After I posted my first entry, I realized that I had left off without having said anything about my father's side of my family tree. I briefly described the mental health history of my nuclear family of origin, my mother's family, and my current family unit. But I never got around to my dad's side, mainly because I just don't know that much about it. As far as I know, none of his close relatives have been treated for any serious mental illness, but when it comes down to it, I don't really know that much about my relatives on that side. I was trying to figure out how to say about that and decided to defer it for later, because I was recovering from the flu and just didn't have the energy to brain any more that night.

My family moved quite a bit, but I spend most of my childhood, until age 12, in the Chattanooga, TN, area, where my mom was born and raised. A lot of her siblings still lived there at that time, and my mom was in close contact with the ones who lived farther away, such that we were usually aware of what was going on in there lives. There were visits as well. My father's family, on the other hand, were mostly in the northeast. He grew up in Scranton, PA, and his siblings mostly lived in various parts of New York state, including New York City. For reasons that were known to me, because he never talked about it, my father was not in close touch with most of his family. Out of eight (I think) siblings, we were only in touch with a couple of them, and there was very little visiting back and forth. So I don't know nearly as much about my uncles, aunts, and cousins on that side as on my mother's side. My Dad's siblings are all deceased now, and I don't think I ever even met most of them. I had occasion to spend some time in New York City in the early 70s, and I got to know one aunt plus a cousin and her family fairly well during that time, but the others are mostly question marks to me. I did meet a few of them at the time, but I don't know much more than their names.

What I've been able to observe about my dad's family is therefore limited. As far as I know, they did not have any serious mental health issues, but my knowledge doesn't really go that far. The only thing I'm sure of is that there WERE any problems of that sort, it was not on anything like the scale that it was on my mother's side. The one thing I do wonder about is substance abuse. My dad was an alcoholic, in and out of AA while I was growing up. Knowing what I know about how alcoholism and addiction tend to run in families, it's hard to believe that he was the only one in the entire clan with that particular problem, but I have no hard facts either way.

So that's what I know, such as it is. My parents, like all the aunts and uncles on both sides, are deceased, so I can't ask them any questions to fill in the gaps. At this point, I only know what I know, and that's in the form of memories that have more and more gaps and are less and less reliable as time goes on. However, in spite of not being sure about a lot of the details, I remember a lot about the emotions of growing up in a house with a mother who periodically had psychotic breaks that involved numerous detailed and florid delusions of persecution and resulted in her being hospitalized every two or three years. Also, because this happened in a time when the stigma of mental illness was, if anything much worse than it is now, and when people kept all their family skeletons carefully locked in their closets and didn't speak publicly about having relatives who were "crazy" or otherwise mentally or behaviorally abnormal, those emotions include a great deal of shame, isolation, and confusion.

As a lifelong bookworm, I've been very frustrated that I have NEVER read about a childhood anything like mine. It's pretty easy to find books written by parents and/or siblings of mentally ill people, about the challenges of dealing with a child who struggles with those problems. And don't get me wrong, those things ARE helpful. But nobody seems to write books about kids who are raised by people with one foot in reality and one foot in la la land, or the impact that has on those children. I made up my mind a while back that I was just going to have to write something myself, in the hope that it might help someone else and maybe even help me connect with others like me. That's the purpose of this blog.

This entry is already pretty long, so I'm going to wrap it up. Stay tuned for the next post, in which I'll start getting into those childhood experiences and emotions.
My immediate family of origin consisted of four people: two parents, two kids. Among the four of us, the following were represented: major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia (which no longer exists in the DSM, but is, I assure you quite real, under whatever nomenclature they're now using), substance abuse/addiction, binge eating disorder. And that's just the stuff that's been formally diagnosed (except the last item, and believe me, I don't need a formal diagnosis to know I have that).

If you go deeper into my family history (at least on my mother's side, which is where most of the outright raging crazy seems to be), you will quickly find loads more depression, schizophrenia of various sorts, more substance abuse, and God only knows what all else. For example, one of my aunts spent about half of her adult life in a psychiatric hospital until something called the thorazine revolution came along and made it possible to manage her schizophrenia so that she could live independently. Several uncles were hospitalized for psychiatric reasons at one time another. One aunt (who I never met because of her untimely death) tragically suffered from depression severe enough that she committed suicide in her early twenties. At least one other aunt was treated for depression. These are the things I know of, and I suspect they may be just the tip of the iceberg.

My current immediate family consists of three people: me, my husband, and our adult daughter (who is taking her sweet time moving out and making empty nesters out of us, but that's a topic for another time). No schizophrenia, bipolar, or substance abuse here, just plenty of depression and adhd, plus my binge eating disorer. (What, that's not enough for you? Sorry, not sorry!)

That’s the bare bones, and it's all I have the energy for right now.



March 2017

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