We all know both genetics and environment play an important part in who we are and what we become. It is not the complete story, of course, but important enough to give us the life tools that we eventually use to live up to our potential or, on the other hand, sabotage, or destroy it.
Genetics we can’t control, not just yet anyway, and the reality is that we and our children have no control over our environment until we are either old enough, or strong, or smart enough to make independent choices to remove ourselves from any negative situation that life has caught us in, or that others in our bag of marbles have created. Even if we lived alone on an island, our environment matters because our mental and physical survival depends on our outlook. Survivor or Victim.
If someone would have given me a book while raising my children and said, “This is how you do it.”, it wouldn’t have mattered. The reality of the adage,”It does take a village”, is so true. But if there is a dysfunctional human force within that unit, the environment becomes polluted and all goes awry.
My children and I were caught in just such a vortex, not of our own doing. As those of you who are familiar with our story, my late husband was diagnosed in his late forties with acute paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, my children and I were caught in his distorted mental web, resulting in extreme dysfunction within our “family village.”
At the time, my mind was always in the torturing present and I had no thought about what it was doing to my children who were innocent bystanders to the chaos. I have often wished I had done things differently, but, unfortunately, I had not the skills to handle what was being thrown at me. Just the genetic strength and faith to get us through it all. I know now, that without that, I could have easily crumbled.
All of this has been on my mind this past year, because the older I get I seem to think of my children a lot, feeling so blessed that they have walked through the fire whole and are giving back to others in a good way. They are great parents, have strong moral values and healthy work ethics. I do feel grateful, because, under the circumstances, it could have gone another way.
This blog post has come about because I have been thinking lately of all of the terrible acts of violence by young people in this country with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness. Schizophrenia shows up in brilliant, achieving youngsters in their late teens or early twenties. Unfortunately, they can go under the radar until it is too late for them to silence the demons in their heads.
If this country can do anything to stop the violence that is happening too often, it is education about and treatment of mental illness. Let us erase the stigma. It is not guns in the hands of responsible citizens, but the mentally ill people who have access to them. The first thing the police did when my husband’s mental illness was diagnosed, was to remove his hunting rifles from our home.
Let us parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, religious leaders and grandparents in our “villages” be educated and aware of mental illness and the reality that, truly, mental illness knows no social level.
Putting our heads in the sand concerning mental illness, and not recognizing that in this country it is a growing threat to our way of life, is inexcusable. With the stresses all around us, it is not going to get any better any time soon unless we act.
Please check out my charity of choice: THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR RESEARCH ORGANIZATION.