I was having a conversation with my sister, Shelley about my journey with mental illness. I’m not going to lie and say it was a pleasant discussion-it was tenuous. Why? Because neither one of us were appreciating our different perspectives.
She was coming from the place of a family member of a loved one with mental illness. The position which says, “If you had only taken your medicine nothing bad would have happened.”
I was coming from the place that said, “Bipolar disorder is a bit harder to manage than you think. And by the way some of what happened wasn’t my fault.”
After a few days of letting the conversation sink in I came around to seeing what she was trying to say, “Mental illness is a family disease. Every disappointment, every hospitalization, every tragedy is felt deep within the soul of family members too.”
I understood. I have sat in the chair as a family member-my mother and another sister have bipolar disorder. It was a long and arduous journey until they found wellness, until they recovered. But when I look at them I don’t see bipolar disorder, I see a person. I see a family member. I forget about all the times it was difficult.
Family members who don’t have a mental illness have a right to their perspective. But the problem arises when policy decisions and laws are made for people with mental illness without our perspective too. Problems arise when we are blamed for our mental illness.
I also realized how much I had moved forward and let go of the past. But the conversation we had brought back all the memories and flooded my brain with difficult times, struggles and nearly insurmountable challenges. I was taken back by all I had to process.
Then, I began to think about others who haven’t spent every waking moment reading and advocating for mental illness. It has provided me with an avenue of healing. In my mind I’m no longer the distraught bipolar victim-I am a strong mental health advocate. I challenged my sister to speak up for mental health and bring another family perspective into the light.
I realized all perspectives are important. I try to understand the pain and sorrow family members feel when remembering what we went through.
But tomorrow is here. I am alive and well. And so are my family members. What we do with our knowledge and wisdom, time and talents to help other people will not take away the pain of old memories, but will make us stronger in how we deal with them.
Giving a gift of understanding to each other is the first step in the process.