Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Wish You Had Never Been Born



Two days ago I came across an article with the words “Wish . . . Had Never Been Born” in the title. I immediately flashed back to my preteen years, hearing these words shouted at me an incalculable number of my times by my strung out, mentally ill older sister. She wishes I’d never been born. Ingrained in me. Wrestled through. Words that stuck.

More than twenty years later, The New Yorker releases an article with a similar statement from Adam Lanza’s father regarding his son. Peter wishes Adam, his son, had never been born.

And while the sight of those words pierced me to my core, I can attest to how heartrending it is to be related to someone with a destructive mental illness. The embarrassing arrests. The suicide attempts. The lashing out I feared would or could one day lead to murder. As shocking as they sound, I will not judge Peter for his words.

The Newtown tragedy hit close to home for me for other reasons. It occurred in my native state the year all three of my girls were attending elementary school. Adam murdered twenty-six people.

Just as with the shootings at Columbine, everyone scuttles about what the parents did wrong. What could have been done to prevent these heinous acts? Good questions to ask. But sometimes more problematic to answer than it might originally seem.

A year or so ago I read an article listing all the ways a troubled actress had been acting out. Toward the end of the article the reporter wrote she just wished the actress’s family would be more involved, would help her straighten up. When I set the magazine down, I was overcome with a mixture of anger and guilt.

Don’t people get it? Don’t they see that we’ve done everything we possibly can? This is an illness! There are some situations that don’t have simplistic remedies. Some causes that can’t be pinpointed adequately enough—satisfying the need for someone to blame.

This brings to mind Defending Jacob, an excellent book club choice, portraying a father having to come to terms with what he believes about his own son’s guilt in a local murder case.

And it challenges my thoughts about how we as a culture need to continue to get more honest about mental illness. We need to be mindful enough to know that most people struggling with mental illnesses won’t walk into a school and mow down dozens of children. However, also be conscious enough to realize how haunting and disturbing it can be to live with someone whose mind is sick.

We need to stop blaming, work harder to understand, engage in honest dialogue, seek help when or perhaps even before necessary, and empathize more than we judge.

One of my book groups recently discussed Still Alice, a novel about a successful Harvard professor who begins to demonstrate early onset signs of Alzheimer’s. In one scene Alice expresses her shame about what she’s dealing with, how if she had cancer people wouldn’t be afraid to sit next to her as though it were contagious.

I wish I could fix my sister’s illness. Wish I could bring her back to the vibrant young teenager I remember her as before all kinds of chaos infiltrated and shattered her mental understanding of the world.

Sometimes I wish I could slide into her shoes to fight her demons off for her. But I can’t. And there is no easy fix, no easy cure for her. This breaks my heart every second I’m alive.

It is with unending gratitude that I can say I’m thankful I was born. And I’m grateful my sister was born, too.

 I may not understand why our roads are paved so differently. But I don’t have to understand.

I just have to do as Bono My Bono sings, “Walk on, walk on.”
 

*I realize Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a mental illness, but included the Still Alice point because people often treat anything influencing the brain, as opposed to the body, differently.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. <>. You are helping to continue the important conversation about mental illness. Thank you!

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    1. Most welcome, Nancy. It's obviously something I feel passionately about.

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  2. Thank you Wendy for writing and sharing this. I am a child and grand child of pyschprenia and understand all top well about how dealing with this kind of illness is viewed in society.

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    1. Linda, thanks for your comment. I'm sure you have countless stories relating to this.

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  3. Your truth-filled words strike deep, Wendy. Your personal experience has given you an insight into mental illness -- and God has used it to tenderize your heart. It's a joy to share this post today -- and a JOY to celebrate with you that I'm glad you were born, too. :)

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    1. Tenderize. Mash up. Sounds about right. Thanks for sharing this. Living with the trials certainly opened my eyes to some things I'm hoping society will start talking about more.

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  4. You and I have had many conversations lately, so you know I can relate to this! While I appreciate people who want to "fix" the problems of this world w/suggestions about how to handle mental illness or Alzheimer's, I wish they would stop and think about what it assumes before they talk. It suggests the family doesn't care, hasn't listened to doctors, and have washed their hands of their loved one. Reality is, most people have exhausted every resource trying to help and cannot DO anything more to help. Mental illness, Alzheimer's and other brain-damage diseases are horrible and mostly incurable. Sometimes love and support is all we can do to help.

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    1. Exhausted every resource. Yep. I think my sister could have gone to college six times with the amount of money my folks invested in her. College. Attempts to preserve or rekindle sanity. Love and support are crucial.

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  5. This is a very insightful and thought-provoking post; I'm glad you wrote it.

    My stepfather was bipolar, and I dealt with that through the last years of his life. It was a nightmare, and I would never want to revisit those years.

    But it wasn't about me. It must have been far worse for him, and though the demons in his head drove him to do some really cruel and horrible things, I simply can't imagine what it must have been like to be trapped on the inside of that.

    It does beg the question of how, exactly, does "fearfully and wonderfully made" come into all of this.I could not face Christianity at the time; being told that it was a result of his parents' or grandparents' sin was almost as bad as being told that God had a purpose for all of this.

    The truth is that it was a chemical imbalance caused by unknown factors in a world in which free will has been given rein. The Almighty chose free will as the basis for creation, and it's that which we must accept.

    His blessings are not an easy life, nor are they financial reward for being a good and faithful servant. His blessings are the strength to help the least of His children through their torment, and to have the intelligence to look for the best ways to deal with the situation as it unfolds.

    And "fearfully and wonderfully made"? Yes; deep within each of us - my stepfather, your sister, even Adam Lanza and Hitler - is a divine spark which can never be extinguished. It may gutter to an ember in this life, smothered by waves of evil and confusion, but at the end of all things I believe that God will pick through the debris to find that last glowing ember, and gently blow on it until - abracadabra! - out steps the person whom God intended and envisioned long before the womb.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/03/married-to-past-your-spouse-with-ptsd.html

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    1. Powerful points here, Andrew. Thanks for much to think through.

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  6. How beautifully written and deeply thoughtful. Yes and yes! To have compassion instead of thinking we know best how to fix things. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. As I get older I'm beginning to understand some things might not be able to be "fixed." At least not in the ways we imagine.

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  7. Thank you, Wendy. I can relate to some of the feelings you expressed -- embarrassment, shame, anger. Witnessing how badly someone's instability affects the people I love is so very hard.

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    1. Instability is a good word. Unpredictability is another. I'm glad people are opening up here. I hope the conversations continue.

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  8. Wendy: Your blog entry makes me think about several people in my past. One didn't believe she had anything wrong with her. Another,I saw her go from one level of being fine and searching for some help to a level where she chose to alienate those around her. This second woman married a friend's son.

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    1. I happen to believe we all know someone who is impacted by mental illness, if not directly, because they love someone who has one.

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