Mental Illness vs Mental Injury


There's an idea I've been mulling over for a while, and it's a question that I've recently asked my therapist:

What's the difference between someone who legitimately has a mental illness (like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) and someone who's struggling to come to terms with the impact that their childhood experiences had on them?

Because - to me at least - those are not the same things at all.

The way I see it:

Mental Illness is something that someone is born with. It's just there, it can't be cured, it needs to be managed.

But Mental Injury - the wounds of childhood - can be healed, can be 'cured' to a large extent. Yes the scars will always remain; the skin will never look the way it did before the trauma. But with proper care, the scars can largely fade.

Why am I asking this particular question?

Because I've struggled with mental health all my life. But the reason that this question was raised in my mind is because of something that my brother said.

We didn't speak for a while last year, and when we reconnected he made a comment to the effect that he thought I had "finally gone off the deep end" based on the content of my blog posts from that time. He felt that my view of the situations as I presented them was very skewed.

That comment was hurtful and we had a talk about it. I'm grateful for the break that we had from one another last year because somehow we grew into different people during that time. He's become more supportive and understanding than ever; I've learned how to let go, to allow more space in our relationship, and to express myself when something hurts me instead of pushing it down only to have it fester into poisonous resentment (and angry blog posts) later on. For all of this, I'm truly grateful.

My point though is that it's specifically my brother's comment that inspired my questions and this post. Since we've reconnected my brother has been supportive in telling me that he's behind me to do whatever I need to do to maintain my mental health, and I appreciate that.

But this is what had me ask the question of not only what I require for my mental health, but what are the things which directly cause my mental health to become unbalanced when it does.

We can only stay balanced if we understand the cause of the unbalancing, so what is the cause of my mental unbalancing?

My past. The things that happened to me, that were done to me as a child and young adult that I had no control over. 

Having those things be accepted within the bubble of my family, and feeling within myself that it wasn't right, seeing in the rest of the world that this is not how other children were treated - that this wasn't how my brother was treated - that's what caused such cognitive dissonance within me that it... I don't know... kind of blew up my brain.

And now I wanted to know if, as my brother had asked, I was going to go 'off the deep end' at some point.

(It's hard to feel as though one's family is sitting there waiting for not if but when one will lose one's mind.)

Was there going to be a when? I want to know that. I want to be able to potentially predict that so that I can prevent it.

Looking back at those blog posts, they were filled with so much anger and rage.

Rage can look unhinged to those witnessing it who don't understand the pain of the sufferer.

I debated whether or not I should take them down, since they no longer reflect who I am, and then decided against it. What I wrote then is a reflection of who I was and where I was at in my journey at that point. To remove those blog posts would be removing a part of myself; like trying to erase the less than tidy parts of my experience as a complex and feeling human on this planet. We could spend our whole lives doing that.

I'm not going to remove those posts, anymore than I will try to justify them; I will only say that it's an accurate reflection of the person I used to be. I'm not that person anymore and when I look back now, that Jasmin is just "somebody that I used to know."

Pain is a personal thing, and it shouldn't need to be justified. I'm tired of explaining myself, tired of justifying my anger around my fucked up childhood.

I know that it's there, and why and I'm not going to constantly revisit the fucked up things my parents did in general, but also to me specifically, in order to justify my anger.

Because the thing is, I'm tired of my anger. I'm ready to let it go.



I watched a documentary on Netflix recently called Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story.*


It hit a raw nerve because I saw myself reflected in the story.
"Where I come from, the arch enemy, the fiend, is the truth... The whole idea that someone does terrible things to you and expects you not to tell... They just expect it. That whole idea is astonishing. The worst crime is being expected not to tell... But your reality is not allowed to be seen, and to be known. That is the trauma."*
That's what ate me up inside. That's what's been eating me up my entire life. I've been trying to get everyone else to see what I saw in order to allow myself to feel justified in my anger - to validate my experience.

I think that's what we all want, isn't it? To be validated? When we tell people stories about our lives, our experiences, we feel good when they agree with us because that is validation.

Because I was never allowed to talk about the profoundly dysfunctional environment I was growing up in, and because it was accepted within the paradigm of my family, my anger grew into something unmanageable.
"If you cannot tell the truth, you need to lock that reality away. And that reality starts festering inside of you. And so anything that cannot be spoken becomes an internal danger to yourself."*
I internalized my anger my entire life. I lashed out at myself. How did I do that? I had an eating disorder for 27 years. I couldn't stand the emotional pain so I turned it into physical pain through my eating disorder, and then when my pain became too much, I tried to commit suicide on at least three separate occasions, although there were periods of my life when I thought about it constantly.
"For a while now I'd been feeling sort of like a cow might feel standing in line at the slaughterhouse. Just standing there patiently, every once in a while moving a little forward. Like I knew that my death was coming. I was just too tired to care."*
My upbringing had allowed me to believe that I did not deserve to take up space on this planet. My father made me feel like a waste of space, and my family allowed it to happen.

