Why I Want My Daughter to Curse

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No, not right now. My daughter’s 2 and a half years old, silly people! Right now I want her to spout goofy things or get all serious like she did the other day when she said, “I love you, Daddy.” I’m not ready for her to go all Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy or George Carlin on me, though come to think of it, it’d be pretty cool if Sienna started dissecting language the way the great Carlin did.

No, I just don’t want her to become like me, a person so scared of being judged that he’s unable to say the four-letter words that comfortably fill the public lexicon.

dad with daughter working on computer

I’m not ready for Sienna to have her mom’s sailor mouth, but eventually, when she’s a teen, I don’t want her to be afraid of speaking the language of her classmates (yes, we’ll have the comedic swear jar). Once she reaches adulthood, I hope to be ready for her to speak such words in my presence as part of normal conversation because the reality is that cursing is ordinary and sometimes, often even, acts as a release for pent-up stress.

I wish I had that release, but I’m terrified of what people will think of me if I curse – fear of judgment, just another aspect of experiencing depression. I’ve been trying to figure out where this particular one comes from and I believe it’s from my father, who in turn got it from his mother. My grandmother doesn’t curse at all and doesn’t believe either of her children, their spouses, any of her grandchildren or their spouses use words like s–t or f–k… ever. She lives in a perpetual dreamworld, a life of denial, because as far as I know, just about all of them curse. My late grandfather, teller of bawdy jokes, probably cursed, though never in front of my grandmother. My dad? I assume he did when he was younger in front of friends and while in the National Guard. I know he does at work sometimes. I heard him once when I temped at his office. But he seems uncomfortable with it, like my grandmother’s directly in his brain.

My dad never cursed in front of me when I was growing up and seemed terribly uneasy when my mom did. And I think I took that discomfort and internalized it to the point where I can’t curse in front of anyone… not even my wife. I think I feel if I utter a f–king this or f–king that or call someone an a-hole, my dad will know and think less of me. To be honest, I imagine everyone will think less of me. And that’s ludicrous. Why would anyone care? But just like with my anxiety, it manifests physically, twisting my stomach, weighing on my chest, my veins feeling like they’ve been shot with cold radioactive dye. I even have trouble writing the words, as you can see by my incessant use of hyphens.

I tried to change when I went to college. I went in there thinking that I’d start cussing like Al Swearington on “Deadwood” (OK, “Deadwood” wasn’t on yet, but you get my meaning). I wanted to create a new identity. I wanted to be normal. So I tried. Freshman year I said something about my roommate to my best friend, something like my roommate’s “getting off” on being a jerk and my best friend’s eyes widened to the point where I thought they’d burst.

“You’ve never said anything like that before!” he shouted. I know he was proud, but I took it as criticism – and I didn’t even really use a swear word! And that was it for me in college. I couldn’t curse after that. Freshman year became a pathetic war with hallmates trying to get me to utter obscenities.

I’ll never forget Chad, a tall, lanky, long-haired blond fratboy who’d corner me daily.

“Say s–t,” he’d say, but I wouldn’t. “Come on. Just say it.”

And he’d laugh when I couldn’t because at that point he’d win. They’d all win. I’d be cursing for them, not for me. And the pressure in my head built.

When alone, profanity swirls through my head and expletives spout from my mouth. If driving alone, I’m not immune to deriding a bad driver with a “motherf–ker” or even give someone the middle finger. When I’m alone, vulgarity comes easy, but my jaws clamp in front of others. “Friggin’” I’ll say. “Morons. Jerks. Idiots.” For the longest time I wouldn’t even say “hell” or “damn.”

Eighteen years post-college and I’ve cried in front of my therapist about my inability to curse, tears streaming, face scrunched and reddened with embarrassment and anger.

“You’re safe here,” she’ll say, leaning toward me as I twist myself into a pretzel. “Let go. Say f–k.”

I sputter like Fonzie trying to admit he’s wrong. “Fu…fu…fu…fu.” But that’s as far as I’ll get.

“I’ll leave the room,” she’ll say. “I won’t hear it. Just say it.”

And she’ll leave, the door clicking. I’ll sit there furious with myself, face blotchy, hands tightened into fists. The room dulled and quiet. Sometimes I’ll whisper it, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. No one’s there to hear me so I’ve still failed. “F–k” and “s–t” and so many others remain missing from my daily speech.

I have, however, added some over the years. For some reason I can now say “hell” and “damn” and even “bastard” and “son of a b*tch.” It took 30-plus years for me to say those words out loud in front of people. I’m not sure if I say them in front of my dad. I know I don’t say them in front of my grandmother. But I still feel so much internal pressure when it comes to swearing, like the world would stop, a collective gasp catching in everyone’s throats, fingers pointing, judging, always judging, if I dare utter the f-word in front of another person. And I don’t want that for Sienna. I never want that for her. The cycle that began with my grandmother, passed to my father and then to me seemingly by osmosis will end. I want my daughter to curse.

