I am mentally ill.
My mental illness takes the form of severe depression mixed with PTSD.
My depression is partly due to heredity and partly due to environment. It’s the nature of the thing that it’s sometimes hard to draw a fine line between the two.
My maternal grandmother was institutionalized in Florida off and on for much of her life; she died when I was five and I have literally no recollection of ever having met her. From what I understand, mostly she had severe depression — I’ve never gotten a detailed writeup confirming whether she also had schizophrenic tendencies, bipolar, or anything else. People agree about the depression, though. In any event, as I said, I can’t recall having met her, but genes are genes.
On the other side of my family tree, my father had severe depression that went undiagnosed and untreated; every year on his birthday and on Father’s Day he’d get his nose out of joint because we didn’t pay him enough respect and attention and he’d go climb into bed in the middle of the day and either sulk or mope, depending on your interpretation of things. He rarely interacted with others socially; generally, he’d come home, eat dinner, and then sit in a chair and read all evening. God help us if we bothered him.
He was a very emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive man who seemed pathologically afraid of giving any of his children a compliment and for whom the ultimate accusation was “You did that to get attention!” If I asked a question at a science museum, I could count on being cursed once out of earshot of the docent for “having tried to get attention”. If I got all wound up and hyper during a third grade play, you bet Dad spent the whole trip home reading me the riot act for “just doing that to get attention”. I spent my high school years going hungry when the family went out to dinner because, regardless of what I ordered, Dad would snarl that I was just ordering it to be stupid, to show off, to get attention. Finally I just stopped ordering and sat there hungry while others ate.
As for the physical part of the abuse — well, I’ll spare you the details, but I got kicked, beaten, thrown around, and more, just basically for doing the kind of things that kids routinely do. I tended to stay in my room and pray that when I heard his footsteps coming down the hall they wouldn’t stop in front of my door. I spent quite a few high school nights running a few miles from our house in the woods outside Blacksburg to a friend’s house three miles away. That is, until I finally drew a knife on him in self defense; he went absolutely ballistic, called the police, and wanted them to put me under the jail; how dare I raise a hand to him? (They talked him down; apparently they realized at a glance what they were dealing with.)
I mention all this, not because a strange whimsy seized hold of me and said “tell the whole world about your abusive father, now that he’s been dead for a year and can’t rebut” but rather because it might help explain why I am the way I am.
I have PTSD-style reactions to anger and violence. I want to go crawl into a hole and pull it in after me, especially if the person yelling is a family member.
As for depression — I have mad self-loathing skillz.
I look at everything I do from a standpoint of “oh, God, I just did that to get attention, didn’t I?” What makes that especially bad is that I’m naturally silly and extroverted, but every time I say or do something silly in front of others, I then spend a healthy chunk of time feeling hideously embarrassed, certain that they must have thought “what a pathetic loser.”
I post things to Facebook, and then, a day or so later, tiptoe back onto the site and delete them. There’s a voice inside me so full of loathing: “you just want attention, that’s why you shared that, isn’t it?” Take a look at my Facebook profile, if you like. That’s not the result of one day’s mad deleting; nothing, really, stays on my page for very long before, cringing, I sneak back in and take it down. I assume that anyone who did see whatever it was that I shared probably had the same reaction: “how pathetic.”
There’s a part of me that likes to occasionally send strange, out-of-the-blue gifts to
friendsacquaintances (note: I am terrified of calling someone my friend only to have them quickly and firmly correct me) just because I like to imagine their reaction when they open the package and find, oh, a “Unicorns Are Jerks” coloring book. But then, there’s the other part of me that knows, perfectly well, why I do it: I want attention.
I was raised from birth to believe that attention-seeking is an absolutely shameful thing, and yet, like any sane human, I want attention. I am sickened and revolted by the things I do to try to get attention, even if to another person they might seem perfectly ordinary.
I work as a technical trainer for a large corporation. I spend a huge percentage of my time speaking to and working with medium to large groups of people on complicated and convoluted software and system issues relating to the hospital and physician financial flow. I’m apparently somewhat good at it. But for some broken reason, I gain very little self esteem from being good at my job. Perhaps it’s because my brain is just mis-wired. Perhaps it’s my father’s voice in the back of my mind, reminding me that enjoying attention, deserved or otherwise, is disgusting, and pathetic, and contemptible.
Either way, though — I’m sorry. I’m sorry for those of you who have to put up with my dysfunction and my self-flagellation and everything that goes along with them. I don’t know which is more annoying: pathetic attention-seeking followed by pathetic attention-seeking, or pathetic attention seeking followed by public self-loathing. But either way, in case you were wondering: yes, I know I’m incredibly annoying. I wish I’d go away too.