Mental Illness is a Magnifying Glass

I’ve been an unwilling witness to various forms of mental illness all my life. Recently I figured out the illness serves as a giant magnifying glass.

My sick relatives suffered terribly intense emotions. Every feeling, every fear, every reaction was far stronger than what I experienced. Some relatives had access to the time-consuming, difficult process of finding a medication cocktail and therapy that helped. Many chose to quiet the storms in their minds with addiction.

A psychiatrist who treated a young relative once likened the child’s illness to wearing a belt of straight pins pointed inward. Despite this torturous belt, the child was expected to behave well and learn in school.

How would I behave if I was stuck with pins all day, every day?

 My mother’s illness used religion as a point of obsession. She was terrified of hell, and in turn she terrorized her eight children with the threat of damnation. She needed us to reflect her beliefs exactly. Independent thought was perceived as a threat and earned severe punishment.

My dad needed Mom to take care of the eight kids he was working to support. Guilt made her feel bad, and when she felt bad, she turned to addiction. So he discouraged her guilt for the child abuse. We needed the discipline, he explained.

On the surface, Dad was a very loving man. He never realized he’d converted his spousal impotence into more subtle abuse. While dodging his wife’s rage, his fragile male ego couldn’t tolerate the feminine strength and intelligence of his six daughters. He ground down our confidence, belittling and disempowering us.

I don’t know why mental illness exists, but like a magnifying glass, it showed me with great clarity that threatening others with hell is truly crazy. It’s crazy to force others to think like you and then reject and abuse them when they don’t.

Mental illness taught me that only deeply frightened people discourage strength in others.