Over the past few years I have begun to come to grips with the fact that I am the child of a parent with schizophrenia. That single fact has caused me to live in a sheltered shadow of a life that I personally put myself in. The shame of having a parent who was not “normal” made me feel like I needed to explain away her problem or simply keep her a secret.
Most people who know me beyond my name will tell you that they did not know my biological heritage until after years of knowing me. It’s something that I begun doing as a child that just stayed with me as I grew older. I realize now that I did that to make sure they knew who I was and would not associate me with my biological heritage.
All children want to have a connection to their biological parent in some way but I didn’t know how to separate her mental illness from the person she had been. I never knew her. So when adults would ask me where my “real mom” was I would cringe and hold my head in shame. When people found out the truth they would either smirk or give me that “oh poor thing” look. It was not funny and I didn’t want pity.
I learned to be a master at explaining away my biological mom’s disease with some wild stories. All of which I shake my head at today. This is also where I began to erect a wall of protection from the smirks of misunderstanding mental health and the pity party for the poor little girl raised by her aunt. It hurt like heck being in that position but that was my life.
Today I know that I owned stuff that didn’t belong to me. I have been wearing a wall of protection from shame and pity for things that were beyond my control. Both the adults and children in my life who made comments did not understand the disease any more than I did. No one ever took the time to learn more and help me or them to understand.
People would ask me if that is the reason that I majored in psychology in college and I would respond no. Today I think I unconsciously was driven there by my experiences. There is a population of other children just like me who according to research live just the way I did. (We are not alone.)
I wonder what would happen if the stigma was removed from mental health. What would happen if we were more educated as a society about the truth about people with a disease that affects the brain? I know for sure we wouldn’t have reporters referring to a person’s mental health as a factor in the murderous choices that they made. The mental health diagnosis was just one factor in who they were as an individual and does not explain what else was going on in their life to make them snap.
I guess that can be true of all aspects of a person who is flawed. That flaw is not the totality of that person. It is one fact or piece of information about that individual. My past, present or future should not rest on one aspect of me or a part of me. It should rest on the totality of who I have become as a result of all the facts rolled into one.
I am grateful to finally be at peace with this part of my history. My children refer to my biological mom as Grandma “her name.” I tell friends when we are sharing about our families about my unique family with no hesitation. I even call her Mama “her name.” I know how to separate who she is from who I am. I am a child of a biological parent with schizophrenia and so much more.
Just another day’s journey of knowing who I am. Peace.
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