This I Believe

Sophie - CA94925, California
Entered on March 6, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in our own internal power to shape our lives. But I believe this is a power, a potential that society tells us isn’t there very much anymore.

I grew up with mental illness in my immediate family. Like any child I didn’t really know what it was and didn’t know that it wasn’t ‘normal’. There were a lot of things that happened that shaped who I am today.

My mother had and still has an as yet undiagnosed mental illness. Undiagnosed because like millions like her, she lives in denial. If you know her, meet her, you may never guess that there are some deep issues. Apart from the self medicating bottles of vodka hidden around the house in cupboards and the salad drawer in the refrigerator. Apart from the occasional manic moment, despairing week or alcohol induced rage.

She is different. I knew that when I was a child. The screaming rages. The times she left us – walking out the door, telling us all she would never come back and disappearing for days. I remember it when as an adult she called me in the middle of an Easter Day celebration. She called to say how she had broken several windows in the downstairs of the house because she said; my father had locked her inside the house. We have an old house. Old locks. The long thin type of keys that are inserted from both sides of the door. Traditional key holes that you can look through. Doors can be locked and then unlocked from both sides. She wasn’t locked in. When I confronted her – she accused me of being a bad daughter and didn’t speak to me for over a year. But this isn’t an essay in feeling sorry for myself.

My father is different too. A quiet man. He avoided more than he probably should have. He taught us to be independent. To take lots of hikes and walks in the woods and use nature as a calming force in our lives. He taught us to expect more of ourselves. Most of all he taught us that people can endure. He endured. Endured with never a bad word. Demonstrated that we each have so much independent will. We can chose to control our impulses. Chose to accept and medicate our circumstances. Chose to function or not. Chose to be kind or chose to be selfish.

What he taught my two sisters and I – is that no matter what your circumstances. You can do something about it. Today – when so much seems to afflict people. Depression, obesity, self-centered materialism, cruelty, intolerance, ADD, extremism on both sides. We see society giving people way too much of a break. “They were born that way. It’s a chemical thing. Racism is what they were taught”. Let’s stop giving people a break. You can grow up in the most extreme of circumstances and still make choices to be something different. You have the power.