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The Skeleton In Their Closet

We look fondly on little babies and guess who they resemble more and pray they don’t inherit Uncle Gerry’s hairline. We guess how tall or short they’ll be and imagine what their tiny squeaky voices will sound like. Eye colour, straight hair, curly hair, brown hair, light hair, the fine funny furry dark hair crawling up their backs that resemble Uncle Leo – do we wax a baby? We teasingly remark about playing sports or dance or delving in the arts. Will they be book smart or the fire cracker in the back of the class?

Oh the things we think about when we stare at these innocent little beans.

Does anyone ever wonder or worry if their baby will be the one to carry on the family mental illness?

You know the ones that  present themselves at family functions like holidays, weddings, and in crowded places? It’s those skeletons you try to hide in hushed conversations like that one time grandma was thrown in the “loony bin”. I’ll tell you, as a child I still heard all about it over my shoulder when I was playing with my toys. It was the whispers in the front seat or run ins at the grocery store with nosy people while I rolled oranges down the aisle.

It was those late night chats on the phone. I could only hear one side of the conversation but I always knew someone in our family wasn’t “right in the head”.

 

My mom said my birth was uneventful. Aside from a heart murmur and my Aunt saying that I looked like a wrinkly Yoda, I am fairly certain that when they looked at me as an 8 pound healthy baby, they never thought that those conversations about “crazy relatives” would be about me one day.

My grandma used to tell me stories of when I was a little girl. I’d put on dresses and refuse the shoes because I loved the feel of the grass and mud between my toes. She said that she could watch me twirl around her garden for hours if she could but she knew that she would have to eventually wash “my damn feet.” I attended a library club even though I couldn’t read yet. So I went home and wrote my own books using stick figure pictographs that made absolutely no sense. Everyone in my stories had these ridiculously intense CoverGirl eyelashes including the family pets.

And everyone had pink lipstick.

I liked the dramatic effect.

Every time I read someone the story it was a different version and every time I read it, I made them laugh.

And I loved that. Entertaining people with my silly stories made me happy.

My dad kept a bunch of my old books that I made.

Throughout school, I excelled in English but my heart belonged to the sciences and helping others in need so I became a nurse instead.

Now what happened in between the 8 pound Yoda, the free spirited child, and the ambitious bright eyed ER nurse with the squeaky soled shoes? It could have been a combination of a series of unfortunate life events, misfiring wires, a mixture of chemicals that never quite balanced out, hormones, and DNA from two parents with positive backgrounds for mental illness.

THEN…

I got pregnant.

It was like the missing puzzle piece to my illness; everything just fell into sync.

I became mentally ill and no one saw it coming.

I got my dad’s brown hair, brown eyes, my mom’s thin frame, my grandma’s Italian features….

I also got their illnesses.

I am the 1 in 5.

I am the family skeleton in the closet. The one that you try to hide at functions or ignore all together like the hockey moms who huddle in their tight legging wolf packs.

I am the one you whisper about over coffee or beer or text feverishly about to your girlfriends.

I know this because I was the child who overheard it all.

I know this because I was the adult who used to take part in such conversations or I get dragged into them now. You should see people’s reaction when I say, “Excuse me. I have a mental illness.”

I am the 1 in 5.

Being diagnosed with bipolar depression and anxiety was devastating at first. As much as I’d like to think that I know this beast that runs through the wires of my mind, this illness is very much like an unpredictable storm.  It can strip me down to my core some days, weeks, and even months. And what does that mean? That means some days my only goal is getting out of bed and existing; where watching a cat stalk a squirrel while picking at a hamburger for 20 minutes is the most productive thing I’ll accomplish.

Then there’s the flip of the coin where I’m so elated with just about every.damn.thing going on in life, that I want to rub my face in your face because I need you to know that everything is happy.

I’m like an unfiltered bag of nuts.

Then there is BOTH.

When my wires criss-cross and they don’t know if I should be manic or depressed.

My skin itches and I want to jump out moving of cars.

Then by the grace of my doctor and medications and self care, I’ll climb out of every episode and back into my skin and into some sort of middle zone —

Now, I am not writing this with the intention to make you feel sorry for me.

My life isn’t awful.

Again, my life isn’t awful.

I have to remind myself of this when I’m in a depressive phase.

 

This is what I look like with anxiety and depression – snapped before a hockey game.

 

 

I had to give up my nursing career because I destroyed my spine and well, mentally, I just can’t. So now I write.

Turns out, instead of barefoot and across the grass, my free spirit twirls itself across pages and it doesn’t care if the world knows what her secrets are.

She likes helping people.

