When Mental Illness Is Hereditary
As a child I remember my mom constantly saying “my nerves are bad.” I didn’t know that “my nerves were bad,” along with the little pills she took — and her alcoholism — were personal attempts to alleviate the anxiety and depression she felt.
Back then it wasn’t talked about. Children were seen and not heard, and that was just how it was. It was very confusing as a child. I didn’t understand why my mom was not happy and why her “nerves were bad.”
I struggled with anxiety long before I even knew what anxiety was. I just felt different than everyone else. I did not know the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing were what my mom had also been experiencing. Anxiety takes on different forms and manifests in different ways, and mine didn’t look exactly like hers. She cried a lot and I didn’t. She seemed so sad and for the most part I loved life.
By the time I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I was already trying to find ways to cope. I sought help in many forms; counseling, life skills classes, psychiatry, doctors and self-help books, as well as writing journals and talking about it. I was doing all the things I had not seen my mother do, in hopes I would be able to ” get over this” and one day be free from the anxiety I felt.
As the years went on practicing and engaging in these strategies, my attempt to cure my anxiety has been relatively successful. There have been times where my anxiety is a mere faint existence and I can function with ease, and other times it has been debilitating, along with everything in between.
I learned to live and sometimes thrive with anxiety.
I thought because I was a living example of a good role model, and a different mother to my children than my mother was to me, my children would not go through what I have.
My daughter was 15 years old when I ripped apart her room in desperation to find out why my full of zest for life, spirited child was now depressed and crying all the time. I found bottles of Gravol and cough syrup which I learned that day were her ways of trying to deal with anxiety and depression. We spent the next three hours in the emergency room. The same psychiatrist my mother and I have seen was now seeing my daughter. I left that night with my daughter being admitted.
How was this happening? This was not how her life was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to feel and experience the things my mother and I had. I had made our lives different.
Where did I go wrong?
I went wrong by believing I had some super power over mental illness. I went wrong by believing being a great mom would prevent my children from having a mental illness. I went wrong by thinking I could love my children enough that mental illness wouldn’t “get them.”
I never wanted my children to feel what anxiety feels like, and although I tried to keep them from the struggles I had with it, I know there were times they knew and they witnessed my mental illness.
This didn’t make my daughter have a mental illness, too. It is not my fault. Sometimes I still have to repeat that to myself to make myself believe it.
I have three children. She is the only one who has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Although environmental factors can contribute to mental illness, genetics is something I understand to be a huge factor in our family along with the environment. I have since learned about the long history of mental illness on my mom’s side of the family.
We always want to know a reason. As if knowing the why and how will make it better somehow.
Whatever the reason my mom, myself and my daughter have been diagnosed with a mental illness, the fact remains, that this is an illness, and no one is to blame.