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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Silence the Shame

"There’s something about being broken at various times in your life, that makes you a more complete person.”

- J. Iron Word

May was mental health awareness month. We do a great job acknowledging Breast Cancer and Heart Disease awareness, but we need to be more mindful of our mental health.

This is always a touchy subject because people don’t have the correct information on the topic. We have images in our mind of sanatoriums where people where handled roughly or subdued, but not treated. The practice has progressed since then and if the truth be told, many of our society’s ills can be attributed to untreated mental health.

Most of us are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when we are referring to a soldier’s return to civilian life and the tough adjustments this brings with it. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares and anxiety are just a few of the symptoms that sufferers experience. When I think about the trauma that some people have experienced in their childhood, there is little wonder why they are having issues…especially in environments where they don’t have the opportunity to talk about it.

My mother’s mother died when she was seven years old. Her father was distraught from losing his wife and overwhelmed with the task of raising two little girls. My maternal great grandmother was the main substitute in their life, but she always blamed my grandfather for her daughter's death. My grandmother died from tuberculosis. (My great grandmother had her own issues dealing with grief.) These are just two instances that impacted my mother’s life. These experiences shape you in a way that is not externally apparent.

After two divorces and four children, my mom suffered from bipolar disorder which means she would have typically 2 - 3 months of raucous living. She would drink straight vodka during this time. All of the TVs, faucets and radios were on at the same time. My sister and I would take turns staying up with her so the other one could sleep because she only slept for two hours at night. Once her body couldn’t endure any more of this, she would crash and be so depressed that she could barely lift her head off of the pillow. This low period would last about 18 - 24 months. She would stay in her unlit room, only leaving to go to the restroom and occasionally getting something from the kitchen. It was left to us to make sure she still had a pulse before leaving for school and in general running the household.

One time during the drinking periods, the police came and took her to the hospital. [This is something important to note. Mental illness doesn’t warrant an ambulance ride. You have to call the police to keep them from harming themselves.] They told us we could come get her the next day. We (her two teenage daughters) went to the hospital to see what our next steps were. We went to see her first and she was pleasant but aware that “there were crazy people” around her and she very much wanted to go home. We went to speak to the doctor and he gave us some choices: either leave her in the hospital where they could possibly treat her and then send her home, or we would take her home now. My sister and I were tired, unsure of what to do, and we faced the real threat of having no adult in our household which had the potential to trigger a whole slew of other circumstances. I thought it was best for her to stay, but my sister said no, let’s take her home, so that is what we did. It was a tough, but wise decision. Who knows how different our life would have been otherwise.

I have had many moments when I have felt overwhelmed and that reality was going to leave me. It is at these moments when I know my best option is to go to sleep. When my guys were little, I could go lay down and they would be quiet for an hour or two, long enough for me to get recharged. One day I heard my oldest tell his brothers “be quiet, you know mom is trying to rest”. I once knew a lady that participated in Alcoholics Anonymous. She would say “inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life gets hard.” I value that when I start to feel inundated.

I will end this post with a public service announcement: is a free group that offers help for people who are struggling with the daily grind. If you need it, try it. It is better to get the support you need than to feel isolated. All of us do from time to time.

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