It’s no secret that there is a stigma surrounding most anything mental health related. Often it’s something that families would rather just pretend doesn’t exist, or just sweep under the rug. It can be a struggle to admit that their own loved one or child suffers from Anxiety, Dissociation, Depression, OCD, PTSD, DID, or any other mental illness.
As a blogger, survivor, and advocate, I take it upon myself to do as much as I can to help erase that stigma, and I take it seriously because I know first hand what it feels like to live with some of these mental health illnesses.
One thing that I find interesting is, and happened to be a topic of a recent conversation with a colleague; why isn’t there such apprehension surrounding something like Alzheimer’s disease?
Is it because the vast majority of those who live with Alzheimer’s are over 65 years old, and there is a certain amount of respect that is always extended to the elderly? Maybe it’s because this disease gets more main stream press and publicity from the media, drug companies, advocates, and other avenues?
As of 2016, according to ALZ.org:
- Of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 5.2 million people are age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer’s).
- One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease.
- By mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
I am absolutely not diminishing the importance of research and help for all who live with this terrible disease, I mean after all my dad has it, and it’s heart breaking. I’ve witnessed first hand the decline in recent years, of his ability to function on his own.
Let’s look at some statistics for other mental illnesses, just as a comparison: From ADAA.org
- Anxiety – Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
- OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – 2.2 million, 1.0% of the US population
- PTSD – 7.7 million, 3.5% of the US population
- Major Depressive Disorder – Affects more than 15 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
That’s only listing a handful of conditions, but you can see just by those stats alone that any type of Mental Health illness affects a staggering number of people in just the United States alone. The numbers worldwide are in the hundreds of millions dating back to a study in 2001, 16 years ago as of now.
So what’s it like being a trauma survivor and living with the reality that parent whom you respect, admire, and have fond memories of as a child, is struggling just to even remotely function on a daily basis and remember who you are? For me, it feels a lot like abandonment.
Now, you might be saying, “but your dad isn’t purposefully abandoning you”..and yes, you would be right. He’s certainly not doing this intentionally, however as a survivor, those feelings can just naturally come to the surface; they certainly do for me. Perhaps they do for you too, even if you’ve never considered the possibility. If they do, I’m here to validate you 100%.
As a survivor, being abandoned by those that we trusted is an all too common occurrence. Either physically or emotionally, you were left alone to flounder without the support of those who you trust and those who were supposed to take care of you. Your innocence was taken from you, you weren’t protected, and especially as a child this is unbelievably traumatizing and leaves lasting impression on your emotional well-being.
Those feelings of being lonely and left to our own vices was hard enough then, and as you likely know, those same feelings can come back years, decades later when you least expect it.
Whether the parent or loved one was your abuser or not, the feelings of abandonment are all too real. There’s an attachment that forms with those whom you are close too as a child, and when you’re older even though you’re long since removed from the trauma, and even if you’ve comes to grips with your past and you are working through your healing, the old stuff can still come back.
In my case, my dad was not the person who sexually abused me between the ages of 5-10 years old (that was done at the hands of a kid up the street). My dad and I were always close, people used to call us “big chief and little chief”, since he was a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy.
I have fond memories of my dad, which I could go on and on about, but suffice it to say that the problems surrounding my mother and the narcissistic abuse never found their way into his life. (Yes I know you can make the case of him allowing it or being an enabler, but that’s not the point of this post…and believe me I’ve looked long and hard at that case).
I choose to remember my dad for all of the amazing things that he’s done for me and the way that he was always
in my corner, even when my mother disagreed. I choose to remember his support and encouragement, and unwavering stability in the face of stress and trying times in my life. His kindness and generosity knew no bounds, and he was a friend to all regardless of who you were or where you came from.
For the last year and half, his Alzheimer’s has been getting progressively worse; and especially in the last several months to where he can now no longer function on his own at all. This has led to the tough, painful decision to place him in a an assisted living and memory care facility.
A decision that wasn’t made lightly, and one that I struggle with regularly. Even though this home is close to where he lives and is top-notch in every way, it’s not easy to place a loved one in a home. If you ever gone through this, you likely know the internal struggles that come with this whole situation.
Again, as a survivor, it’s a feeling of being let down by someone whom you have trusted and cared about your life, because they are no longer there in the capacity they always were. Those abandoned feelings also come with feelings of guilt.
- Is this the right decision?
- Dad isn’t doing this on purpose, so the guilt of feeling abandoned knowing that it isn’t his fault is very traumatic.
- Why am I feeling this way, he can’t help it.
- Beating myself up is an all too easy solution, but as a survivor and thriver, I know it’s not healthy.
There’s a tremendous amount of conflict in all of this, so it’s important to give myself (and yourself) permission to feel all of these feelings and not stuff them away and avoid them. That doesn’t solve anything, and avoiding feelings only makes them come back stronger down the road. Sit with the feelings of sadness, loneliness, and abandonment for a time and allow yourself to grieve. By doing so, we gives ourselves permission to let it all out and come to grips with the circumstances in our own, validating way.
Then, with the support of those who are safe, and a lot ( I mean A LOT of self-care), we can be kind to ourselves and start moving forward slowly but surely. While it may never be easy, it will get easier in time.
I’ve done a lot of healing over the last few years, and the knowledge that I’ve come a long way is comforting even in the midst of these uncertain times with dad. So I’m choosing to hold on to what I’ve learned and to hold on to the good memories of all the times we’ve had, for as long as I can.
Tomorrow morning, he will join this care facility, and how I will process those feelings then, remains to be seen. I know this though, there is no easy, right answer in all of this. All I can do is know that I’ve done my part to make him feel loved and cared for and appreciated…and moving forward, take as good a care of myself as I possibly can.
This is uncharted waters for me and for the rest of the people in my family, and each is processing it in their own way. Most of the family is swallowed up in a sea of guilt right now, while others are just trying to numb or avoid the feelings altogether. I lay no judgement at anyone’s feet in how they process this, but for me, it’s all about knowing how much dad has meant to countless people in this world, and to me. I’m choosing to hold on to that.
This will test the very fiber of my recovery journey and the skills that I’ve worked so hard to add to my toolbox. Having these skills helps me embrace hope, and for survivors, Hope is the foundation of healing.
Proud U.S. Navy Son