There's a part of me that died within the confines of that family dynamic, a part that I will never get back.

It is what it is.



In the documentary, they interview Darryl's psychiatrist, a world famous doctor by the name of - Nabil Kotbi.
"You are schizophrenic. You are bipolar. You are borderline personality, multiple personality. Well let's face it. You are a nut... I'm joking with you because you're not any of these things. You are this way, because of something that happened to you. You have a story that's not diagnosed."*
The running joke for a long time between my father and my brother was that I was crazy. It was so unbelievably cruel and unfeeling.

But what if I'm not and never was?

What if I was the sane one and they were crazy for creating and accepting that paradigm?

Who would I be and what would I have become if I hadn't grown up thinking I was broken?

And now what if all I needed to be ok was to tell my story?
"It's because you went to many doctors, and then you end up saying 'Wait a minute here. This is not working. These labels don't make sense to me.' And then you start from scratch."* 


I don't think I will ever know what it is about me that caused my father to direct the entirety of his violent anger towards me.

I was 23 the last time he hit me. I said something he didn't like at the dinner table and he jumped out of his chair and started beating me. I was cowering on the floor, covering my head with my arms, crying and whimpering like an animal.

My mother and brother watched. This was "normal" in our family, so it was accepted. It wasn't until it looked as though he wasn't going to stop of his own accord that my mother finally got up and literally had to pull my father off of me.

In those moments, "it felt like there was something inside of him that wanted to destroy me." (Trevor Noah, Born a Crime**)


He never hit my mother. He hit my brother only a few times, but it stopped very early on. But me, I got to experience that anger regularly.

That last time he hit me, I didn't see it coming. He hadn't hit me for years, and I told myself that that part of my life was over now, that my father would never hit me again.

And then he did.
"It was sporadic enough to where you’d think it wouldn’t happen again, but it was frequent enough that you never forgot it was possible. There was a rhythm to it. I remember one time, after one terrible incident, nobody spoke to him for over a month. No words, no eye contact, no conversations, nothing. We moved through the house as strangers, at different times. Complete silent treatment. Then one morning you’re in the kitchen and there’s a nod. “Hey.” “Hey.” Then a week later it’s “Did you see the thing on the news?” “Yeah.” Then the next week there’s a joke and a laugh. Slowly, slowly, life goes back to how it was. Six months, a year later, you do it all again."**
An incident happened at my parent's house last week. All the old fear came rushing back and I was terrified that my father might hit me again. Me now, at nearly 40.

He was angry and unhinged in that moment, and it made me realize that to this day, I still don't fully trust my father not to hurt me.

The man that was supposed to protect me the most in the world is the one who has hurt me the most.

It reminded me again of why I keep a cautious distance from all of them. The package of my family includes my father, and I cannot be around him because of the fear that will never go away.
"I couldn’t invest myself anymore, because it would have broken me into too many pieces."**
He broke me.

They watched.

I've built myself back up.

And now I will never allow anyone to break me again.



I've lived most of my life in a state of cognitive dissonance.

First about myself. I was convinced by the way that I was treated that I was worthless. But on the outside that's not what I look like to the world; they don't see my inner pain, only my outer appearance. And I still haven't reconciled those two things yet: the way I look to the world compared with the ugly mass of scars covering my inner being.

The second point is my feelings towards my father.  I've spent most of my life trying to decide whether I loved or hated my father and that has eaten me up.
"Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love. It’s a strange feeling. You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either hate them or love them, but that’s not how people are."**
It is a fine line between love and hate. And hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. In hate there is still feeling, but in indifference there isn't. I'm finally at a point where, when I think about my father - most of the time - I feel indifferent. My mother too, if I am honest.

You taught me how to live without you; you cannot now be upset that I do.

Both of my parents were physically present in my life.

But my father was emotionally absent always. He had his demons that kept him occupied, his own childhood traumas, and then the very real matter of going to work to put food on the table.

And my mother was emotionally absent more often than not. She also had her demons that kept her occupied, her own childhood traumas, and the very real matter of keeping our family together somehow.

