How do you feel about your parent who has a mental illness?
Do you get angry, sad, or do you feel sorry for them?
As a child, the more likely scenario is that you’ll do what you need to survive, put on a happy face, and bury whatever emotion that may arise. When you’re young you want to see your parents well. You don’t want to be the cause for their misery, and you sure as hell don’t want to be the cause for their destruction.
If your parent is unable to self regulate, they become the priority.
But what happens when you grow up?
You fall in love, you finish school, you get your first job.
What happens when you reach an age where you’ve built the skills necessary for adult life and are ready to ‘leave the nest’?
You face a world where you’re no longer dependent on your parents, and all of a sudden you become the priority.
That transition, well, it was hard.
What should of taken me no longer than 30 days, took almost 4 years.
I found myself going back weekly, as painful as it was. Each visit I’d be reminded of the life I used to have, and that fear, that frustration, was almost nostalgic.
Oh here they go again. Drunk, arguing and slamming doors…
As much as I hated it, I hated being alone with my own thoughts more.
And they were my parents, of course they wanted me to be around. And I loved them, and more than that, I loved feeling part of a family, and having fun with my siblings. No one wanted me in my apartment, in fact no one wanted me at all. Spending my weekends with my loud and unwell parents was better than spending my weekends with my loud and unwell self.
But there’s only so much progress I could have made in recovery, while still putting myself in a toxic environment all the time. My therapist told me that being stuck in the child role was what was keeping me in my Eating Disorder, and encouraged me to meet my parents as an adult. I was told to express my thoughts and emotions, and to move the responsibility back onto them. I couldn’t control how they reacted to me, that was up to them.
I started with my anger, but that made things even more volatile. I was yelled at, called selfish, and met with suicide threats.
So I tried showing them my sadness. I was laughed at, called selfish and met with “what about me?”.
My heartbreak. I was told to get over it, that I made the wrong choice in partners in the first place, and that I needed to get help for my dependence issues.
My fears. Told I was being stupid, to grow up and just eat.
When it came to my emotions, happy is the only thing they wanted to see from me.
And of course.
If I was angry, then they’d be angry. If I was sad, they’d be sad.
Just because I became an adult, that doesn’t mean they’d magically gained the skills to self regulate. They needed me to be happy/a blank canvas, so they would feel content.
The problem with that, is that I’m a human being.
I’m never going to be happy for long periods of time. I’m never going to not feel angry, or sad, or disappointed or ashamed. Growing up suppressing all of those emotions got me nowhere but an Eating Disorder inpatient facility and 5 years of my life wasted to worrying about the calories in my breakfast. I’m an adult now, and I’m every bit entitled to feel whatever emotion comes my way.
The next logical step, would have been to use my words.
I was met with excuses, shifting of the blame, diffusion of responsibility and invalidation.
Part of me thinks I could’ve tried harder, but I know in reality there’s nothing I could do or say to make things better. Relationships and friendships, they’re two way streets. Bending and breaking myself to please them did nothing for my own health. I came out worse.
I’m now 25, and 4 years after moving out of home I’ve made the decision to stop going back. This wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s one that I think about often. Of course I feel guilty for leaving them and I do miss the good times; but in all honesty, I have never been more mentally well than I have since I cut them out. Somewhere in recovery I have found my bearings and the confidence to finally step into the adult role, and I’ve come to the realisation that I am not my parent’s responsibility.
My priority is me, and it should have always been me.