Tag Archive: Depression


To introduce my soon-to-be-published book: Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents, I am posting the Introduction here. This is a sneak peek. After you read it, I would love to know what you would want to see in this book.

INTRODUCTION

FIRST, THE CONCRETE
My parents were my concrete. The emotional concrete had set in before I knew it. Growing up, it seemed solid and impossible to break through.

This concrete story is about the hard reality – the details of living with a disorganized schizophrenic, bi-polar mother and a depressed, closet alcoholic father. My experiences can give you glimpses into the hidden world of mental illness in a family.

Throughout my life, neither my mother nor my father approved of anything that I accomplished, not my graduations, my accolades, my choices, or my husband. At every stage of life, I felt unacceptable to them. Looking elsewhere, I discovered that appreciation and approval could come from others.

There is an undeniable downside to a difficult upbringing. Psychiatrists tell us that human frailties are accentuated in a stress-filled, suppressed, under-protected childhood. After experiencing emotional neglect and abuse, a sense of shame can be intensely difficult to release. This type of upbringing most often results in unrelenting emotional baggage such as low self-esteem, frustration, and insecurities. One can think: “If my mother couldn’t love me, then who could?” That thought lurked in the background for me.

While my mother threatened my life at times, not all mentally ill parents are a danger to their children. Some parents with mental illness could have adequate medicine or behavior modification techniques to control their symptoms. In such cases, the family can be functioning well. The risks to any child are on a case-by-case basis.

In no way do I advocate overlooking the serious damage a child can suffer from living with a disturbed mentally ill parent, or parents. While unattended mental illness is the trigger for bad behavior, undeniable damage can be the result.

There are many highly regarded, accurate studies about children’s wounds at the hands of a mentally ill parent. Though there is truth in this view, it is not the only way to look at this, or any other challenge. If only the pain is perceived, the problems are emphasized and nothing else is observed.

Up until now, I have not read anything of the benefit of experiencing such a childhood. After having experienced the difficulties firsthand, I learned that my experiences with mentally ill parents could eventually reveal to me my power. It took me quite awhile to get to that understanding. No matter what my past, I can view it as a burden, or a benefit.

How could there be a benefit? For one, even a severely mentally ill parent has their moments of kindness or clarity. Those soft, tender moments in a typical mother would be taken in stride, appreciated mildly at best. The same kindness received from a dysfunctional parent produces pure bliss. That moment of kindness can affect a child throughout his or her life. My chapter: Giving and Receiving is one such example.

When demonstrations of love are so rare, it could result in a child giving up and becoming cynical about the world. More often, gratitude is automatically there when a child of a mentally ill parent does receive some symbol of love after long, lean times of nothing.

From the hard times, something valuable can emerge; something that takes up residence in your soul. It settles there because you had to labor so hard to chisel through it. That something might be different for each person.

At some point, I recognized that there is a benefit to taking responsibility for my life. To blame anyone else is to cripple, and limit myself. As a child, I made immature responses that had me experience the solid concrete barriers. As an adult, I have more ability to find the cracks in the concrete. If I only see the limits of the concrete and do not look for the cracks to break through, then I will continue to constrain my life.

The concrete made me who I am in the present. Being “between a rock and hard place,” I found the breaks to push through. It took more than one breakthrough.

All concrete has its weak point. When I was a young adult I saw others unhappy due to their childhood. I knew instinctively that I wanted to be free, and to take charge. Others were banging their head against the proverbial concrete of their life story. Being able to see the confining and punishing part of resisting the past was one of the cracks in the concrete that I grew through.

In disclosing raw details, I am not blaming my parents. They were as much sufferers of their illnesses as their children were of them. My purpose in sharing the inner workings of a household in daily crisis is to speak my truth. Hopefully, my story will help you find your truth.

The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents

In this excerpt, I describe one day with my bi-polar mother and depressed father.

MOTHER’S SELF-EXPRESSION

Weekends were Dad’s days to unwind with his precious radio ball game and copious amounts of beer with chasers. He smoked a lot, too. The kitchen became his station as he stood near the radio, probably so no one else had to hear it any louder than it was. He could be very thoughtful. The real reason may have been that he knew that Mother would not be there in the kitchen.

On one particular day when I was ten years old, Dad bought paint for the kitchen at Mother’s insistence. Not just one color. Mother wanted both pink and white.

Everyone knew Dad did not like to paint. The color pink wasn’t his color, for sure. It is not that he had a color. If he did, it would likely be gray.

With breathing problems, I felt like I could suffocate with the smell of paint. Staying out of the kitchen, I wondered how I would ever survive later in life if I had to paint a room. It was midsummer and the heat was agonizing long before the height of the day. That, in itself, was more than I could take.

It took Dad all day. Dutifully, he painted the opposite walls the same color. Two were pink and two white. To please Mother, he even painted the drawers pink and the cabinets white. By nightfall, he put away the paint cans, brushes and ladder.

