Are You A Pariah in Your Family?

Photo by Isaiah Bustad on Unsplash

You may not be the one with a problem.

Does mental illness make me a pariah in my own house with my own family? It certainly feels like it. I’m pretty sure others have felt the same.

If I’m in a bad mood, I’m asked if I took my medicine. My loved ones feel perfectly justified in taking my inventory. They have at times checked my med organizer to make certain I took them. I’m not allowed to have an ordinary bad day. I’m not allowed to be angry at anyone. When I tell my family of an argument I have had with someone — they don’t support me. No. Instead they want to know why I engaged in the argument. They think I argued because of my mental illness and they don’t make a secret of it.

Honestly, (forgetting what to expect) I was recently told after describing a lively debate with a friend that “you’re just a bit touchy today.” “Did you get enough sleep last night?”

I’m always wrong because I’m sick

Noooo. I argued because it was an important point I felt shouldn’t be discounted. Others do that all the time. But if I argue or, god forbid, get angry, my point is never important, never worth considering and never supported. I’m always wrong because I’m sick. The general consensus is that I started an argument because I’m a nut. No matter how lofty and righteous my point — and even if it’s exactly what my family advocates — I will not get support.

I was today accused of “being in a bad mood” because I insisted a teenager in my household obey and discontinue his impudent responses. What? I thought I was being responsible and clear about expectations. I don’t believe in letting children argue or ignore me when told to do chores like cleaning their rooms. That makes me crazy? Or a normal parent?

Mostly, no one is told out loud to just ignore me because I’m “mental,” but that’s the takeaway. That is the general response to any complaint I share. It doesn’t matter what the subject may be. Yes, I have mental illness, but I’m also intelligent and even — gasp — learned in some subjects.

I have been in high places with great responsibility. I have real expertise in some fields. That apparently doesn’t matter. I seemingly never know what I’m talking about.

It often feels as if the whole family stands united against me and that nothing I say or do is taken at face value. Nothing I say is valid or carries weight. I feel regularly patronized.

That attitude will follow them to adulthood.

Even the children of our clan feel it’s ok to ignore me. I don’t have to be respected or obeyed, even by kids I mostly raised. They learned that behavior from someone who should know better. That attitude will follow them to adulthood to the detriment of all mentally ill people; no matter the diagnosis or degree of illness.

My own children don’t seem to realize that I managed to raise them quite well and hold down the jobs that supported them while having this illness.

When I make mistakes in speaking, like everyone does, especially as we age, someone rushes to correct me even when my meaning was clear. When others do the same, it’s ignored.

I’ve never been arrested or broken any laws. I’ve never been dangerous to anyone but myself, and even then I’ve only idealized suicide but never acted upon those thoughts. I’ve never been involuntarily committed to treatment.

When will people learn that mental illness does not mean a person can’t have intelligent opinions on politics, government, society, literature, love, and everything else in life?

It’s not constant. I should be fair. But it is often that I am made to feel like the family pariah for something as simple as having a different opinion. My opinion is not unreasonable. I am gaslighted, by the very definition of it, even though I doubt they are aware of it.

I know myself. . .

Actually, while people around me judge my degree of illness, I know far more about my condition than they ever will. The fact is, I sometimes have seen therapists that haven’t been alive as long as I’ve been in counseling or therapy. I’ve had to explain my medication regimen and the purposes to new providers. Generally, the professionals know that someone as old as I am knows herself and her illness best.

I know, for instance, if I’m being unreasonable, but knowing doesn’t prevent me from acting out if there’s been an upheaval. I know when I’m perfectly rational, which is 99 percent of the time. I haven’t acted out in my illness for years.

On many occasions a member of my family discounts my opinions and feels free to interrupt, belittle, or discount what I say. It could be that person, in their insecurity and anxiety, might need help more than I do. I’ve been stable for so long now.

The main thing that upsets my equilibrium is people pulling the old, “but you’re sick and that’s why…” trick on me. I cannot be angered about real injustice without it being attributed to my disease!

Sometimes my political activism is attributed to my disease. Having been passionate and involved in political causes all my life, this angers and hurts me.

It’s not illness to stand by one’s beliefs

This is why I sometimes think it unwise to share a psychiatric diagnosis with employers, co-workers, or even family. To some extent you become your illness instead of a person with a treatable illness who is stable. Maybe I’m more stable than those who never sought treatment. I often believe that to be the case.

If there’s a person with mental illness in your family or among your friends, please don’t treat them as if their illness makes you smarter than them. Stop treating people who suffer with personality disorders, depression, etc., as if they can’t reason and can’t have opinions. It is not illness to stand by one’s intelligently held beliefs and values. It is not mental illness to insist on respect and fair and equal treatment. It is not mental illness to be politically outspoken. It is not mental illness to disagree with family members or long-held family positions.

Being a pariah among one’s own tribe is terribly lonely. . .

Those who feel the urge to cross off the ideas or insights of a person because of their diagnosis would do better to examine their own mental health to discover why they need to use someone’s diagnosis to make themselves feel superior.

Being a pariah among one’s own tribe is terribly lonely and discouraging. The result, in my case, is withdrawal. Which is reasonable, too, when one is attacked by unfair conclusions. Self-care and self protection are characteristics of mental health. Sometimes even those healthy self-protective acts are said to be evidence of mental illness. Don’t believe it.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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