My grandmother was bi-polar. Back then, they called it "manic depressive". What all the undertones were, though, was she was crazy. I remember being told stories of many of my grandmother's mental breakdowns. She would get violent and throw things at my grandpa. My grandpa, well, he was just the most loving person I've ever met, and he loved my grandma through it all. Not only did he love her, but he accepted her for who she was....mental illness and all. I'm not exactly sure how many times my grandma was hospitalized for her "nervous breakdowns", but I know she was. I actually had a great relationship with my grandma. I never saw any of her "crazy". Looking back, maybe I never saw it because I understood it, or at least accepted it. Either way, I loved my grandma and I spent a lot of time with her. She never seemed "crazy" to me.
Growing up, I was taught expressing any sort of strong emotion was wrong. I was taught something was wrong with me if I did. If I would cry uncontrobaly about something (and I'm talking about in my teen or pre-teen years, where girls literally are nuts), I would hear, "Are you manic depressive? You sure are acting like it". So, I learned to hide when I cried. I also learned that there was no way I wanted to be crazy like my grandma. After all, that's what everyone said about her. I learned it wasn't only the sad emotion that I couldn't express though, it was also happy. When I would be really happy about something, I was told basically the same thing. Any strong emotions I was feeling, I was taught were unacceptable to show. Let me add, I'm talking about in the privacy of my own home. Any parent knows they have told their kids to settle down or tried to shut their kids up in public when exhibiting strong emotion, because, you know, society frowns on it. But, at home, shouldn't you feel safe enough to express your emotions? Basically, if I did not remain on an even keel 100% of the time, I was crazy and there was something seriously wrong with me.
It wasn't just emotions, but it was also fears. My entire life, including up to this day, I've been told my fears are stupid. I've been told I'm being irrational. "You need to stop being so afraid", is something I'm constantly told. I'm also told I need to stop worrying. I'm told I need to not be so stressed. Yet, I was never taught those skills on how to let go of all that. I wasn't taught it because I was taught we just don't talk about it. You say nothing and just suck it up. I fight through my fears, but I never just "let them go". In fact, they've mostly gotten worse. You read stories of people who fear leaving the house and I see myself heading in that direction. I refuse to let that be me. I figtht my fears, silently, every single day. I wake up. I try to go about my day. I go to sleep. I repeat. Every day is struggle. It's a struggle that no one sees and no one wants to hear about. The thing is, no one is there to celebrate your small victories. When I leave the house after 1:00 on a school day and don't have a panic attack that I won't be home in time to get my kids, that's a small victory. If I were to share that with someone, they wouldn't understand or care. I don't have to be at my house to get my kids until 3:15, so why shouldn't I leave my house to do something at 1:00? All of this just makes a person feel isolated. It makes a person realize that how they feel, doesn't matter. It makes a person feel that what they need, doesn't matter. It makes a person feel that they don't matter.
I found my group. A group of people who get it. A group of people struggling with the same issues. There's one who has been hospitalized for mental illness. One who has extreme anxiety and depression issues. One who is bi-polar with anxiety. Then there's one who just understands and doesn't judge or poo poo any of us. I guess I've just gotten to comfortable being around these people because I step out of this circle and think others will understand and accept. They don't. The worst part of going back to "I'm fine", is that I need to go back to that with this group as well. Not because they want to hear that, but because, if I don't, I may accidently let on what's really going on to someone outside that group again. Then the cycle of shame starts up again.
My daughter has been showing signs of anxiety at 7. I refuse to make her feel like I feel. She will know that she can always come talk to me. I walk her through her fears. I know that there is nothing I can really do take them away, but, hopefully, I can teach her coping mechanisms that were never taught to me. Hopefully, she can work through her anxiety and not have it turn into full blown anxiety issues where there are days she can't even leave her house. But, if it comes to that when she is older, I hope she knows she has someone to turn to. I hope I raise her to know she can count on me to understand. I hate that she is going to have to see her mommy staying silent, but I hope that she also sees me fighting. I know that as she grows and struggles on this journey, I will share my fight with her. I will celebrate her small victories and not just treat her like it's something any "normal" person does all the time. I will continue, every day, to let her know how proud of her I am that she gets up and she keeps fighting through her fears. Emotions are things to be felt and they are real. Sometimes, there are inappropriate times and places for those emotions, but they are most definitely allowed to be felt. I'm not so naive that I don't know there is fine line between emotion and drama, but, don't for one second, believe that if you down play everything you don't shut someone down and make them feel like less of a person.
Every day, I struggle. Every day, I fight. I don't just fight for me, but for my kids. Every day, I will continue to break through my barriers. And now, I'll go back to doing it quietly. But don't think I'll teach my kids that. I will teach my kids to fight loud and to challenge what's accepted. They are the ones who will help people understand that everyone should be accpeted for who they are, all mental issues included. They are the change we need in the world.