The verdict came in. Yes, it was different. And yes, surprisingly it looked crisp and clean. We were impressed. It was 1957 and we had never seen a two-paint combo. This was one crazy idea of Mother’s that wasn’t all bad. Quietly, I told Dad that I liked what he did.

That night watching TV in the living room held no interest. The smell was worse in that part of the house. It was always risky anyway since Mother had a habit of turning it off when it got interesting. With no viable alternatives, I went through the door to the bedroom area. Closing the door to my room off the hall, I tried to sleep very early.

It was ghastly hot, too scorching to go outside. With the smell of paint through the main part of the house, I had more trouble than ever breathing, but that was nothing new. Most nights I sat up all night wishing I could die and just get it all over with. Sitting up as usual, I pondered if this really was my last breath since it was such a struggle both inhaling and exhaling. Amazingly, the struggle just continued as I watched the minutes go by and I accepted the end of it all. I watched the evening light gradually switch to dark. Eventually the need for sleep overtook me and I continued the difficult breathing after exhaustion ruled the night.

In the morning, I was mystified how I made it through the night. I always awoke sleep deprived and usually shocked into consciousness. I was rudely awakened by the sound of loud radio music that my father used to wake us up. One of us, he explained, was hard to awaken, so all of us had to hear this monstrous sound much louder than was necessary to awaken hibernating bears.

We had thirty minutes to get dressed and eat before leaving the house for Sunday Mass. Soon we met in the newly painted kitchen to get ourselves some stale cereal and rancid skim milk.

Mother was there already. Immediately I noticed the painted cabinets and drawers. There were words written in crayon, pencil and pen. Seeing it, I felt deep disappointed. I stopped and looked around. The nice kitchen couldn’t last. I knew it. “But so soon?” I was not prepared. I regretted going to bed early and not enjoying the kitchen while it was new. My face clearly told the story.

Mother glared ready to pounce on me, as if I was the one who had defaced the room. She wanted me to say something, so she could defend herself. My face had already said enough.

Silently, first searching for milk in a moldy refrigerator, and then
cereal, bowl and spoon. They could be anywhere and rarely where you’d expect. Ah, the spoon was in a drawer, and it was clearly used before. I decide to use it anyway since washing it was a problem. The dishrag was filthy. The sink, full of caked-on dirty dishes, smelled.

Finding a bowl was another matter. A bowl could be any room except the kitchen. Bowls would be wherever Mother had a whim to put them. Knowing how clever and creative she was, I wasn’t in the mood. So I took the dirty bowl left on the table. Probably Dad used it because I heard him leaving the kitchen earlier. So I sat down silently with my disappointment.

Seven-year-old brother Eddie came in. “What’s this?” was his instant, innocent inquiry.

“What! Don’t you like it?” Mother shrieked. “This way I’ll know where to find things” she justified.

I wiggled in my seat with this piece of news. “Wow, when did she ever want to know where anything was?” I questioned wordlessly. She had far too much fun playing the ‘lost’ game. I dared not look up, much less say how ridiculous that was, as I kept looking at the anemic and curdled milk in the bowl. I was sure that Mother added water to the skim milk to save money. No one wanted to drink much milk, so it went bad before it was used up.

Twelve-year-old brother Jerry came in. As usual, he searched for a bowl, gave up, and asked me when I’d be finished with mine. He showed not the slightest reaction to the kitchen ‘décor.’

Not a thing surprised him, or he had a good pretense of not noticing and not caring. I marveled at his demeanor. For him, nothing happened before the paint or after Mother’s grafitti. Either nothing mattered to him, or he was smarter than Eddie and me.

Another chapter can be found on http://www.MarifranKorb.com

The Spiritual Journey of Mental Illness
The purpose of this blog is to dispel stereotypes through bringing awareness, respect, compassion and understanding to those who deal with what is known as mental illness in all its forms. Subjects include the gifts in the challenge, the impact in family life, and the perspective of the journey.
Since my earliest days, I have witnessed mental illness in others. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar, my mother was especially unbalanced. My father, a closet alcoholic suffered from symptoms of depression. Then, I married a wonderful man.
Unknowingly to both of us, my beloved Ed had depression.
From my husband, I learned that there are forms of depression that vary from the stereotype.  Ed did not sit quietly in a dark room and weep.  His depression was one that expressed as anger ready to explode for any reason.

Living with mentally ill people gave me keen observation. Direct experience of knowing how it is from the inside is new territory for me. My taste of it is Seasonal Affective Disorder that started a few years ago. For me, it is a disorder. Even with a Vitamin D3 supplement, I am not immune to a dreary thoughts and feelings from early December through March. Taking responsibility for my chemical imbalance during those months, I take a natural OTC supplement that helps me.