I look forward to having a swear jar and by the time Sienna’s old enough, I hope to be adding a few coins to it myself.

dad and daughter

A version of this post originally appeared on Raising Sienna.

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When the People I Came to for Help Said I Didn’t ‘Look’ Sick

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When you think of someone who has a mental illness, what comes to mind? Is she well-groomed and stylish? Disheveled and dirty?

How we look often gives people an impression about our health, and it’s a common misconception that to have a mental illness, one must be unkempt.

I remember my first time visiting a counselor. I was in my second year of college and had just been caught by my best friend with cuts all along my arms. I admitted I was having suicidal thoughts and my friend was scared for me. I didn’t know at the time, but I was experiencing a major depressive episode.

I didn’t even know what depression was then. I was 18, living away from home at a university that had once been fun, in a program I once enjoyed, but all of that had fallen away. I hated everyone there. I didn’t understand how everyone could party so much. I didn’t get how my roommates were so messy. I couldn’t keep up with the demanding reading schedule of my classes, and I was struggling with a long-distance relationship. No wonder I was feeling depressed. Some people could’ve dealt with the pressure of that life. Some people could’ve adapted. But what I’ve learned, after 10 years with my mental illness, is that I don’t handle stress well. Stress aggravates my condition, which interferes with my sleep, and as soon as I’m not sleeping, I know my mental health will quickly move downhill.

So my friend, being the smart cookie she is, forced me into university counseling services the next day for an emergency appointment.

Oddly, I remember exactly what I wore that day. I paired my jeans with a fuchsia pink lace cardigan (that covered the cuts) with a matching fuchsia camisole underneath. I had never seen a counselor before in my life, and I was shocked when she pointed out my outfit.

“Well, you’re dressed nicely today. You don’t look like you’re struggling.”

Oh, I’m sorry, should I have shown up in pajamas with greasy hair and body odor? Is that what we think a person experiencing mental illness looks like? How was I supposed to look?

And it wouldn’t be the only time this happened to me.

Many years later, I was familiar with the mental health system and had seen various psychiatrists and psychologists. I had already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experiencing another depressive episode, but also dealing with extreme panic attacks. Once, I melted down in a grocery store on an errand to buy napkins for my mother. There were simply too many choices and my heart started racing, I couldn’t breathe, and the aisles were closing in on me. The cacophony of the store was overwhelming and the lights were too bright. I don’t even remember if I bought napkins in the end or if I just ran out of the store.  I had also lost the ability to order food in a restaurant. Whenever I went out for dinner with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I just ordered whatever he did.

I was incapacitated by anxiety. Coupled with the crippling depression and suicidal thoughts, the only thing I could think to do was admit myself into a hospital. When I spoke with the admitting psychiatrist who had dealt with my case, he said, “You don’t look like you have anxiety.”

How was I supposed to look in that moment? The anxiety had passed. Should I be crying? Panting? Suffocating, like I had been in the grocery store? I was severely depressed, but I wasn’t in the middle of a panic attack. In a few words, this doctor dismissed me based on how I presented myself to him in that moment. He made me feel like sh*t. He made me feel like I was pretending to have severe anxiety (because being admitted into the hospital was something someone did for fun!).

Marisa

Over the years, I have realized that I use clothes and makeup as armor to protect myself from the assuming eyes of doctors and society. When I’m in the depths of depression or dealing with severe anxiety, I ensure that I am well put together with a face full of makeup so no one knows how I’m really feeling.

Except maybe this works too well if even doctors don’t believe me when I’m asking for help. It’s like they expect a neon sign blinking above my head saying: “She is experiencing bipolar depression. She is having extreme panic attacks.” Or they expect me to show up un-showered in sweats and matted hair. That’s just not me.

Every day we make assumptions about people based on what they’re wearing. But people, and especially doctors, need to remember that there’s no “look” to mental illness. Anyone can have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personal disorder or whatever else. Just because I don’t look sick, doesn’t mean that I don’t have a mental illness.

A version of this post originally appeared on Mad Girl’s Lament.

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What’s Your Score on the Mental Illness Stigma Quiz?

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If you’ve ever wondered where the stigma towards those with mental illness comes from, the answer is complicated. It’s almost like asking where differences in racial prejudice, political views, religious preference or sports team allegiances come from. It’s difficult to tease apart — we are influenced, and all too easily, by our family, friends, the media, our culture and environment, inaccurate stereotypes and a whole host of other factors.

Rather than figure out where stigma begins, it’s easier to become more aware of what it is and when it occurs. So how do we become more aware of stigma? Let’s start by looking at ourselves. Here’s a brief self-assessment quiz on stigma and mental illness.

True or False:

1) There’s no real difference between the terms “mentally ill” and “has a mental illness.”

