Let’s face it, there is really no such thing as a “normal” and “functioning” family.
Who gets to decide what normal is anyways?
I used to think that because I didn’t have my dad regularly growing up like other kids in school or that all of my siblings lived far away or that I wasn’t super close with my extended family, that this made me “abnormal.” That I wasn’t like everyone else.
But then I started to talk to other people about what their “normal” looked like.
And it was a beautiful mish-mash of family dynamics.
Two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, all the siblings, no siblings, military families that moved a lot, others that stayed stationary for ever. There was no reason that any of their families was more or less filled with love to create their own perfect family than my very own.
But no matter what my family looks like or what anyone else’s family looks like, there is one particular element I had, and still have, a hard time thinking about as I believe it is the case for many other people.
Talking to My Family About My Mental Health
Sure, I’ve shared stories with my mom or dad about days that I feel sad or I’ve talked to my sisters about the annoyances of life or shared victories and milestones with my brother. But actually discussing MY mental health was completely different.
Mental illness runs in my family, that’s just the real honest truth. I’ve had conversations with members of both my immediate and extended family about their own personal issues, but never about my own. It was that concept of transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability that I was afraid of.
When I finally shared my story on my blog about having an eating disorder, I knew what that meant. That meant not just my friends or acquaintances would know, it would mean that my entire family would know.
The women in my immediate family knew about a year or so prior. I confided in one of them, and the news spread amongst them as it usually does when something major happens. It’s something that used to make me roll my eyes, but now honestly I treasure that aspect because I know it’s because we love each other so much and want to help one another just as much. We love each other, regardless of miles or time between us. We’re the Dow girls through and through despite what that true image looks like today.
But there was also the element of the men in my family. They would finally know, too. Would they understand since there is a stigma of eating disorders that differentiates between men and women?
What about my extended family? What would they think? I couldn’t stop fearing the questions, judgement, eye rolls, or whispers behind my back I only assumed would have happened.
But I was wrong, so unbelievably wrong.
The most common response I received was, “Wait, you have depression AND an eating disorder? I had no idea, you’ve always seemed so happy!”
This sentiment didn’t discourage me though, no matter how many people I heard it from. Far from it. If anything, it saddened me to know that I had hidden a HUGE part of myself from the people I love dearly for so long. I played pretend, and that was all they knew for years. That’s not on them if they don’t understand, so it’s my turn to start educating the best that I can.
I’m currently visiting my family in New Hampshire and finally got a chance to have different conversations with my sister about my mental health in person. We talk about it over the phone, but in the flesh is different. Like standing on stage for everyone to see and hear you (yes, I do indeed have stage fright and a fear of public speaking).
I’ve always been able to talk to her about everything, and having these conversations has been really wonderful, slightly challenging for me personally, but in a great way.
She genuinely wants to know, understand, and learn how I view certain things. She sympathizes with me and wants to be a huge supporter in my success without providing any sense of judgement. She loves me, just like I know every member of my family does, even if we don’t say it all the time or see each other often.
It feels like I’m removing another layer, another mask, another excuse to hide behind. I’ve given myself permission, once again, to share and be open with the ones I love.
Now I talk about my relationship with food and how it’s changed over time.
Now I talk about my depression and what that means for my day to day life.
Now I share articles or podcasts of things that I do to educate whenever I can. This way, hopefully, I can give the people I love and cherish in my life a better understanding of who I am as a person.
Only because I know they want to, not because they have to.
I love my family, no matter the time or distance that may come between. I love each and every one of them, and I know that they love me, even with every hardship I’ve had to overcome.