Let’s Start… Before the Beginning

I know that sounds odd that I am starting before the beginning, but family medical history is important!  I never realized how important until I was a mother with children suffering from mental illness.  So let’s stress this right now!  Find out your family’s medical history and include mental illnesses!  Even if you have been told that Auntie Jane was a Nervous Nellie.  It can mean something.

I’m going to start with my father’s family.  A lot of this has been patched together by family stories and genealogy research.  He did not have a perfect upbringing, but it wasn’t abusive to our knowledge.  What I do know is that my grandfather was raised by a single mother (his dad died when he was about 7) who had been a “lady of the evening” to support her family.  (Talk about a shocker find in the family tree!)  She had been married 3 times, had 4 children and one of them was a product of her profession.  Her older two children eventually left her custody and were raised by their paternal grandparents.  I can only imagine the lifestyle my grandfather had growing up.  My grandmother’s family seemed like any other in book.  The only hint of mental illness that I can track down is that my grandmother was prescribed phenobarbital in the 1950’s.   I am not even sure why it was prescribed, but I know that now it is only prescribed for people with epilepsy.

My father was diagnosed with depression in the 1960’s after he married my mom.  Mom said he came close to a nervous breakdown.  I do not know the complete history of the medications he took, but he did take Valium and it made him sick.  Over time, he found ways of dealing with his depression through therapy, a good woman (my mom) and the guidance of Jesus Christ.  He spoke often of how that trio was the reason he was the man he was.  He eventually was given Effexor XR for depression and it worked very well and his quality of life became so much better!  Unfortunately, his sister’s were not as lucky.  One sister was very mean and bitter.  She lived her life with a sense of entitlement and every encounter was about what was in it for her.  Long story short, her behavior created children with mental illnesses that have had long-lasting effects.  The other sister was always referred to as “simple”.  I believe that my aunt was most likely on the autism spectrum disorder.  Among the 1st cousins, and there are just over a dozen of us, we have depression, anxiety, anger issues, drug abuse, sexual abuse and alcohol abuse.  I contribute the substance abuse to self medicating.  Only a few of us have not mental illness or were smart enough to seek help.

As for my mom’s family, I never thought anyone had any mental illness, but I was wrong.  My mom’s aunt always seemed nervous and an uncle committed suicide.  And now, we believe that they both may have suffered from a bipolar disorder (either bipolar or bipolar depression).  A cousin of mom’s, it is believed, had a bipolar or bipolar depression.  And I do know that a second cousin of mine, from the same branch of the tree does have bipolar disorder.  Since bipolar disorders are a complex genetic disorder, it is so important to know if it is in your family.  Knowing this changed how we treated my daughter’s illness.

And then there is me… I’ll say I’m the beginning.  I was diagnosed with depression after the birth of my 2nd child.  When what they thought was postpartum depression did not go away after 4 months, I was sent to a psychiatrist.  It was the best thing that I ever did.  After 3 months and many medications, I opted to stop breastfeeding my son so that I could be the best mom I could be.  Happy, bottle-feeding mom trumped depressed, breast-feeding mom.  I needed to stop breast feeding so that I could take Effexor XR – the same medication my father was taking.  Once we got the dosage correct, I was amazed at the new world that I found.  And looking back, I should have been diagnosed in my teens, but I will share my journey as we move forward.

As life has moved forward, I now have a 15-year-old daughter that has been diagnosed with ADHD, Bipolar Depression, and General Anxiety Disorder, a 12-year-old son with Type 1 Diabetes, ADHD, Depression and General Anxiety Disorder, a 10-year-old daughter who has not diagnoses, and finally a 7-year-old daughter with a speech impediment.

Raising a family like this has it’s good and bad moments.  I hope this helps someone.


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