2) People with mental illness tend to be dangerous and unpredictable.

3) I would worry about my son or daughter marrying someone with a mental illness.

4) I’ve made fun of people with mental illness in the past.

5) I don’t know if I could trust a coworker who has a mental illness.

6) I’m scared of or stay away from people who appear to have a mental illness.

7) People with a mental illness are lazy or weak and just need to “get over it.”

8) Once someone has a mental illness, they will never recover.

9) I would hesitate to hire someone with a history of mental illness.

10) I’ve used terms like “crazy,” “psycho,” “nut job” or “retarded” in reference to someone with a mental illness

The scoring is simple: one point for every true response. If you scored a zero, congratulate yourself. You’re already on your way to becoming a stigma fighter! The higher your score, though, the more likely it is you’ve had thoughts, feelings or behaviors that can contribute to increased stigma toward people with mental illness.

Now you may be saying, “Wait a minute, I didn’t sign up to be a stigma fighter.” Well, let’s put this into perspective. Have you already signed on to make sure your kids and other passengers in your car wear their seat belts? Did you ever sign on to collect your neighbor’s mail while they were on vacation? Have you ever signed on to give a donation to your favorite cause or charity? If so, then you can do this. Educate yourself about the ways to reduce stigma around mental illness. It’s easier to take a look at ourselves first before we try to change the rest of the world.

RELATED: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma

A version of this post originally appeared on David Susman’s site.

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5 Easy Ways to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma

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Tune into any conversation about mental illness and addiction, and it won’t be very long until you hear the term “stigma.” Stigma has various definitions, but they all refer to negative attitudes, beliefs, descriptions, language or behavior. In other words, any disrespectful, unfair or discriminatory patterns in how we think, feel, talk and behave toward individuals experiencing a mental illness.

But it doesn’t take much effort to reduce stigma in your own backyard. In fact, the rules of the road are quite simple. Here are five simple steps you can follow to become a stigma fighter:

1) Don’t label people who have a mental illness.

Don’t say, “He’s bipolar” or “She’s schizophrenic.” People are people, not diagnoses. Instead, say, “He has bipolar disorder” or “She has schizophrenia.” And say “has a mental illness” instead of “is mentally ill.” All of this is known as “person-first” language, and it’s far more respectful, for it recognizes that the illness doesn’t define the person.

2) Don’t be afraid of people with mental illness.

Sure, they may sometimes display unusual behaviors when their illness is more severe, but people with mental illness aren’t necessarily more likely to be violent than the general population. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence. Don’t fall prey to other inaccurate stereotypes, such as the deranged killer or the weird coworker depicted in the movies.

3) Don’t use disrespectful terms for people with mental illness.

In a research study, when British 14-year-olds were asked to come up with over 250 terms to describe mental illness, the majority were negative. These terms, like “psycho” and “crazy,” are far too common in our everyday conversations. Also, be careful about using “diagnostic” terms to describe behavior, like “that’s my OCD” or “she’s so borderline.” Given that 1 in 4 adults experience a mental illness, it’s likely you may be offending someone and not be aware of it.

4) Don’t blame people with mental illness for their mental illnesses.

It would be silly to tell someone just to “buckle down” and “get over” cancer, and the same applies to mental illness. Don’t assume that someone is OK just because they look or act OK or sometimes smile or laugh. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can often be hidden, but the person can still be in considerable internal distress. Provide support and reassurance when you know someone is having difficulty managing their illness.

5) Be a role model.

Stigma is often fueled by lack of awareness and inaccurate information. Model these stigma-reducing strategies through your own comments and behavior and politely teach them to your friends, family, coworkers and others in your sphere of influence. Spread the word that treatment works and recovery is possible. Changing attitudes takes time, but repetition is the key, so keep getting the word out to bring about a positive shift in how we treat others.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said it nicely: “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” Take the next step. Adopt these simple tools and you can help move the needle in the direction of getting rid of stigma once and for all.

A version of this post originally appeared on David Susman’s site.

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What I Want the Person I Date to Know About My Mental Illnesses

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Dating with a mental illness shouldn’t have to be difficult. But it can be. Dating with any illness is a challenge, but illnesses that target emotions and energy levels more directly make relationships hard. For me, the hardest thing is knowing when to disclose my mental illnesses. I have a knee-jerk reaction to disclose quite quickly simply to clear the air and discover the other person’s trustworthiness.

At the same time, this poses a risk of the person seeing me as diseased, faulty or misshapen somehow. To me, it is normal. Through studying nursing and my life experiences, everyone has some health issue or another that they, at the very least, have to be cognizant about. For some people, it’s high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. For me, it’s mental illness and “my mother’s hips.”