Aside from their emotional absences, there was also an emotional immaturity that meant that neither of them was ever going to be able to meet my needs because they weren't even able to meet their own.

Because of that, I was raised to be independent and self-reliant. I'm very grateful for that in many ways, because I know that I will always be able to take care of myself.

But I also feel sadness. I don't know what it's like to lean into somebody, don't know what it's like to let go, don't know what it's like to believe that someone will really be there for me when it matters.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
When all is said and done, and in spite of everything that I've been through, I'm glad I'm still here, glad I'm still going, glad I was prevented from jumping off that balcony ledge.



I had a major breakthrough recently. I realized that the reason I had trouble being around my parents is that every time I went to their house, it was still as an angry child, hurt and waiting for an acknowledgement of wrongdoing; an apology that was just never going to come.

I would go there expecting something from them; expecting them to finally give me their approval and make me feel worthy.

And when I realized that, the solution became obvious to me: my child self had to stay at home. My adult self is the only one who had permission to go to my parent's house. My parents had hurt that child, but now as an adult, it was my responsibility to take care of that child, and to protect her, and that meant she had to stop visiting my parents.

When I made that connection, I did something to help create a separation in my mind: I took my favourite baby picture of myself and I put it on my bed between my teddy bears. I spoke to my child self and said "You're not coming to mom and dad's today, you're going to stay here. You're going to be safe here because Bear and Bunny will take care of you while I'm gone, and I will be back soon."


I left the little girl - the wounded, angry, fragile little girl - at home.

That day was the first time I consciously went to my parent's house as an adult.

It changed everything.

I used to go there bitter about the past and prepped for a fight. A child still looking for validation, demanding to be heard and acknowledged.

But I realized that I don't need them to acknowledge her anymore. I've acknowledged her. I take care of her, I parent her. As an adult, I don't need anything from them anymore. There are things I would like, but there's nothing that I need.

I've designed my life in such a way that no aspect of it relies on receiving anything from them. I live in my own home, I support myself emotionally and financially. I don't need, want, or expect anything from them: the lines are crystal clear.

The freedom in that is that if they do or say something I don't like, I don't need to justify myself, or explain myself, or scream, or cry, or react at all.

I can just get up and silently walk away, and allow my actions to say "I don't like that, this is not ok, and I will not accept it." 
If you're shouting, you're unsure of your right to your position. But calm is a power position.
- Chris Voss

We can only fight with someone who we want or expect something from. I don't want or expect anything from them anymore, including their approval. Why should we fight so hard to be seen by people who are determined not to see us?

A tug of war requires both parties to be pulling as hard as they can on their end of the rope. I let go of the rope because I don't want to play anymore.

I read a book about dating recently and it said something along the lines of  "Stop talking because words are often ineffective. Start by voting on people's behaviour towards you with your presence."

Treat me right? I'm there.

Treat me wrong? I'm gone.

There doesn't actually have to be any fighting or arguing or demanding. You know what all of that boils down to anyhow?

See me, hear me, acknowledge me, validate me.

That's what all the screaming and the rage is about; it's a convoluted way of asking for validation.

But when we validate ourselves, then the world can do whatever it wants.

It can do whatever it wants and we don't have to react to it. And it's such a relief to realize that we won't have to armour-up everyday for battle.

When we aren't treated right, we can choose to vote 'no' and silently walk away.




The worst kind of victim is the one that chooses to create another.

My father was a victim. So was my mother.

If you don't heal what hurt you, you will bleed on people who didn't cut you.

My father never healed from his fucked up past, and then he created a fucked up situation for me.

I have compassion for them. But I'm tired of letting them bleed all over me.



I don't suffer from mental illness. I suffer from mental injury. Thanks to a lifetime of work on myself through personal awareness and various tools, I'm healing.

I want to continue healing. I don't want to be angry anymore because frankly I'm tired of my anger.

I see my mother now still talking about the things her parents did to hurt her. She is 75. I'm nearly 40 and have spent most of my life allowing myself to be hurt and holding my wounds and my anger close to my heart.

But I'm tired of it. It's exhausting to carry around, and I just want to put it down already.

If our pain has never been spoken aloud, it needs to be. It needs to see the light of day and be acknowledged so that it doesn't eat us up inside.

But I've spoken it out loud ad nauseam and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of diving back into the pain.

I'm not that hurt little girl anymore. I'm a brilliant young woman who, God willing, still has a good 50-odd years of living to do. It's time to truly put the past behind me and step into my future.

