Trauma can affect how you feel about yourself and how you feel about others. You’ve heard me mention that my mother was abusive. The abuse was mostly emotional, verbal and many times physical. It was never sexual thank goodness. People who suffer sexual abuse are on another level of healing that is very difficult.
Unlike the movies, I do not walk around unhappy all the time. In fact, I am a pretty upbeat person. I have to admit when she died it was the greatest relief I have ever had. I lost 35 lbs and my therapy was more effective. Did I grieve? Of course – my mother died. But I was not sad. I felt I got a new lease in life.
After her passing, I had four wonderful years with my father before he succumbed to cancer in 2019. I am still grieving. I learned in Hospice counseling that grief is more of a circle than linear. So I go in and out of sadness, anger and hope. It is getting better every day and I am sure I will get a grip on my emotions before long. He was my hero, literally and figuratively so losing him was earth shattering.
I have been with my current therapist for nearly 15 years off an on. I don’t see him weekly unless there is something heavy going on in my life. Throughout those years he has helped me to revisit my childhood trauma so I could be a better person and a healthy mother to my two daughters.
When I became an adult and married and later learned my husband suffered from Bipolar 2 and ADHD, I went headfirst into research because I wanted to make sure that I understood his illness and I wanted to be the best partner I could be for him. I chose to stay married to him because I believe in the vow “for sickness or in health” even though I am an Atheist. I like to believe that I have been a very supportive wife.
One of the things we are exploring right now is the relationship of abuse and mental illness. When I was a child I only knew she was my mother and I SHOULD love her because that is what I had been taught. I thought the things she was doing to me was a direct effect of my being a bad girl or an ungrateful person. I did not realize she probably had a mental illness and suffered childhood trauma herself.
So as we opened some old scabs from my past, I asked him. Is it abuse if someone is mentally ill or has a disorder? The answer was a resounding yes. While abusive behavior and mental illness are two separate things, it is common for someone with a mood disorder or mental illness to show their abusive tendencies to the most intimate person in their lives. They will rarely show their negative or harmful behaviors with friends, co workers, strangers or other family members. Isn’t that totally messed up?
This is why mothers will be abusive to their children but appear to be warm and friendly with others. This is why husbands will verbally abuse their wives and then turn around and be absolutely polite to someone who comes to the door or calls them on the phone. Sounds crazy right? I know crazy is not an acceptable term. It is a type of psychosis though. Psychosis sounds so scary when you are not referring to PSYCHOS but it is a real term and we need to get more comfortable using it because it is exactly what is happening.
People suffering from Bipolar Disorder can and do experience psychosis. They can have hallucinations (not like the LSD ones in movies), delusion and paranoia. It is a bizarre experience for the sufferer and even more so for the spouse, family members or anyone witnessing it. What is even harder to grasp is that outside of mania or depressed mood swing there is absolutely no psychosis. So the person with the disorder will seem very normal most of the time. Since it is often the most intimate partner who sees the psychosis, it will seem that they are being dramatic or even telling lies if they confide in someone about what they have experienced.
This is scary stuff. The bipolar person will have cognitive impairment including memory problems. They forget appointments, have trouble remembering where things are, trip over their words, say things they do not mean, have trouble thinking in sequence. Sometimes they are convinced that a memory really happened when it didn’t. When challenged they can become very aggressive. In their defense, imagine how frustrating it is to so fully believe something happened that you have memories but there is no physical evidence. It mimics, to a point, schizophrenia. Still, it is not okay for them to lash out at the people who love them. We did not create the problem.
So if you love someone with a mental illness do you say that the abuse they dole out is okay? It isn’t. It is still wrong. You should never allow yourself to be abused. If someone you love is screaming at you, blaming you for things that you have not done or accuse you of doing things because they are paranoid the best thing you can do is to walk away. You have to separate yourself from the person experiencing psychosis. Hopefully it will be a mild episode and it will dissipate.
It is hard to have a family member/loved one with mental illness. It is not your job to heal them or make them better. That is up to them and their health providers. You can be loving and supportive but no matter what vows you took or promises you made, you do not have to stay in a relationship that is abusive. No one deserves to be abused – EVER.