I believe there’s a reason “in sickness and in health” is mentioned in wedding vows. It’s likely that at some point in our lives, we will encounter health problems. Mine, like many people with mental illnesses, started young. But so what? So do asthma, allergies and congenital conditions.

Perhaps I have become more accustomed to having mental illnesses because, at 26, I have already battled them for 20 years. To me, when I disclose my health issues to a potential mate or otherwise, it is the same thing as saying, “Just want you to know, in case I get stung by a bee, my epi-pen is in my backpack.”

That’s really all it should be, at least when starting to date someone. As you get to know each other, you get to know what is helpful and what isn’t for the other person. Isn’t that like any relationship?

young couple on romantic date
Photo source: Thinkstock Images

If I’m angry, don’t touch me. If I’m sad, leave me alone. If I’m crying, give me a hug. If I’m anxious, reiterate positive qualities about me. Everyone is different, and it takes time to know the details. It’s the same as knowing whether your partner likes mushrooms on pizza or not.

Relationships take work. Some people with mental illness are unwilling to work at themselves and their relationship. So are people without mental illness! The important thing is to not write off a potential relationship because of what your past experience with that person’s condition has been. Be willing to learn.

At the moment, I am single. I’m OK with that. When I do meet someone, I’d like them to recognize me, not my illnesses. I’d like them to ask questions! I’d much rather you ask than make things worse for me. I’d like a partner to treat me as an equal. Of course, we’ll be different, but just because I struggle doesn’t absolve me of responsibility in the relationship. When I’m not doing so hot, I’d like them to respect that it is a big deal I am still around, and to know when I need to speak with a professional. I’d like them to know it is never OK to feel bad about my need to reach out for help from an uninvolved person.

Most of all, I’d like this person to know I am more than capable of being a loving individual and life partner, and my mental illnesses, if anything, improve that ability.

The Mighty wants to read more about your experiences dating with a mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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I Experienced a Type of Depression I Didn’t Know Existed

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We’d talked about a third child. I missed – and deeply mourned – the lack of a tiny body snuggling into my shoulder or pacifiers crammed into the silverware tray in the dishwasher. I cuddled friends’ babies close, wishing those small beings were mine to love. But babyhood was behind me. I was working part-time, making some spending money and learning about book publishing. Neither my personal nor professional life could get any better.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing something. Actually, someone. Our third child. The one I wasn’t holding in my arms late at night while the rest of the family slept around us.

What I didn’t think about was how much harder a third pregnancy would be eight years after my first. I learned something important during those early weeks of that pregnancy — symptoms weren’t as awful as the fear of loss. Of child, of self, of sanity.

I was slowly losing all three. I also lost my connection to my husband and my children. I knew it and had no idea how to fix any of it. Each day, getting out of bed was harder. Some days I didn’t.

My oldest daughter sat next to me as I huddled in my bed, her eyes murky with fear. She asked if I was going to die.

“No,” I said automatically, shocked. The truth was, I’d never felt worse. I tried not to be nauseated or tired or dehydrated. But I couldn’t stop the encroaching fear that I was losing everyone I loved because I’d chosen to have another child.

I finally asked the right question — Not why I had so many symptoms, but why I couldn’t roll with them as I normally did. And then I found the answer: According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “between 14-23 percent of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.” Nearly one in four women struggle with depression during pregnancy.

I’d never heard of the condition, and I wondered… If I hadn’t heard of it, how many other women were suffering needlessly because they hadn’t heard of it either?

I wasn’t unhappy about having a baby. I was miserable because of the pregnancy. I saw this as a clear distinction no one else seemed able to grasp. After failing to explain my feelings once again, my husband, Chris, and I decided to see a licensed counselor.

Counseling wasn’t part of our budget — I mentioned we have two other active (read: expensive) kids, right? – but our need was overwhelming. We’d become strangers, managing to slink past one another, unable to make eye contact, to talk, to sleep next to each other, to breathe the same air.

We went to months of bimonthly visits, some resulting in nothing more than shredded tissues. Others brought about small breakthroughs. Chris realized he couldn’t will me to wellness. We both worried the intrinsic me would once again be stifled under the weight of infant needs and the ever-present mound of laundry.

Eventually, I labored those necessary, intense hours to bring our baby girl into the world. She was tiny. Her limbs were so thin, the newborn diaper gaped around the edges.

But our worst fears — the ones we’d struggled to articulate even in counseling, the reason we were in counseling — hadn’t been realized. Our daughter was healthy. She was barely 18 inches long. She barely weighed 6 pounds. She was perfect. She snuggled into me, burrowing close and offering the comfort I needed.

Chris picked up my free hand, both of us exhausted and euphoric. I stared at our fingers, reveling in this new connection we’d fought for. I reveled in the child we’d both struggled to birth through a depression I hadn’t realized existed.

And I realized, once again, I was blessed with an incredible partner. One who helped me find a path when all I saw were pitfalls.

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