“Ms. SassyPants” writes: How much do you worry about genes? How do you allocate worries on the nature/nurture scale? I loved your essay in Literary Mama. I spent all of my twenties agonizing, determined never to have children because of my screwed up genes. (My mother has a severe case of bipolar disorder.) After finally getting over the “When is the mental illness train going to hit me,” and finally deciding to try to have biological children, I now live in “When is it going to hit my children?”
Boy, “Ms. SassyPants,” I have to thank you (in your sassy fashion): after the emotional triumph chronicled in Girl Feelings, I now have a whole new area to neurose over.
I don’t want to be too flip, MSP. I know what it means to fear for my children, and I have good news: your question made me aware that I am not worried about my children’s mental health. And despite the fact that I now could, I will opt not to.
Every parent’s parent died of something. Every child is vulnerable to that which they are and are not. If the are-and-are-not includes, say, diabetes, as a parent, I introduce behavioral offsets: healthy diet, regular exercise. Okay, so your mother had Bipolar Disorder and mine, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The raw data is somewhat more terrifying, but why treat the possibility of a mental illness any differently than a physical? Now that you have brought it to my attention, Ms. SassyPants, I can let myself feel a certain amount of sadness for my children if I imagine them brought as low by depression as I have been.
OK, so that’s the first thought, the one I have no control over. The second thought has to be: how are they doing today?
Moving on! I go about managing my depression. No alcohol or street drugs. Period. With a genetic propensity to depression, alcohol and drugs have no place in my life. Drugs I can, in fact, must take are prescribed and monitored by a trusted and licensed doctor. Sugar ain’t a bad thing to reduce, without tipping into obsession. Eight consecutive hours of sleep, hopefully starting at 10:30PM. Regular exercise. Play time. Steady and enjoyable work. Love and be loved.
And let them live their lives, knowing I am always there, whatever the circumstances.
Thanks for saying you loved my essay. That means a lot to me.