I am my mother’s 5th and youngest child. My dad has sons from his previous marriage totalling me with a large 7 siblings. My dad grew up in a children’s home after my grandmother died of breast cancer. He has 3 sisters and 2 brothers. I never knew what it was like to have grandparents as they had all passed away before I was born in 1995. My mother’s sisters had a lot of children so I’ve never felt short of family.
From my dad’s side, depression and alcoholism has been a running theme. From my mum’s side, depression and heart disease runs through. My siblings have had diagnosed mental health issues, bouts of depression and anxiety to Schizophrenia. It is common knowledge that Bipolar Disorder is genetic, from my own guess I would pin that onto my dad’s side where some have suffered addiction, which sometimes points to Bipolar Disorder – but that’s just my guess. I’ve grown up being around people with mental health issues and I never really realised it, I guess nobody spoke about it openly and we just assumed it was ‘just one of those things’. It’s funny that in my family we can all review anti depressants together: ‘Oh no, that one – migraines!’ or ‘have you tried this one?’ are phrases I’ve heard. I used to think us all assuming it was ‘just one of those things’ was a bit ignorant to our suffering, but now I am grateful to realise that my family have been treating mental illness as an illness. There is no ‘that’s not real’ or ‘it doesn’t explain this’ – we all have compassion and understanding because it has ripped through my family through unlucky genetics.
Before I realised mental illness was genetic, when I was a teenager, I just assumed a lot of us felt sad because we weren’t afforded much opportunity in life. We all have so many interesting stories to tell, and trauma hits my family like no other. In my household, we grew up with no money. I didn’t know if I’d get to go on school trips because I couldn’t afford the bus fare, but my dad worked as a farm labourer and he always tried his best so I wouldn’t go without. I have a thousand unhappy stories that people can’t relate to, and my siblings do too. To say we were unfortunate is an understatement, but now I look at it all and I realise we are all so fortunate to have one another and to have such a large diverse group that we can actually relate to. There are often periods of times where we don’t talk much, I live alone with my dad and all my siblings have their own lives and children – but the power we have as a family is our ability to understand and relate because of our struggles.
I find things like families kissing each other or saying they love each other peculiar – because we don’t have it, it was never tradition for us to show love in that way. We don’t go for family meals, because it seems like a middle class privilege that will never apply to my family. The way families normally bond and love each other just doesn’t apply to mine, but it isn’t until now that I notice our family has such a different way of showing compassion and love and it’s more important than ever. We are all bonded by experience and we show our love by supporting one another through our challenging times.
I detail my family as wacky, peculiar and vast. My auntie died in October, and when we all got together: all you could feel was love. We drop each other messages with nothing but support, unconditional support. My family appreciates acceptance like no other and it’s bred into me that I am no better than anyone – and significantly, nobody is better than me just because I have an illness.
I have 6 nieces, 2 nephews and a great nephew. I think of myself in relation to: what kind of role model am I? They relate to me on a scale because I am the youngest auntie at the age of 21 (and, the coolest, not that I’m biased). I feel fear in admitting my illnesses and my struggles because I don’t want them to feel I’m not okay, but just today I discussed mental health and my sweet younger nieces, who are still at school, reached out with messages of encouragement. Those little girls have maturity beyond belief, and that acceptance, compassion and resilience bred through my family has definitely reached them too. I am so proud to see girls grow up and be so clever and wise beyond their years, so loving of everyone – a practice even adults struggle with.
So I sign off this post like this: consider talking to your family. My family are not wealthy, we lived in a horrible area, we had personal problems, social problems and health problems – but our struggles unite us and the ability to relate creates unconditional love and appreciation. Bipolar might run through my family, mental illness runs through my family – I would even say bad luck! However, courage, compassion and acceptance are our best genetic traits so now when I see my sweet nieces, innocent with no judgment, I know that we’re all going to be okay.
To my family: I love you all, unconditionally.