no relationships. No connections. No relatives.

Eventually, I transformed upon this island of terror and humiliation. I was alone and adrift in the middle of the ocean, floating further and further away from the rest of my species. I began evolving differently, like the unique animals of the Galapagos Islands. My niche ecosystem shaped me more finely, molding me to better suit my unique environment. I developed in a closed system. Animals which evolve in this way tend to be extreme. I emerged in my mid-twenties as a colorful reptile: pretty enough and delicate, but cold-blooded and highly vulnerable to rapid fluctuations in temperature.

My bi-polar mother controlled the weather. I nearly died of exposure on several occasions.

Metaphorically, we are not all of us reptiles. But adult children of the mentally ill ARE a community of lonely hearts. Each one of us is his/her own clubhouse of secrets, squirreling away pain, teaching a select few the special handshake. Collectively, we are a grossly under-served and underrepresented sub-group, and hardly acknowledged by the mainstream. Even when we feel ready to give up our childhood hurt, and climb down from the safety of our tree-houses, we have nowhere to go. We wish to live and function well among adults, and to lead the kind of balanced lives we crave. But there is very little support, and so few resources at our disposal.

Most children of the mentally ill are not obviously deprived. But we are a displaced minority group. And our experience is often disabling, in one way or another.

I haven't been able to remain consistently employed since 2003, when I graduated college. I assure you, I am very bright. I am perfectly able-bodied. I would even call myself industrious! But for the life of me, whenever I became stressed or strained at work, I could no longer recall the day's events. Obviously, this was a serious problem. Part of any job requires a decent, short-term memory. Eventually, I began drawing blanks on entire workdays, even several days in a row.

Not good.

Fired, again.

What was happening to me?

I was proving the prophesies true: I could not hold a job, nor could I care for myself. I was just like her. And I was powerless to stop it. I knew that if I didn't seek help soon, I would kill myself. I couldn't bear the thought of putting anyone through what she had put me through. And the dream of having my own family someday was still too real and too important to give up. This dream, too, would die, if I wound up like my her.

It was time to seek help from a professional. When I finally did, she diagnosed me with chronic dissociation, triggered by varying levels of stress. It still happens, involuntarily, if I do not keep tabs on the moment. I've been seeing my counselor every week, for two years now. It's helped me tremendously. I'm making progress.

In fact, I'm going back to school. But in so doing, I'm assuming a monumental amount of debt. And there's no help out there for someone like me, someone who has suffered many set-backs, through no fault of my own. Someone who has done nothing, but pay for other people's choices and shortcomings, other people's selfishness and neglect. I feel entitled, for the first time in my life! Entitled to compassion from strangers and institutions with the means. I need help. Charity. Assistance. Outreach.

But no. We are resilient children, just scrappy enough to make it all work out, somehow. We don't deserve help. We don't need it!

Huh. I guess it's not such a bad thing, after all. It's a gift, really. But as God as my witness, when I finally make enough money to share, I will start a scholarship for children and adults of mentally ill parents. I want to help those who, like me wish to better their lives, and make their dreams come true. We are not our parents. Their lives are not contagious.

Humanity is the dreaming miracle of mother nature. I want to make our dreams come true.

Re: A Rant From A Recovering Adult Child

You are a beautiful writer. Thank you for posting your rant. I am having a pretty emotional day today and somehow your rant made me feel a little stronger today.