I don't know what that looks like, but I know it's going to be good.
If you run after your destiny, you will automatically distance yourself from your history. If you run after what’s in front of you, you will escape what’s behind you. Don’t spend all your time trying to fix what’s behind you, because you’ll never be able to fix what’s behind you, you have to run after what’s in front of you.
- Reverend TD Jakes



When you're not counting on the world to give you anything, life becomes lighter because all things have less gravitas. You don't need anything or anyone to be anything in particular so you and the world have room to just be.

In the last handful of months, I've made a conscious choice to step out of the story of my childhood and who it taught me that I was and who it taught me that I had the potential to be.

Because I can be so much more than who I was led to believe I was based on how I was treated.
What I do, not how I feel about my past, is going to determine who I am in the future.

Trevor Moawad 



I had an interview about a month ago for a job that I really wanted. It's a job that I was excited about potentially doing, with a level of responsibility I haven't quite yet had but knew I could handle.

The night before the interview, I was so full of nervous anticipation that I had to ride it out on my spin bike. I ended up riding for 80 minutes, and clocked 31 kilometres before I finally felt ready to get off.

After the first hour or riding, something broke inside me, as I was thinking about that job. I started to cry, because I realized that regardless of what happened, good things were coming my way because I wasn't the same person who left Company X last year.

That version of me was still busy playing small. She was angry at her parents and seeking justice in the present for a past that could never be excused, let alone changed.

But I've been on a journey since last fall. I've recreated myself and I've recreated my life into something that is beautiful.

The reason I cried on my spin bike, and what I said in that moment - out loud - was that it was time to stop playing small. It was time to step into the fullness of my being to be my best and greatest self. It was ENOUGH now. Enough of not feeling good enough. Enough of feeling less than. Enough.

I didn't get the job, but it doesn't matter because here is my most important take-away from the process: I felt good enough to apply. And that lets me know that I'm a different person because although I have not changed, the way I see myself has changed and that is the most important thing of all.



Forgiveness.

Have I forgiven my father for what he did to me, considering that I understand his perspective?

I don't know if I have.

But most of the time I feel as though I've let go. And that's good enough.

At some point you just gotta get over it.


Trauma is usually about a victim trying to make amends for the perpetrator. The most important thing is forgiveness of yourself for having been as vulnerable, as scared, as angry, as frozen as you were. And forgiving yourself for all the ways you have tried to survive. So just take care of that. Just learn to forgive yourself for all the things you have done in order to survive. That's a big job.
- Bessel Van der Kolk

I spent so much of my life dealing with and healing from my trauma that I'm not where I would like to be.

I know if I had started from a different place, I would be further ahead...I would have accomplished more.

The good news is that my life isn't over yet.

I'm turning 40 this year and I can finally exist as a whole human apart from my trauma. Some people never get there. And me being there now means that I get to put it all behind me.

The scars will always be there. The pangs of sadness that come up when I see a father and daughter together - happy - those won't go away. But I am now better able to compartmentalize them so that I am able to accept the past for what it was in order to let it go.



People's biggest fear is being alone, and I'm not scared of that. I know that's a superpower.

But now I need to learn to lean into counting on people, to lean into allowing people to be there for me, to lean into knowing how to ask for help when I need it, allowing myself to be vulnerable with the right people.

I went too far in one direction, and it created a strong independent woman.

But I need to soften some of those hard edges to allow people to come in.



Mental Illness: Born with it. Caused by internal circumstances, i.e. chemical imbalances in the brain.

Mental Injury: Inflicted after birth. Caused by external circumstances such as abuse or neglect, whether physical, emotional, or both.

We're not crazy, we've just been hurt.

I don't believe that I was ever mentally ill - I was never 'crazy.'

I believe that I was mentally injured. Very, very badly.

I was telling somebody recently about some of the circumstances of my childhood and he laughed, and then immediately apologized.

"I'm sorry, it's not funny, it's just that it's so unbelievable that it almost actually is."

So crazy that it's kind of funny.

Sure. Let's go with that.



I don't know what your personal path to healing is, I can only tell you that it is possible to come out - not only fully intact - but entirely HAPPY, on the other side.

So here's to our healing: mine and yours.

May we shake off every bit of mud that the world has thrown on our wings so that we might fly to our greatest heights.

We deserve to be happy.





Comments

  1. Wow! Well said Jasmine! You have been doing your work ... it shows. I identify with some of the things you've said and have so much respect for your journey. Not quite 40...aand moving into your wisdom years already ❤❤❤

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Marsha! And I'm so glad that certain parts of this spoke to you. Big hugs.

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