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Mental Health Awareness Month

So May is Mental Health Awareness month. May has been observed as such since 1949 and was started by the Mental Health America Organization. I've gone back and forth on addressing this topic, which is quite personal to me and thus decided on the two days before the month's end to go ahead and relay my personal story in dealing with someone who was once very close to me and who suffered from mental illness. I'm sharing this in the hope that someone reading this recognizes any of it as being a piece in their life that they might be comforted, seek help or have some kind of positive result from it. I have shared some of this story almost a decade ago and to this day I receive a few e-mails each year from someone who themself is afflicted with deep depression and having suicidal thoughts, or from someone who has suffered a loss due to suicide. To find that original article, you can check it out here https://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/a-fathers-suicide/

I'm not certain where to begin here, so I'll just dive in. I met the father of my sons when I was sixteen. We went to college together and got married at twenty-two. Our first son was born soon after. Our second son was born two years later. They are both amazing, wonderful, intelligent, kind men today (I'm grateful to be their mom). Their dad (Mike) and I divorced when I was twenty-seven. We remained friends through the years until his death and if I'm honest now, we did so because even after our divorce I always felt fairly intimidated by Mike. I knew even as a teenaged girl that he wasn't always nice. In fact, he could be very cruel. However, he also had a funny and decent side. I can remember being a junior in high school and every lunch hour, Mike would go and sit with a kid who was handicapped and in a wheel chair. He and that boy would laugh all through lunch. This endeared me to him. He also loved our boys very much and played with them a lot as little kids. He hugged them a lot, took them to every movie under the sun and played video games with them. He was intelligent and he could also be very funny. However, he had a dark side.

As a young wife and mom, I never knew who I was going to encounter each day. Jeckyll or Hyde? That is an unnerving feeling. Was he going to be the nice, happy guy...or was he going to be angry, sad, distracted? I won't go into specifics but it wasn't an easy relationship. There was verbal, emotional and I can admit it now...there was even some occasional physical abuse. I know people who know me now would never believe I'd tolerate that but I did. Why did I do that? I'm not completely certain as to why other than I really had very low self esteem. I fell into victim mode easily and I lived there for years until I found the strength to say...enough. When I said, "ENOUGH!" it was loud, clear and finding my voice no matter the consequence was worth it.

I want to go back though a bit and discuss that Mike was not really a bad guy. That is not to ever excuse an abuser. If anyone reading this is an abusive situation be it with a spouse, partner, friend, parent...I beg you to reach out and get help, because here is the deal...mental disease begets mental disease. Trust me, if you live with craziness, you will begin to feel crazy at certain points.

I've done enough research and counseling to understand the differences between a narcissist, sociopath, psychopath and someone who is suffering mental illness. I also know what it means to be gas lighted by someone close to me and when dealing with that, you are typically dealing with a narcissist. They are the people who are very good at making you feel as if everything is your fault and they've done nothing wrong in the relationship...and then, you do actually question yourself. It takes on a kind of chaos of a different form. They are manipulative and undermining with a particular goal in mind without a true concern for others. However, that is an entirely other topic. Mike was not a narcissist. He was truly mentally ill. It doesn't excuse the abuse but it has helped me make sense of it.

Once out of the marriage, as I mentioned, we remained friends. We had grown up together. We co parented and he seemed to get help and get better. There was a time that he called me and asked me to forgive him. I told him that I'd forgiven long ago. I'd learned that holding anger, resentment, sadness did no good for my children, myself or for him. It was not easy but it lightened my world and I think in turn at some level it lightened his. Yet, he chose to take his life September 10, 2010. The after math of his suicide was the most horrific experience I've ever endured due to the impact it had on my sons who really loved their dad because as I've written...there was never a doubt that Mike loved his sons.

Looking back now... educating myself on mental health, years of counseling, I have come to realize that I was dealing with someone who was suffering deeply inside. I could never have healed him. However, maybe counseling, maybe meds, maybe something could have. I'll never know. What I do know is that for anyone who wonders who they might encounter each day (Jeckyll or Hyde) know that their illness doesn't excuse them from abuse. Know that some of those people are simply abusive, sadistic assholes and run! For some, they need real help and if they can get it...there is hope. But know that if you or someone you know is in a similar situation that mental illness causes chaos and heartache in so many varying degrees. Sometimes it can be turned around and sometimes it can't. Just know...that no one on either side of mental illness should be suffering. There are so many good people in the world with the tools to help. I wish now that I'd really opened up and talked to someone back then. I wish I'd not stayed a victim for so long. I wish that Mike would've sought help. And, then there is the other side of the coin in that...my sons for all they have been through are strong. They are courageous in ways that many aren't. For myself, I am stronger. I think I'm kinder. I think I recognize pain and can have empathy in ways I never had before. I won't go out there and say that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes we have to look deep to find meaning to the tragic things that occur in our lives. Sometimes discovering those meanings helps us grow and hopefully in turn prevent others from any suffering of the same ilk.


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