single mom

Good Families

You’ve probably read Good Families Don’t by Robert Munsch.

This post really has very little to do with that book, outside of the line, Good families like ours don’t have farts. What would the neighbours say?

I remember my mom reading this Munsch classic to me as a child and then, several years later, to my brother. He thought it was hilarious, naturally: what little boy or girl isn’t sent into a fit of giggles over the word fart? I can’t remember if I found it hilarious at the time, but the line above speaks to me today.

The truth is this: Good families DO. Good families have all manner of “farts”, those little bits we don’t want the whole world to know. They have arguments, disagreements and full-blown fights. Pretty well every family has the weird aunt, uncle or cousin that they absolutely dread at holiday parties. Good families have bad things happen to them, they have a member or two who they don’t necessarily get along with.

Good families have mental illness and addiction, too.

I know mine does as sure as I’m sitting here. I’ve been diagnosed with mental illness. The ceiling didn’t just collapse, and the sky is still up there. Mental illness doesn’t make a family “bad” or make a person “crazy”, and yet we all avoid discussing it like it’s some form of contagion that’s going to tear apart our perfect little world. Can we get over that already?

I’m tired of the way my own depression has been swept under the rug. “It’s normal to feel down” or “You could never let things go” are the two comments I hear most often. Yes, it is normal to feel down. It is normal and healthy and only to be expected that you experience feelings of sadness, loneliness and anxiety from time to time. It is not normal when you can’t cope with them. It is unhealthy to bury them underneath everything else so you can get up and get moving every day. And, letting things go isn’t as easy as dropping a hot potato – sometimes, things eat away at you in spite of your best efforts to move on.

We’ve all seen that person standing in the “Self Help” aisle at Chapters, trying their best to be inconspicuous and feigning surprise at their being there should someone they know comes along and see them reading the inserts. There’s nothing wrong with self-help. But sometimes, self-help doesn’t help. I know that first hand. When I was overwhelmed with the negative feelings that came from the breakdown of my relationship, I didn’t cope. I got busy. I volunteered and exercised and tried to rebound. My irritable bowel syndrome became so unmanageable that I had to micromanage my diet. I went back to work and I buried myself in the responsibilities of managing a dining room. I threw myself into making friends, making a healthy lifestyle and putting on a brave face until it all came crumbling down around me, the facade of a happy person.

I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room, fearful that someone would recognize me. I sat shaking on the inside, tapping my foot and forcing myself to hold back the tears that were threatening to start up again at any moment. After spending 24 hours completely hysterical, I felt like the only thing keeping me from bursting was my skin. I sat in his office feeling out of control but worse than that, I felt embarrassed. I’m almost mad at myself for feeling embarrassed. I know better. I went to school to work with people who feel out of control. I pride myself on open-mindedness and my desire to help people. But there I was, eyes red and swollen from crying, feeling absolutely crazy. My family doctor walked in and hit the nail on the head within minutes. He’s been there – he survived divorce.

“You need someone to talk to. You need to work on your coping skills. You’re going to get through this, but it’s obvious you’re dealing with depression here.”

He was right and I felt instantaneous relief – someone understood, finally. Someone realized that I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, I wasn’t trying to dwell on the negative. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet with my therapist yet, but I’ve made progress already – I’ve found better coping skills. This blog itself is a coping mechanism. I’ve been able to pinpoint both the negative feelings and the cause of them. I love being a mom, but I also felt burdened. I had been tired, sad, angry and resentful because John was free to do as he wished and I was home raising our child. I have felt worthless and undeserving of happiness. I have felt things I don’t even understand – and that’s a part of my depression. Some days are really great and some days are really not, but I try every day to put on a brave face for Finley and my family.

Mental illness is more than feeling sad. Everyone with depression doesn’t sit around crying all day. Everyone who suffers from an anxiety disorder doesn’t sit behind drawn curtains biting their nails all day. Mental illness hits all over, regardless of age, wealth, occupation, race or gender. Mental health is important – it’s as important as your regular physical or pap smear. You shouldn’t feel dirty or ashamed if you feel like you need to reach out to someone. So don’t.

Be strong and stay positive.

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