Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Outing" Myself

I was wondering what other people do in terms of having a mental illness and how much or how little information they reveal about themselves to other people.

In particular "The Silent Voices in My Mind" made a comment on my "Fatigue and Depression" post about how her kids do not understand how, sometimes, it takes too much energy to talk on the phone.

First SV I want you to know you are not alone. I rarely answer the phone for the exact same reason, and calling people who have left messages for me is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I think I almost have a phobia of the phone.

I explained to my nieces this weekend that I have a mental illness. One of my sisters has told her kids, and I have mentioned it in passing to the other two before, but this weekend they all saw that I was taking pills morning, afternoon and night and they outright asked me what I was doing. (gotta love the curious and unafraid to ask anything aspect of kids)

So I sat down and I told them:

Me: "Auntie Aqua takes medicine because she has a mental illness".

Them: "What's that?"

Me: (unsure exactly how to explain it). "It means I have an illness in my brain that makes me feel really sad all the time. The illness makes me really tired and afraid to do or try things most people would not be afraid of. It makes me think sad thoughts."

Them: "WHAT???"

Me: "Well, are you ever sad sometimes? Or are you ever really scared of things?"

Them: "Yes."

Me: "When you feel like that is it because something makes you sad, like when someone hurts your feelings, or when you can't do something you want to do. Or, when you feel scared is it because something scared you?

Them: "Yes"

Me: "What happens when the thing that scared you or made you sad goes away?"

Them: "We are happy, or not scared anymore"

Me: "Well, your Auntie feels sad and scared most of the time, for no reason. I take medicine to help me feel less afraid, to help me sleep and to help me feel happy like you"

Them: "That doesn't make any sense"

Me: "My mental illness, a sickness inside my brain, makes me sad and scared. Something inside my brain makes me feel that way. I don't know why, it just does"

Them: "Ohh"....and then they all run off to play.


deepblue said...

My husband and I have had conversations about what to tell our kids. I'm sure we'll explain it all sometime, since it's in their genes and they will need to watch for signs of it. But it is hard for young kids to grasp, so I've been reluctant to explain it yet.
I admire your bravery in being so outright about it. :)

Polar Bear said...

I think it's great you were so honest and open with your nieces. It's great because this instills in them the notion that mental illness is an illness. Hopefully, they will grow up into adults who understand mental illness is an illness rather than have vague ideas about it that is surrounded by stigma.

You've certainly done a good job in explaning it in terms they can understand.

The Silent Voices in my Mind said...


You are very brave to have confronted it so directly and openly and honestly. What a great way you had of explaining it!

Even when I've been at my worst, it is still horribly difficult to talk straight about it to my kids. (Which is strange given that one of them has bipolar disorder). I guess I want to protect them from it, from me and the stigma I already feel.

Good for you for helping to end that stigma.

Also, it is such a relief to hear that I'm not the only one with phone issues. My hubby gets so very mad at me for it. He tries very hard to be supportive of my problems, but really? He just doesn't get it. No one in my offline life does, except maybe my Shrink. So it's good to hear I'm not alone.

Aqua said...

deepblue: You will know when the time is right. Thank you for the comment.

polar bear: Yes, I wanted to instill the notion it is an illness and not my fault, not the way I choose to be (Unfortunately it is me who so often thinks that is true!!!) I do hope the next generation chnages in there thinking.

the silent voices in my mind: I should probably have explained there are different kinds of mental illnesses, given depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders run in my family, but tey were already having a difficult time understanding. I hink I will explain in little pieces as they grow up. husband rages about me not answering the phone, or calling people back. He simply does not understand that kind of anxiety.

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