Saturday, August 23, 2008

Myths & Facts About Children of the Mentally Ill

I learned of a new group advocating for the mentally ill. It is called "What a difference." I visited the website and I have to say I like how they humanize mental illness. So many people believe that mental illness is either hopeless or a character flaw. Why, I don't know. We don't punish people with diabetes or cancer yet we punish the mentally ill? But, that is another entry.

What struck me as I read the website was that nothing really exists on how friends can help a child (adult or a minor) cope with a mentally ill parent. I have great friends that have a parent with BPD, schizophrenia, and depression. They are invaluable to me. Our shared experiences let me know that I am not alone, and that they too have moments of being angry. Angry at the abuse we go thru, angry at society's expectation that simply giving birth to a child means a mentally ill parent has some right to abuse me, and that I have no rights to not accept abuse.

The most important friendship I have is with a friend who does not have a mentally ill parent. She can't always say "I know what you are feeling/talking about," etc. She often disagrees with me. I treasure the simple words she says to me: "You don't deserve that." "Tell me more about that" "I believe in you"

It is so important that the children of the mentally ill are not forgotten. While this new ad campaign gives me hope that some day soon more attention will be paid to the children of the mentally ill progress is not being made fast enough. Too many of us are caught in a web of guilt, self recrimination, and despair. Too many of us, like myself, turn to drugs or booze or other self destructive behaviors because we don't have a support network of friends.

I believe a lot of that has to do with some commonly held, yet erroneous beliefs, about children of the mentally ill. Belief are a few situations I have encountered, and some words to think about.

Myth: All children of the mentally ill are mentally ill themselves.
Fact: Not even close to being true. Some of us develop a mental illness. Some don't. Simply having a mentally ill parent doesn't mean it's ok to write my feelings or emotions off. It frustrates me to no end when people who know my mom is mentally ill write my bad days off because "you know her mom is mentally ill and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." We are all crabby at times. All of us have times of wanting to just stay home and have alone time. Yet, when I am crabby or just want to stay home I am being "difficult like my mother" or "trying to isolate like my mother."

Myth: A mentally ill parent needs their children in order to recover
Fact: Recovery from mental illness happens when the person suffering wants to recover. I hate it when I read about people commenting on Brittany Spears and how she "needs her children." When did it become OK for an unstable adult to put a child thru trauma simply because they "need" their child? What about what the child needs-stability, predictability, safety. Again, we are sacrificing the child's well being in order to placate the ill parent. I don't know Ms. Spears and I don't mean to mock her, honestly. What I want people to understand is that a child is not a therapeutic tool or a carrot to hold in front of mi parent in order to get them into recovery or to make them behave.

Myth: It is the duty of anyone with a mentally ill parent to take care of their parent.
Fact: Nope. Not even close. In the same way that Al Anon advocates taking care of you first, children of the mentally ill must do the same. This may mean not being available for every crisis. It may mean a parent has to find an alternate means of transportation to appointments. It doesn't mean we love our mi parent any less. It means that I didn't cause my parents mental illness, I can't cure it, and I can't control it. It means that in order to recover, a mi parent must take their recovery into their own hands. It means that asking a child of a mi parent to sacrifice their own life is asking too much.

No comments: