The Longest River in the World

The people whose denial really hacks me off are generally related to me.

Somewhere on the West Coast, JS writes: You mention that some of your family members don’t acknowledge the extent of the “epically screwy” parents. Their response seems not that uncommon, but it’s hard to fathom. What is your take on why people seem unwilling/unable to face reality, or they seem to think that victims should just “get over it?” 

It’s called denial, JS.

When I am  feeling charitable—which is not often; I am not that nice a person—I focus on “unable” over “unwilling.” People use denial as a way to continue living in the face of an intolerable reality. The people whose denial really hacks me off are generally related to me. That, or the specific instances of their denial trigger in me a reaction that has more to do with the child I was than the adult I have become. I do my best to ascribe to them as much pain around their issues as I feel around mine. I pretend that individuals who want victims (and I will add: survivors) to get over it are not hopeless assholes. I make up that they are in the most denial, and therefore the most pain. So much, that I cannot expect them to acknowledge my pain. They don’t acknowledge their own.

If I can’t stay in “charitable” around them, I give them at least ten feet. When the Anglo-Saxon expletives threaten, I leave.

It is important for me to remember that everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. As long as someone is not physically or emotionally abusive, it is my job to be polite in public. (As I am responsible for small children, it is also my job to protect them from abuse until they can do so for themselves.)

If I cannot seem to let go of the fantasies where I drill this one in court or denounce that one on their deathbed, well, that’s a good time to open up a blank Word document. Job security!

How much do you worry about your genes?

“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.