When I did this photo shoot 15+ years ago, I had no idea how close the topic of the ad would mesh into my reality. While I do not have psychosis, I was chosen for the gig because of my “soccer mom…gal next door…you can trust me” overall vibe and the fact that I had a high school graduation pix that was in good shape. Shoot complete, long running renewals and tear sheets tucked safely away in my portfolio. All was pretty much forgotten.
Fast forward to 2011 – something I never expected – the rapid unraveling of my mom over the final 18 months of her long 89-year life. It is one thing to watch as a parent travels through the “normal” aging process; but quite another to stand by as a once robust and strong personality parent becomes both physically and mentally challenged. The situation was this – as my mom aged and began to experience the effects of “normal” non-Alzheimer’s age-related dementia she was facing an entirely different fear – that of not being able to keep her life-long untreated battle with multiple personalities, bi-polar disorder and paranoia locked away. After several psychiatric evaluations over the months, the best-guess scenario was that she most likely had this mental illness from an early age. Because she was a young woman in the late 1930s and 1940s, I believe she lived with the fear that should her mental illness “show” to the world, she would be institutionalized. Sadly, many women with mental illness in the 1940s and 1950s were more likely to be locked away rather than being treated. There’s a good chance that my mom would have lost her family and the life she had struggled so hard to build – a high price to pay for acknowledging your mental state.
Following her passing on this date last year, I reconnected with my psychoanalyst 20 years post-analysis and was able to finally put closure to the psychoanalytic work I did all those years ago. The reality of my mom’s mental illness and it’s affect on my childhood, as it relates to her behavior, suddenly made sense. As an adult it’s a bit easier to understand you mom’s manic outbursts, long periods of severe depression, paranoia and quick changes in personality; but as a child I somehow thought her behavior was the direct result of something I did wrong…again and again.
While I know this post is way more than a simple veer in a different direction from the lightness and fluff of jewelry, I want to share it. I so strongly believe that mental illness, no matter the mildness or severity, should not be ignored or hidden. Today there are so many options for its treatment and care. Just as you wouldn’t be ashamed if you have diabetes or heart disease – you should not be ashamed if you have mental illness. As a society, we need to work to erase the stigma that still surrounds the idea of mental illness; to stop talking about it in hushed whispers and bring it out into the open. Like any disease, mental illness is a health condition that doesn’t have to define who we are as an individual.
Finally, you might be asking yourself “why would she talk about this on such a public forum.” I’ll admit it was a dilemma that took me several months to finally come to grips with – should I or shouldn’t I? Clearly, my decision to share my experience with my mom fits into my “school of no secrets” thinking. So, for the three of you who actually read my blog, I figure that if what I share helps just one of you, I have accomplished what I set out to do with this post. And, you know I always love your comments.