Mental Health Awareness Week – 2016
It’s the one argument that I’ve heard far too many times in regards to mental health. The generation above mine and the one before that, they don’t see mental illness as a serious matter. It can be fixed by a stern ‘pull yourself together’ and a stiff upper lip. “Back in my day, we didn’t have time to be depressed!” Yeah, that’s really helpful and also incorrect. Records show that people started to show symptoms of depression during the Industrial Revolution as industry went from open, wide farms and fields, to tight, cramped factories. It’s basically like going from being a free-range hen to being stuck in a cage while you lay eggs. Do you know when the Industrial Revolution ended? Around 1840.
My mom had mental health problems. She was sectioned twice in the 1980s, diagnosed with both post-natal depression after having my brother and manic depression (bipolar disorder) as well. After she died and after my BPD diagnosis, I have wondered if she was actually borderline as opposed to bipolar due to the similarity in symptoms that we had. Throughout that time in her life, my nan struggled to cope with her daughter’s behaviour. “Snap out of it,” she would regularly tell my mom. She despaired constantly and just couldn’t understand why she was acting so erratically.
It was my nan who was there when I had my first anxiety attack at age 8 when I was living with her while my mom was in hospital being treated for cancer. She woke me up and helped me get my breathing back to normal. Then there were the night terrors when she would wake me up with a drink of water and tell me to go back to sleep. I’d always go to bed early after I’d seen my mom in hospital to cry my eyes out for fear of losing her, and I know my nan knew. She worked in the post office, everyone in the local area loved her because she’d give them biscuits at her counter. Because of her job, she’d buy me a book every week so I could take my mind off the pain after I was done crying and have something to read before bed. She gave me a routine, she gave me stability and a lot of love too.
Fast forward to my mom passing away. It was awful for me, but even more so for my nan. And yet she remained so strong for me and for T as well, I wanted to do the same for her. But my mental health got so much worse. When I had the breakdown in 2012, she would say that I would get better and that I just needed to pull myself together. After we lost Mom, she’d say the same to me. ‘Get a job, go out more, do something with my life, don’t feel sorry for yourself.’ She meant well, but none of it helped. I kept my distance between us, because I didn’t want to hear it all every time I was feeling like shit. I got tired of it. People would say to me, “It was different back in her time.” I would just nod and leave it at that. Because that’s the old excuse, isn’t it? Same goes for older people being politically incorrect, grumpy and intolerant of nearly everything.
When I was diagnosed with BPD, I was too scared to tell my nan. I didn’t want her to give me another apathetic response. I don’t know if Mom ever told her about my depression. Husband was the one who told Nan, he went round for a cup of tea and told her roughly what was going on with me. The diagnosis, the events leading up to it and what it meant for the future with medication and therapy. I expected her response to be much of the same that she had said before, but she managed to surprise me. “Her mom had a lot of trouble with that sort of thing, she’d have got it from her.”
Holy fuck. Was she getting it?
It took a long time to get my nan’s head around the fact that I wouldn’t just ‘get better’ from my BPD. I would talk to her very openly about my medication, tell her when I had good days and bad days, and in return I would accept any help she wanted to give me. Washing my clothes, cooking me dinner, or just having me over for a cup of tea while we chatted away. We still hit a few bumps though. Nan doesn’t understand why I self-harm, she sees it as selfish and pointless – but I know she hates the idea of me hurting myself when I’m not well. She also struggles with it being an invisible illness. “But you look really happy, I don’t understand why you’re saying you’re not?” And I take the time to explain it to her.
When my cousin Rox got married and my scarred arms were on show, I was so worried of my nan being ashamed of me. Mom always made me feel like it should be a secret, but Nan? She didn’t care. And she didn’t care on my wedding day either. I don’t think it’s something she would tell all her friends about, because they wouldn’t understand, but I think at last Nan finally gets me. It’s made us so much closer. Husband has bragged to her about all the things I’ve been getting up to with this blog and my other projects, and she’s always so excited to hear how I’m doing. We meet up at least once a month and go get our nails done together, before I help her get some shopping and go back to hers for tea and a natter. Sometimes we take Lady up to see her, which my pup loves because Nan has sweet biscuits!
Nan doesn’t understand my illness entirely, not the ins and outs of it anyway. But it doesn’t matter, because as long as she can chat to me with a cup of tea then she’s helping me through it in her own way. I love her so much, and I’m grateful to have such a wonderful nan like her.
So, all this nonsense about it being a ‘different time for them’? Bollocks to it. Talk. Talk until you feel like their ears might drop off. If they love you, they’ll at least take some of it in and do what they can do within their power. Even if it’s just a cuppa and a chat when you need it most. You might not be able to change the way they refer to certain cultures, or explain what Fifty Shades of Grey is without wanting to die, but it’s a good start.