Editor’s note: This is part one of two. At some point during posting this the last half didn’t come over so the post has been split in two to correct this and because of the lengthiness of the original article. Part two will be posted on December 29th.
Last week my Dad diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. Maybe this could have explained a few things, and no doubt he would like to think it does, except for one uncomfortable fact. I do not have bipolar disorder. I still see a counselor and I previously saw another one for two years and I’m pretty sure that if I had bipolar disorder, one of them would have told me.
So today I’d like to say a little bit about this sort accusation of mental illness and it’s connection to abusive behavior. First off, mental illness is still pretty stigmatized and mentally ill people are often seen as scary and dirty, loose cannons, but that is largely an inaccurate perception, fueled by witnessing mentally ill persons who have been grossly neglected, and by conflating abusive behavior with mentally ill behavior. In fact, if you want to look at your odds, the CDC reportsthat “about 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.” So about half of Americans will struggle with mental illness at some point in their lives, most of it your average run-of-the-mill mental illness where it reduces your quality of life for a time but you can still get by and nobody will find you twitching and talking to yourself in a subway station, holding a bag of rotting garbage and a cup asking for spare change. It makes sense when you think about it. Mental disorders result from injury and predisposition to disease, same as cancer, (although the CDC says it is a bigger problem prevalence-wise and a bigger cause of lost earnings than cancer and heart disease combined) and although nobody wants it, and everybody would love to find a cure, mental illness still occurs to varying degrees and at varying acuity levels and sometimes shit happens to people who least expect it.
If you’d have ever asked me if I’d be diagnosed with a mental illness when I was younger, or even just five years ago, I’d have said probably not. I felt strong and mentally strong. But then in the middle of grad school I started getting flashbacks and nightmares and insomnia and well, you know the rest. Delayed-onset PTSD, due to years of child abuse and neglect growing up, was something I had. Even with insurance and access to good counseling (a thing many do not have), it felt a bit like living in the flooded out city of New Orleans post-Katrina and trying to turn it into the city of Venice. It took time and I often didn’t think I could do it and there was a frustrating opportunity cost to all that work I had to do to get better when I’d have obviously much rathered be doing other things. There were considerable losses and lots of small daily inabilities and it was often a miserable slog along the way, too many days where I felt that this problem had pulverized me into little more than a tenderized piece of quivering flesh. But today I most definitely do believe in post-traumatic resilience. Why? Well, because despite what PTSD conveys to you while you’re in it (that you have a foreshortened sense of future, no light at the end of the tunnel, and will never have a good life) there is light at the end of the tunnel if you make an effort to heal and get healthy, confront the issues rather than relying on increasingly ineffectual coping mechanisms. It took time (about three years, really) but I bounced back. Today I can say that I have a life that’s better than the one I had before my PTSD breakthrough crisis. I’m less perfect-seeming, sure, a little more of a mess on the surface sometimes, but more authentic, more me. And that’s better. I found a sense of purpose in it, it helped me focus on my priorities a bit differently (including engaging in advocacy work on the important but largely-ignored issue of substandard homeschooling laws) and it reminded me of some things that are not my job. For example, I am not here to be perfect-seeming for other people, or make their lives easier by not having any visible issues myself. Fact is, I’m entitled to my issues and I’m allowed to share my experiences and what’s more, I live inside me and I’m here every day, and being true to that is important. I can use all that energy I was using to second-guess myself and keep up facades and internal walls and a seeming overachiever perfection to actually live my life fuller, happier, truer, and more honestly. And that’s awesome. What isn’t awesome is how some people, mainly abusers or people who believe the abusers and unwittingly serve as their errand-boys, don’t understand or care about this at all and can and do use the stigma of mental illness (trauma-induced or otherwise) to discredit abuse survivors.
This using mental illness as an excuse to not listen as well as to instill fear and revulsion about what “crazed” survivors might do is a big problem in the homeschool survivors movement. So many “leaders” and parents who wish we’d just shut up and go away have diagnosed us with demonic possession, or schizophrenia, or narcissism, or pathological lying compulsions, or anger management issues, or just plain old fashioned “delusion.” They go “who you gonna believe, me…or this crazy person in front of you?” And then they usually concern-troll, saying “I really hope this obviously disturbed person gets help.”In fact, I had it happen to me last week, from my own Dad.
Since I reported my Dad to Child Protective Services, he’s taken to providing cheery little “updates” on my half-brother’s educational progress, mass texting all of his children with them. And I have responded in the only way I know how – by taking a word-machete to his bullshit. The first time he said nothing in response. This last update he did. He called me mentally ill, to my siblings and probably anyone else he discussed it with.
Wed, Oct 22, 3:52pm
Dad: All of you kids have done well in school, and [youngest son] is following in your footsteps. He scored high (Exceeded Standards) on all five of his CRCT tests last year and Scanton tests this year, so he was moved into the gifted program today. WooHoo!! He needed at least a score of 835 in Language Arts and/or Math, yet his lowest score with regard to all five CRCT tests was 850. The downside of the change is that he has some great teachers this year, and he is going to miss them since he will have all gifted-certified teachers. His new classes start tomorrow. Anyway, I just wanted to share the good news with you all. I’m very proud of him and all of you as well.
Me: Dad, Grammy would be rolling over in her grave if she knew you pulled [youngest son] out of public school and have him at home, with you, sitting at some computer all day. A holistic education and an environment free from abuse (verbal and physical) and time to be with children his age is what [youngest son] needs. The amount of time and money and energy all four grandparents put into correcting the neglect for us older kids speaks volumes. You and Mom failed. The fact that you’d think you can try again with “homeschooling” shows a massive amount of hubris on your part. You can give all the metrics in the world that you want, be a good salesman about it, but I know without a doubt that any child being home with you all day is not getting their needs met. Because if you were interested in and knowledgeable about meeting a child’s needs, you’d have shown a very different side of yourself for the first 30+ years and over half a dozen kids for whom you were a parent. Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you. Poor little [youngest son], I am glad he tested well, but I feel for him. He deserves a much better steward for his education than a mean and selfish blowhard who can’t even hold a job teaching GED classes to prisoners. And you are too selfish to give him that.
Thursday Dec, 12:31
Dad: Hey guys! Well [youngest son] has done it again. He now has been enrolled in an accelerated math class and will be taking 7th-grade math. His math teacher also invited him to co-moderate her regular math class as a student-peer teacher. All of his mid-year grades in all subject are above 96.5%. At the rate he is going, he may be skipping a grade before it is all over this year. Anyway, I wanted to share the good news. Hope everyone has a great Christmas!
Heather Doney blogs at https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/
Heather was raised Fundamentalist Evangelical in South Louisiana until she was 13. At that tender age she was introduced to the world at large and starting her journey away from home schooling environment.
Her blog is primarily about Quiverfull lifestyle, homeschooling culture and politics, child welfare, PTSD, education, poverty, big families, gender issues, and maybe a few bits of south Louisiana or New England culture and a recipe or craft project or two thrown in, just for fun.
She is a member of NLQ’s The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network