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The Nut Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree *

Looking back at genetics and mental illness in my family paints a harrowing picture. I don't think I would have chosen to have children if i would've understood the genetic legacy I was passing on to them. We never talked about mental illness in our family. When my father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my mother told us we were never to speak about it to anyone. It was treated like a shameful weakness of his, a family secret that must be protected at all costs.

IN part this may be due to them being a product of an earlier age when mental illness was poorly understood, but I think a large part was due to the way my mother handled life in general. Everything had to appear to be perfect, regardless of how it actually was. The same urge that made her hide my father's diagnosis (and refuse to seek any help for her own issues) is the same urge that made her remove me from school every time they suggested I might need testing. It's the same reason that I wasn't allowed to talk about being beaten with a belt, or that I'd seen my mother and father fight physically. It was the same reason that I was encouraged NOT to have friends over, that we did not throw parties, that we did not really have family friends.

This is what I know about mental illness and suspected mental illness in my family, as far back as I know of. Names omitted for privacy.

(Maternal Grandmother) - has been described to me as shy, had difficulty learning english. Quit school. Did not talk to many people outside her family. Easily manipulated by her sister. She was brilliant with crochet and knitting and cooking, could make anything wihtout a pattern. I highly suspect she was autistic.

(Maternal Grandfather) - I heard he drank a lot, but was that alcoholism? Unknown
(Maternal Great Aunt) - narcissistic personality disorder (undiagnosed)
(Mother) - narcissistic personality disorder (undaignosed), OCD (undiagnosed), phobias
(Mother's Brother) - alcoholism (at least one of her brothers)
(Mother's Cousin) - possible pedophile, anxiety, 'odd behaviors'

(Paternal Grandmother) - Not sure. She was described as loud, belligerent, and neglectful of her children. Mentally ill?
(Paternal Grandfather) - I know very little about him to be honest, other than he was divorced from my dad's mother.
(Father) - bipolar disorder, alcoholism
(Father's Older Sister) - molested my father, sexually promiscuous, described as 'wild' (mentally ill almost certainly - no idea with what though)
(Father's Younger Sister) - uncertain

(Myself) - autism, c-ptsd (environmental), depression
(My brother) - drug addiction, drinking (alcoholism?), depression
(My second brother) - none
(Niece)- schizophrenia

(My son)- drug addiction, bipolar, possible schitzoaffective disorder, depression, autism (suspected)
(My daughter) - drug addiction, OCD (undiagnosed), narcissistic personality disorder (undiagnosed)
(My daughter) - drug use (addiction?), anxiety, depression

My daughters have children of their own and as I have no contact with them, and they are quite young, it's impossible to tell what they have inherited. But the odds don't look good for them. This makes me feel very guilty some times, for my part in continuing genetics that should've died with me. They could have died with me. Yet they will continue on for gods knows how many generations, causing pain to those who have to live with the illnesses that are their genetic legacy and the circumstances of being raised by a mentally ill parent.

We cannot change the past, nor the present. I had kids. They have kids now. There is nothing that can be done about that.

But I can talk about mental illness, and refuse to sweep it under the family rug. I can leave these writings that future generations might find and know more about what genealogy won't tell them. It won't speak about the family history of breakdowns, suicide attempts, drug rehabilitations and all - those records will all be lost to time. We see our family tree and we like to imagine our ancestors as better versions of ourselves, as a romanticized past.

We never get the apology for their contribution to our genetic cocktail.

But here is mine.

Future generations, I'm sorry.

* the title comes from a saying my mother used way too often any time she felt I was 'acting crazy like my father', or my kids were 'acting crazy like me'


me with gloves
L(aura) Cushing

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