My mother is mentally ill. My 15-year-old cousin committed suicide. Many of my relatives struggle with depression, although few use the word.
By all accounts, I should be mentally ill, right? It’s inherited — or contagious — isn’t it?
For years, I subscribed to that thinking. I lived in fear that one day a chemically imbalanced sleeper cell would wake up and make me “crazy.”
In high school, I was terrified that my friends would stop hanging out with me if they discovered my mom had lost touch with reality. I didn’t tell anyone that she would fly into violent rages, pummeling me for stretching out the collars of my T-shirts so I could breathe easier, or that she would punish me by refusing me food.
Few knew that when I was 14 my big sister slipped out her bedroom window to escape my mother’s sickness and never came back. Or that two years later, my mom, a respected teacher, had spent the weekend in jail for stalking me after I ran away to live with my father, a man I hardly knew because they divorced when I was 3 months old. I figured my friends wouldn’t want the “crazy” to rub off on them.