Mental Health Awareness 5/16/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Across the street, my neighbor’s yard and driveway is littered with toys, a trampoline, a basketball hoop, a plastic fort, and I think of how my father would have never stood for it. They park in the street because of the stuff in the driveway. It’s a mess, and it makes me think how they must prioritize their children over their possessions.

My friend, a psychiatrist in training, posted on her social media page yesterday (as of the writing of this post) that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s half over now, but I made it. Even now as I look at their lawn, I find myself becoming overly critical. Fortunately, I recognize that this is my father’s voice, and not mine, and I resist it. I think about how I was raised, in a perfect little home, with a beautiful lawn, cars with absolutely no toys or junk in them, in a room that I was not allowed to get messy. And I was depressed.

I was thinking about this today, and the way my parents were raised. I believe that my father was brought up learning that it’s the man’s job to go to work, make money, provide a home and food and that his responsibilities ended at the doorway. He came home expecting to be taken care of, in a quiet house where he can relax. Quiet meant if I made noise, I dealt with his wrath. Never physically abusive, but he had a temper, yelled, and was superb at terrorizing me. He was a very depressed man, although I’m sure he never knew it. When he retired, he basically did nothing. He spent his days in his house, didn’t get out to visit, didn’t have any hobbies. The image of a man with which he was raised did not include emotional ties, fun, or advice on what to do with retirement. I suspect that he died wondering what happened.

My mom was raised to be the housewife. She worked part-time just to deal with the boredom, but she cooked, cleaned, and kept the house as immaculate as dad had come to expect. I was expected to pitch in, of course, and had to keep my room clean, vacuumed, dusted, did laundry, and washed the dishes. As far as child rearing goes, she believed that she was in charge of raising my sister, and my emotionally aloof and distant father was supposed to raise me. I believe mom was as emotionally abused as the rest of us by my father, but probably was never aware of it. It was the life she was raised to expect, and I’m sure she felt comfortable with the lifestyle.

And there I was. Between my mother and my father, I was pretty much left to fend for myself. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind that I was struggling with depression, even to the point of holding the blade to my wrists. My parents didn’t understand this. They were happy I was quiet, and they considered that a win never really questioning why it was, exactly, that I was so quiet. I know they did their best; I don’t hold a grudge, but this is the way that I was raised.

Today I continue to fight with depression, and, yes, the occasional self-hurtful thought although they are infrequent and fleeting these days. I doubt that many people know my struggles and the path that brought me to the point where I am. I look at the family across the street (who were raised in a different culture as well) and love watching the adults with the children. They certainly seem to be happy and it brings a smile to my face to watch them play. But, even with such a seemingly happy family, I’m sure there are struggles, problems and difficulties that I do not see. The children will grow up remembering something that the parents did wrong, because in reality, all parents mess up one way or another.

So what chance do we have? Love. That’s it. My parents did the very best that they could, as the parents across the street are doing. Every mistake, the lifestyle, all of it was done because it is what they believe is best for the children. The children are growing up as best they can, and in the end will find themselves happier if they can find a way to forgive their parents for any slights or mistakes they remember. We raise children because of our love for them, and we forgive each other in the name of love as well. And we all, each one of us, have a journey to make, a pathway that has led us to where we are today and where we will go tomorrow. We need to be tolerant of one another, and recognize that we are all weary from our travels.

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