When I was first diagnosed as mentally ill, I remember a psychiatrist stating I was “genetically loaded.” Trust me, that is an accurate statement. Now, it is not to say that genetics work as a 1+1=2 process; but, when one has mental illness in their genetic background, their odds of that loading surfacing in their life is fairly high.
Part of this genetic loading comes from my parents. My father lives with what one would know as classic bipolar disorder. I grew up walking on eggshells while trying to navigate his infinite mood swings. He would swing into mania with grand ideas of new business ventures and that mania could tip farther into agitated paranoia where he was waiting for the “revolution” and hoarding weapons; he would then swing into deep depressions where he would confess to me his thoughts of suicide. As a child, I constantly knew I needed to save him.
What about my mother? She lives with schizophrenia. She has lived so long with this disease untreated that I am sure she does not truly understand what reality actually consists of anymore and her cognitive decline is truly staggering. In addition, her paranoia created an aspect of manipulation that was brutal for those around her. Ultimately, the lines of delusion, paranoia, truth, lies, reality, and perceived persecution were gone- not blurred, gone. Childhood with her was torture.
I must state that I cut ties with my parents fifteen years ago for multiple reasons. No contact. Whether they have finally received treatment for these issues, I do not know. I truly do wish them peace. But, I could no longer contribute to the dysfunctional system.
This leaves me now as a parent who is also living with mental illness. I am a mother and I am also a person who everyday has to make choices to best handle my chronic brain disorder of schizoaffective disorder. I also made a very conscious decision that the legacy of how I was parented was going to end. I realized that in order to end this legacy, I had to both address my genetics and brain disorder and also realize I am more than my genetic loading.
So, how do you that? One thing I have to do to receive treatment. Neither of my parents received treatment. Mental illness is progressive and without treatment, it only worsens. I also know that stress exacerbates mental illness. I recently left a career that was not allowing me to take care of myself and was adding stress to my life. I have to care for myself to be able to parent my child and create a new legacy for him. Another aspect of my parenting is empathy. My child is new to this world. He also only gets one childhood. I empathize with that fact and I continue to reflect on how my parents’ mental illnesses impacted my childhood. I look at my child with empathy when making parenting decisions. Am I always successful? No. Am I far from the legacy given to me? Yes.
I was given a legacy. I let that legacy convince myself that I should not be a parent. It was not until the age of thirty-six that I realized that some legacies can end and new ones can be created.