The Android's Five Tips to Surviving Your Parent's Mental Illness

Growing up, I struggled a lot with the fact that my parents were so... different. This made me feel different and isolated, and it's a feeling that suck with me for a lot of my life. As an adult, I have learned some ways to better accept and understand them, and I hope these tips can help you too.

1. Mental Illness is Common. Very Common.

When I was a child, I thought I was the only kid that had a parent with mental illness. Now that I’m an adult, I understand it’s very common. My father has bipolar disorder, which means he has bouts of depression mixed with bouts of mania and with his version of the disease it comes with a light dusting of psychosis. Make that a heavy dusting. Okay, it’s more of a deluge if anything.

Bipolar disorder affects approximately one in a hundred Americans. Depression is even more common, and I feel like it’s under-diagnosed due to the stigma attached to mental illnesses. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness in a given year. If you know four other people, one of them likely deals with some sort of mental illness right now. And if none of the other four do, it’s probably you. And that’s okay. Because it’s common and not that unique.

You are not a unique snowflake, no matter what your mommy tells you!

If you were a snowflake, I would be worried.
Sentient slowflakes could lead to a frigid uprising
that I don't feel we are well prepared for...

2. Being Embarrassed by your Parents is not Unique

Everyone is embarrassed by their parents.


Yes, you may have a laundry list of all the cringey moments when your parents made you feel uncomfortable or weird in public, but guess what? Everyone gets this. One of my father’s symptoms is called hyper-religiosity, and when he’s in this state, he will talk about religion with anyone, especially about the inevitable and soon to arrive apocalypse.

“We’re all going to die!”

Yeah, you’re going to die, but the odds are that it will be from heart disease from jamming your face with cheeseburgers and soda, not from an apocalyptic demon riding a pale horse, reaping the world of every last living soul, damning the landscape to famine and pestilence for an eternity.

But you never know.

I think it’s about a fifty-fifty chance. That’s how statistics work, right?

You have to understand that every kid is embarrassed by their parents. Even John F. Kennedy’s children had this. “Oh, your dad says we’re going to fly to the moon on a rocket?” I’m sure the other kids said. “Does he really? Shut up! Your Dad’s a communist!” Kids can be assholes.

I felt embarrassed by my parents for a lot of my childhood, and it made me feel weird and isolated. The best way to get through it, in my opinion, is to learn to laugh about it. Comedy is cathartic, because it allows us to talk about difficult topics and allows us to accept them without shame. If you still insist, you can keep the shame. It’s up to you.

Gosh, Dad. Wearing plaid pants with a striped shirt?
Could you be more embarrassing?

3. Their Problems Do Not Define You

Because my parents suffered mental illness, I had a difficult childhood to say the least. My father never had stable work, we were very poor, food-stamp poor, and we moved often, many times because of evictions. I felt a lot of shame and isolation, and I have the emotional scars to show for it all. Woe is me, right?

I try not to blame my childhood for any of my behaviors as an adult. I’m not perfect at this, but I make my own decisions and I have to deal with the consequences. If I rob a bank, I can’t get out of it because my mother didn’t hug me enough, or daddy never showed up to my football games, or even because my father jumped out of dumpsters wearing a dress, scaring everyone in our neighborhood. If I rob a bank, I go to jail. Don’t rob a bank. It never turns out well, in my experience.

 You have to decide to not let your parents define you, both in all the ways they messed you up as a kid, or all the ways they continue to try to run your life as an adult.

“Just let me live my life! Gosh, Mom!”

Shutting it off entirely is never possible.
What makes you brilliant also sometimes
blinds you to the joys of life.
Maybe use a lampshade instead of unplugging entirely.

4. Having a Mental Illness Doesn’t Make you Evil

If someone has a cold, does that make them a bad person? If someone has a broken leg, does that mean they are in cahoots with the devil? If someone has hammer toe, does that mean they have hammers for toes, and how useful are they in a carpentry setting?

The answers to these questions are no, no, and I don’t know how to answer that, you weirdo. Hammer toe. I’m pretty sure that’s not a real thing.

Having a physical or mental disorder doesn’t mean you’re evil. People with mental illness have the capacity to be caring and compassionate people with the right support system. The cultural stigma against mental illness comes from an archaic viewpoint on the human brain. We used to believe that diseases like depression or schizophrenia were caused by demons that infested the souls of human beings. We didn’t understand human anatomy, so we made wild assumptions, came to a consensus as a species, and ran with it. For Millennia.

Today, we have libraries full of research on the human brain. We understand a lot. We don’t understand everything, but with the knowledge we do have, we’re much more capable of helping people function and live long and happy lives. Our treatments for mental illnesses used to involve exorcisms, rituals with lots of salt and garlic (god, I love Italian food), and burning witches at the stake.

We’ve come a long way. I haven’t attended a witch burning in months. That’s progress people.

Treating mental illness with therapy and medication is not just for heathens damned to an eternity in Hell, either. Many people in religious communities not only accept, but embrace modern treatments, because they work. The proof is in the pudding. I’m not sure why we keep proof in pudding, but I do like pudding, and I hope it’s chocolate.

Many therapists, doctors, scientists, and psychiatrists are themselves members of a religion, and they see the positive outcomes that can come from treatment. Most don't hold onto that stigma. There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between medicine and religion and anyone that tells you not to get treatment is not looking out for your interests, and they might even be exploiting you. You never know.

5. You are more likely to suffer from a mental illness

I'm not only crazy like a fox;
I'm crazy like a walrus, crazy like a chihuahua, and sometimes,
if the weather is right, crazy like a hamster.
Yeah, I'm hamster crazy. Deal with it.

If your parents deal with mental illness, you are more likely to as well.

Mental illness is hereditary. Whether the illness is passed down genetically, like depression, or socially, such as PTSD through trauma and abuse, if your parent has a mental disorder, it might be something you have to deal with yourself.

I personally deal with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and it sucks. But because I seek out treatment and support from my loved ones, I am able to function and I’m pretty happy most of the time. Really, I’m happy. I know I write a lot about depression and mental illness in my blog, but I've found that accepting the fact that I have depression allows me to still be happy despite it. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. Despite all my happiness, I will still always see life through the exhaustive lens of depression.

If you do have a mental illnesses, life will be harder, but your illness doesn’t have to define you. I have depression, and a physical disability, just like you might have a bad knee, or you might need glasses, or you might only be able to speak in backwards Yoda speak.

“Hmm. Speech therapy, I might need.” 

People don’t judge you based on what diagnosis you have. I take that back. Ignorant people do, but you don’t need to worry about them, because they're pieces of shit. If you're a kid, unfortunately you are in school and surrounded by other kids. Good luck with that. Most adults judge you based on how you treat them. Just like you want to be treated with love and respect, that’s all anyone else wants. Yes, having a mental diagnosis means you have behavioral issues that can affect your relationships, but there are medications and behavioral therapies that can help you learn to be not only stable, but an interesting individual.

I wanted to be normal as a child. Not gonna happen. My parents and my genetics made sure of that. And a lot of kids in a similar situation feel this way. Being different, or having parents that are different, means you get attention for it, and it's not always positive attention.

Here’s a secret: People that we consider “normal” are boring as Hell.

As an adult, I meet normal people all the time and... they’re boring. And that’s not a bad thing. Being boring can be very comfortable. But for us interesting folk, this gift comes as a blessing and a curse. Embrace what makes you unique, because the only other option is to be ashamed and hate yourself. That's no fun. Embrace the weird.

-The Android (Josh)