Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dealing with people's ignorance about mental illness, even when they're sitting at a table with you


Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas is on it's way. I don't know about you, but I find dealing with my family over the holidays to usually not be the best time of my life. I tend to end up disappointed in people, or anxious, or depressed, or all of the above with a little bit of feeling rejected thrown in for good measure. Most of the problems that I'm talking about come from going to my dad's house. This year's "Turkey Day" (turkeys are grateful that some of us are vegetarians), was no different than other years. The reason is that I never feel like I belong at my dad's, which is too bad, since he is my father. I am not the only one who feels this way, either. My dad is now married to his third wife, and since I'm the first kid from the first wife, and since he barely ever talks to me at all, it's not like I feel at home at his house. I wish this was not the case, but it is what it is.

This year, things got a little annoying because one particular person who is not a blood relative of mine but is a relative of sorts now, was talking about, well, me. I think. I can't tell sometimes if I'm being paranoid or if I'm really right about things. But there were several comments made about people posting things on Facebook that are political (something I do all the time), or people who are "crazy", "kooky", "weird", and have "brain problems", and are, otherwise, generally unacceptable human beings to the majority of the people who were sitting at the table. Would it surprise me if all this was meant to be about me? Not at all. I do not fit it there. I am not a conservative, Republican like my dad and others in my dad's house. I am not a socialite. I do not weigh 94 pounds. I do not look like a fashion model. I do have a mental illness too, although I have never spoken to anybody that was there, except my dad, about this fact. (My brother and sister who know me well were not there.)

So is it possible that the little jabs at the mentally ill were intentional insults towards me, and that the laughing was directed at me? Yes, it is. And if that is the case, then these people who were talking this way and laughing, are not only not nice people, they are cruel and heartless people. Plus, they are ignorant imbeciles. I don't really care what some stupid, ignorant, cruel person says about me or thinks about me. But does it feel comfortable sitting at the dinner table with these kinds of things being said? No. It does not.

It is also possible that she really was just talking about these people she's known who were ostensibly mentally ill without knowing that I myself have a mental illness. I find that hard to believe, because several people would have had to have kept their mouths shut for years about many aspects of who I am for that to be the case, and I doubt that they did so. But even if that is the case, is it okay that she was talking about people being mentally ill in order to make fun of them? Well, no. It is not.

So what do you do in that type of situation? I don't know what you would do, but when I'm sitting there and I'm the only one at the table not laughing about something, I find it hard to say, "Hey, guess what, you're insulting and demonizing human beings which makes you a heartless wench, and you're one of the most ignorant people I know who knows nothing about brain disorders." So I didn't say that. I just didn't laugh, and I sat there. There were also the usual homophobic and racist comments thrown in for good measure. I didn't laugh at those either. But did I really say anything? No. And this is perhaps a problem with me. I sometimes keep my mouth shut when something does need to be said.

Then again, these people are all connected to me on Facebook, so they can see that I post articles about pro-choice issues and Occupy Wall Street and the ignorance of the right wing, all the time. I post this stuff because it interests me and most of my "friends", even though I know it certainly makes me feel like a weird freak to much of my family. I don't really care anymore if people who believe they are perfect human beings and nobody else is as good as they are dislike me for the fact that I am seemingly beneath them, and I definitely don't care what racist, homophobic, or sexist people think about my political views. Such people can go to hell, and their opinions of me do not matter. But it's hard when you have to sit somewhere with people you're supposed to be related to, and they're making comments about mentally ill people, even though at least half the people at the table are well aware that you yourself have a serious mental illness. It's not exactly a comfortable situation to be in.

I fail to understand such ignorance. I really don't get it. I don't get how you can walk through life assuming that everyone on the planet would be as privileged as you are if they had the good sense to be born just like you. I really don't understand the mentality that if somebody has a biological illness, then they are a failure as a human being (like my dad thinks I am). I really do not understand the idea that if someone has a neurochemical imbalance, they should be shunned and laughed at. I really don't understand the stupidity of thinking that you, yourself, are immune to mental illness, when it affects 25% of the population, either. I don't get it. I get that some people are dumb. I get that some people are heartless. But I don't get this level of ignorance and hatred. I don't get how you can talk like that and not realize that you are a problem. How can you not feel like a hateful person for acting like this? How can you not feel guilty about it? How can you be so arrogant to think you have a right to talk about people this way?

I almost feel sorry for somebody who is that clueless, because such people go through life only speaking to people who are exactly like them, and hating everybody who isn't. They never experience the beautiful variety of people in the human race because 90% of the human species isn't good enough to talk to them. They never learn anything real or new, because they are too worried about sticking to the status quo and being liked for their supposed perfection. They have very shallow world views, and very small minds. They are kind of pathetic.

Sometimes you get to be related to people who you can't really relate to. I think it's true that we can pick our friends, but not our family, so in some ways you have to create your own family. I have certain family members I can relate to, who I can be myself around, who accept me for who I am, and others who are not in that category. I have some friends who accept me, and who I can be myself around, moreso than some of my family. I like those people better than I like some of my family. I think that's okay, because it's not my fault if I'm related to an ignorant idiot who chooses to be hateful. It's really their problem they choose to be that way.

