I logged onto Joe Pantoliano’s website tonight called “No Kidding, Me Too!” I really liked what I saw especially their slogan “Stomp Out the Stigma.” I perused the site, found lots of cool things, and read their mission statement. It reads in part:
“No Kidding, Me Too! is an organization whose purpose is to remove the stigma attached to brain dis-ease through education and the breaking down of societal barriers. Our goal is to empower those with brain dis-ease to admit their illness, seek treatment, and become even greater members of society.”
Could it be? Have I lived to finally see people with some clout taking up the banner of mental illness awareness? I especially like the line “…to admit their illness (italics added by me)” To admit their illness…wow. That’s powerful for unchosens like me. It’s all I ever wanted from and for my mom; to admit she had a problem. To then finish whatever treatment her psych wanted her to do…to not doctor shop…to learn that she is a human being of unlimited potential.
I am all for organizations stomping out stigma. But, and this is me so there is always a but, it needs to be a family issue, not an individual issue. There needs to be open and honest dialogue about what it’s like to have a mentally ill parent. Unchosens need to be given the chance to tell others what we live with; the fear that at any moment our parent will snap and be taken away to the psych ward…the parental roles we assume for our ill parent…the double lives we lead, putting on a show for the outside world because to tell anyone that we are abused or neglected means WE get lectured. We get lectured that we have to understand our parent is ill (yeah that’s not a tough thing to understand when your mom freaks out over vacuum lines in the carpet), that they can’t help it when they hit/punch/spit on us/or call us names.
My mom may not, in fact, be able to control what she does. I believe that, that there are times she can’t control herself. But when all you tell a child is that we shouldn’t take it personally, that our parent can’t help it, and you offer us no solace or hugs, no words telling us “your mom is ill. It isn’t right what she did” you are showing us that we deserve this abuse. And that’s what it is, mental illness or not-abuse.
No one wants to talk about the fact that some mentally ill parents are abusive yet everyone wants to get rid of the stigma. The only way the stigma can be erased is to have an open dialogue about all facets of mental illness. No more sanitization or minimizing about the impact a parent’s mental illness has on a child. This means no looking away from an unchosen when we speak, no taking the mic from us at support group meetings when we say we are so tired, and just want a break or that we no longer want our parent in our lives. Yes, this has happened to me. I was told to come back when I could be more compassionate towards my mom.
Funny how I lived with a woman who showed me no compassion…saw family therapists who had no compassion for myself or my sibs...in short I was never shown what compassion was but if I wanted “support” I damn well better learn what it was or else. Sometimes I wonder if these support groups have a secret store or something, they are always telling you to get something-compassion, awareness, patience, like we can just go out and find it at K Mart.
“Blue light special in aisle 5….compassion for your mentally ill, abusive parent. Industrial size, buy one get one half off”
Only when people such as myself or my siblings can openly and honestly talk about the fear and anger we grew up with and not get shut down or silenced will the stigma of mental illness be gone. The stigma will not end without unchosen participation. To think it can is an illusion.
I applaud what Mr. Pantoliano is doing. It gives me hope. The organization he started is well on it’s way to stomping out stigma. Let’s hope in the future he and others can stomp out the stigma that children of the mentally ill don’t matter