I find so much joy in pouring out my heart here whether it’s funny or sad or whether I’m reminiscing about my childhood.

The only thing is, I wish I could see your faces when you read my stuff.

 

Oh and the next time you open your mouth and start gabbing in a circle about someone with a mental illness, you should think twice.

It’s someone’s life your talking about – their human struggle against an invisible illness that’s trying to snuff their spirit out.

Would you talk about someone with cancer in the same light?

Probably not.

 

 

 

*PS. Childhood mental illness is very real. If your child is exhibiting signs and symptoms of a mental illness, please do not hesitate to get them help. This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent if they’re struggling. Getting them help early on will help THEM. Please, reach out.  https://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca/

9 Comments

  1. I wish we talked more freely about these things and they weren’t skeletons in the closet. I am already worried about my kiddo inheriting my anxiety from me, but I can guarantee I won’t keep it a secret from him no matter what. I want him to know it’s ok to talk about it even if society still tries to tell us it’s not.

    And speaking of anxiety I’m off for a med check today and hoping to up my dose. No shame.

    And if you could see my face you’d see me nodding my head, smiling, frowning (in sympathy, you don’t make me sad) and you’d see that your words touch me. You do help people with your writing. So don’t ever stop.

    • Kimberly Kimberly

      You’re the best Beth! I saw on twitter that you did get the up – and I hope that it helps you even if it was just a smidge of a dose. Sometimes it’s just that little bump up that makes a difference I find. My doc increased my one medication by one pill and now I literally cannot keep my head up at night. It’s wicked strong. WHOA.
      I’m so glad that you’re going to keep the communications lines open with Ollie. That’s so important. I do too. Mental illness gallops on both sides of our family so we talk about it too! xoxo

  2. Skeletons in the closet — so so true. My father-in-law was diagnosed with bi-polar and it’s all hush hush and no one really talks about it and it makes me so mad. I want to know… what if one of my kids one day will have it? But communication isn’t exactly a strong suit on my husband’s side of the family, which sucks. My step-mother-in-law is even worse, she doesn’t believe in mental illness and medications, so she’s created some bad situations over time… I’m so glad you are so open about everything, it’s helped me be more understanding and knowledgeable about mental illness. So thanks for that!!! Xoxo

    • Kimberly Kimberly

      I think it might be a generational thing too. I didn’t learn about my grandma’s mental health until I was older. Me and her are so much alike in many ways and I wish that they talked more. Like she used to check and recheck things over and over and I used to do that too when I was a kid! I thought I was so weird.
      I think that by not talking about it or by talking about it in a way that’s hush hush, makes it seem like it’s something to be ashamed of. I think that’s why I hid it for so long from my own family. xoxo

  3. Oh man, your writing, Kim. It’s just so so good.

    I’m so proud of you for shedding light and adding a face to mental illness. I’m convinced that sometimes people are scared of things they don’t understand, but getting to the meat of the issue is often as easy as asking someone about it and discussing things honestly. Why are we always so afraid to discuss things of great importance?

    I may have mentioned that I’m starting fertility treatments and have been advised to stop taking my anxiety meds which is making me VERY anxious. I rely on them and though having a baby is something I want more than anything, I am apprehensive about extra hormones and no more meds that I’ve been on for years.

    Anyway, we can all be weird skeletons together 🙂 there are so many of us and we don’t have to feel isolated anymore

    Xoxo

    • Kimberly Kimberly

      Oh that is such a scary thing. I think you are most definitely valid in your concerns about that. I wasn’t ill prior to having one so I was completely side swiped. I think though, that – and I am crossing my all-the-things- for you, that when you do get pregnant, you will have more resources. I think they’ve made great strides in the pre and postpartum care of moms. There is more awareness now then there was when I had my guy. Plus you know you. You know when you aren’t well. It is still a scary prospect though to think you’ll have to let go of a med. I wish it was easier for you. Damn it all. Let’s just be weirdos. I’ll bring the cake xoxo

  4. You have such an important story to tell and I’m so glad you are sharing it. It’s about time we start talking more about mental illness and the like. This was beautifully written, Kim! <3

    • Kimberly Kimberly

      Thank you so much Lecy.

  5. I am the 1 in 5. Both of my parents live with mental illness. Bipolar and anxiety came to roost after my third daughter was born. I watch my girls like a hawk for signs they are carrying on in the same way. And breathe a little freer when I see nothing, and then get scared that I am just refusing to see the truth. I have a few friends whose kids are bearing this struggle so young, and I cry, for them, for mama and daddy. And I keep sharing my story so others will see hope and reality, and honesty.

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