I am not perfect, obviously, but I will say one thing for myself, which is I choose not to hate other people on the basis of their sex or sexual orientation or race or differently abled/disabled status or economic status or other ways in which they might not be whatever the "norm" is supposed to be to the people who think that they are the "norm" and watch Fox News to verify this for themselves. I am not a hatemonger. I like being around other people who aren't hatemongers. I don't much like being around people who are. I don't really appreciate someone turning their animosity towards me when I have done nothing to harm them, ever. I also would not be against sitting down and explaining exactly what mental illness is to such a person, if she was interested in knowing. But these people are not interested. These people do not care to learn what it really is all about. They would prefer to just live on their assumptions about others, believing that they are always correct and there is nothing new to learn in the world since all knowledge was with them at birth. My own dad doesn't know the first thing about Schizoaffective Disorder. He doesn't have any idea what it is, other than from what I have told him, and he has never once taken an interest in learning about it. I have invited him to NAMI meetings and events; he never comes. He didn't attend my college graduation when I got my A.A. degree, because that wasn't a big enough accomplishment to matter to him. He thinks I'm a failure, and he's ashamed of me.

Too bad for him. I'm not a failure. I'm not someone somebody should be ashamed to be related to. I didn't go out and commit crimes and harm people, even when I did have severe psychosis, and I didn't cause severe psychosis to occur in my brain. I didn't create this disorder, or ask for it, and I have never exactly enjoyed it. I have made mistakes, but I also apologized for all my major mistakes that affected other people which occured when I was psychotic, and supposedly my dad understood years ago that these things happened because of psychosis. But I guess that in itself isn't enough of an explanation if you choose not to learn what psychosis even is. I see people's families at NAMI meetings, since most people at NAMI meetings where I live are the family members of those of us who are consumers, and not the consumers themselves. I marvel at these people, that they care enough, not only to learn about and understand their daughter's disease, but that they will get involved in an organization and volunteer their time to raise awareness about that disease, educate the public, and help the people who have it. I think those people are quite impressive, indeed. I can't really imagine having a dad who would do things like that with his time. But at least I do have a dad. I do know who he is. There are many people who don't even have that. I just wish I had one who wouldn't sit there when someone is at the table making fun of people with mental illnesses and laugh at their jokes because he doesn't care how offensive they are. And I wish I had the self-esteem to say, "Guess what? That's really offensive," to the offending parties.

Oh, the joy of the holidays....it's okay. There are good aspects of the holidays too, one of which is that they only happen once a year.

6 comments:

Borderline Lil said...

This time of year is so hard. I'm glad we don't have Thanksgiving as it's hard enough dealing with the family at Christmas. Good for you Jen for being dignified and calm and the better person! Those fools don't deserve to have you in their lives.

In the Pink said...

Always know you have the option to not go to that side of the families get together events at the holidays. So maybe at Christmas you don't go and give yourself a much needed break from their insanity. It is okay to not go. :)

FrankandMary said...

I try to think of family gatherings(none of which I have attended for years, so it is a long ago memory) as low-budget independent plays.
C- ones. ~Mary

jenji said...

Yeah, I should think you might think about removing yourself from these events. Remember my post "Freedom"

You have no obligation to show up to events that are detrimental to your state of mind, state of well-being and overall state of happiness. You have every right to extend your own boundaries when it comes to your father and see him only when you're up to it, when you're comfortable with those that will be around and so on. I stopped subjecting myself to these traps long ago. It's quite empowering. You can still have a relationship, just with boundaries.

And, if you're concerned about being alone on the holidays, plan ahead. Perhaps throw your own party for friends, or host your own Thanksgiving for your family that DOES support you. Perhaps volunteer at a shelter on Thanksgiving. Anything other than inserting yourself into those circumstances yet again. Just by composing this post you have acknowledged that you've weathered such nonsense before. When will you have finally had enough so as to take care of you and put value on your own time? I mean, sitting around a gaggle of ignorant imbeciles.....isn't that in the end, aside from the offensive smog, a colossal waste of your precious time on this planet? Seriously? Use your time within positive environments.

Take care of you, lady!

best,
jenji

Kate Kiernan said...

Hi Jen, sorry your Thanksgiving was marred by some insensitive family members. My initial reaction is the same as yours, to quietly reject white, Republican, conservative, Christian (?) attitudes and values. I also am more likely to be critical of them at a safe distance. When you're outnumbered, you often have to be cautious. And yet in my idealistic way, I wish you could have been more of a bridge for them to cross, but being a bridge before a wide divide all alone is very difficult, especially during holidays. And instead of it feeling like home, it feels like a foreign place.

I'm glad you got through it and I agree that not going is also an option in the future. You are in such a hard spot with your father and other members of your family. You are quite brave to be Facebook friends with some of them. I am fortunate in that there are no conservative Republicans in my family, but my family is very small. The only thing my parents and uncle are somewhat defensive about is their atheistic position. I am some kind (don't know which kind exactly but Buddhist leaning) believer. In that, I am the outsider in my family.

Ironically, I think you would fit perfectly well in my family. They appreciate articulate intelligence and sensitivity a great deal. So I think I'll consider you my sister (since I've not had the fortune to have a sister). If we lived closer together I would have you over for Thanksgiving and Christmas in a heart beat! You can't change your family, but you can find friends and extend your family through them. I think it's fair to say that brothers and sisters can be found many places, but you have to work to cultivate the seeing and the doing of it.

XOXO

Kate : )

Jen Daisybee said...

Thanks for your comments, everybody. I get what you mean about avoiding such gatherings, but I have gone to them in the past six years to try to make up for the fact that I didn't have any contact with my dad for most of the six years before that. I know what you mean though; sometimes it is better to avoid such situations.

Thanks for making me your unofficial sister! I never had an older sibling before.

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