I was recently telling a story about when my dad finally revealed to me that, for a lot of years, he blamed his mother for his own clinical depression.
He didn’t blame her because she wasn’t compassionate or supportive. In fact, quite the opposite – she was there for him every step of the way at a time when mental illness was not openly discussed.
No, he told me that he blamed her because his own father died suddenly when she was pregnant with him, thus forcing her into early labour. He told himself that it was the trauma of his birth that had somehow “messed with his chemistry”.
I was an adult when he told me this, and we were talking about why it took him so long to believe me when I was diagnosed with my own mental illnesses. He knew that how he felt about his mom was ridiculous and it didn’t make any kind of sense, but he was grasping for reasons for his illness.
When I was a teenager and showing signs of my own illness, he wanted desperately to believe it wasn’t happening to me. He wanted to spare me, but in the end, that’s not how it works. He blamed himself for giving me his “bad blood”, as he called it. Again, knowing that it was not logical didn’t change the guilt that he felt.
I appreciated the conversation. I even understood why it was hard for him to accept my circumstances. It’s not like he didn’t help me and nurture me; it just took him a long time to say the words “Lori” and “depression” in the same sentence.
I don’t blame him. I never blamed him. I understand the anxiety and fear that goes with having a child with a mental illness when as a parent, you have one as well. When I was pregnant with my son, I was scared. I didn’t want anything but sunshine and lollipops for him.
When he was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder as well as OCD, I blamed myself, if only fleetingly. I saw logic, but first I had to feel the pain for my child.
I don’t know how much of my family’s genetics is involved in our mental illnesses (all different but undeniably linked), but I do know that each generation passes on greater ability to cope with the symptoms associated with what can be an unforgiving situation. We talk about it more openly, there are more resources to access (albeit not nearly enough) and we are working toward smashing the stigma and taking away the shame that families have been feeling for years. It’s not anyone’s fault.
You are not to blame.
About Lori Lane Murphy
Lori is passionate about banishing stigma around mental illness not just for our kids, but perhaps, especially for our kids. She believes that if we can take away some of the guilt and shame associated with these issues, conversations will become easier. This is one of the reasons that Lori organizes storytelling shows across the city of Toronto focusing on sharing stories of mental illness. All in Our Heads gives storytellers and audiences alike the opportunity to learn from each other and support the efforts of anti-stigma campaigns. It’s also an opportunity for Lori to share some of her own stories in the hope of helping others. Lori volunteers with Art with Impact by being part of their board and organizing All in Our Heads. She volunteers as a speaker with Partners in Mental Health and is especially excited about her new volunteer role as a Healthy Minds blogger! As a storyteller, comedian, professional speaker and facilitator, Lori wants to use her voice to support those who struggle with the stigma of mental illness and to help remove the shame still too often associated with it.