Last week I found myself lost in the affecting world of memoir. What I enjoyed most about this experience was the realization that no two memoirs are alike. It’s dangerous to categorize or make generalizations about every person who suffers from a specific mental health disorder. No two people are alike, nor are their unique stories. Everyone has a different tale to tell about their experiences in living with, and breaking free from their own specific mental health issues. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all three books this past week. I could empathize and relate to each on a personal level. Learning about other sufferers, or as I like to refer to myself and others, survivors, was an enlightening experience. It made me feel less alone, and more hopeful. More hopeful in seeing so many amazing books written and published about people living with OCD and other disorders. Thanks to my young adult/children’s literature class this semester, I was also happily surprised to see numerous children and young adult books geared towards raising awareness and destigmatizing mental illness for our youth and their families. All different age groups were included in these fantastic books. From small children, to teens and young adults. Growing up in the late eighties and nineties I never had these types of resources at my disposal. I wish I did, but it just didn’t exist at that time. It would have helped save me from years of feeling shame and an enormous amount of guilt. But to see the tide turning is a beautiful thing. I’m grateful my nephew who is eight and my Godson who is now a teenager and maybe my own child someday (God willing), will have the opportunity to learn more about their own mental health and healthy ways to cope, and to have the courage and confidence to ask for help if needed. There will be no shame or fear attached to their experiences, like there was for mine growing up and that’s a beautiful thing.
Okay so moving on from that recap of last week’s progress into what I’m working on for this upcoming week. Oh boy it’s a doosey! FAMILY! Need I say more?! I hear the Sister Sledge song playing loudly in my head as I type this. That’s a tough subject to broach on any day, let alone having to write about it and not in the most favorable light. But sometimes the heaviest topics I find myself having to write about is what continues to help my heart and soul heal. After so many years of suffering and fractured relationships, that were left in the wake of my OCD. I also hope that through this deep exploration of my own family tree it will help me build stronger and more meaningful relationships within my family. Sadly, mental illness runs deep on both sides of my family. From substance abuse, depression, anxiety and OCD that goes back for generations. Out of the many things I lost during my darkest times battling through my anxiety and OCD, the most precious thing I lost was TIME. Precious time was wasted on irrational fears, obsessions and repetitive rituals that left me in a spinning web of disillusionment and fear. I became selfish and extremely angry but not by choice. My entire life centered around me and my illness and just trying to stay above water. That took up most of my time, energy and existence for many years, while the relationships with my family fell to the wayside. That’s one reason I want to explore my family tree and history further. I believe in order for me to truly know myself, know where I’ve been and where I’m going, I need to delve deeper into my deep and tangled family roots. No easy feat with a super private, old school Italian family like mine, where reputation matters more than the truth.
There is a strong genetic and hereditary link to OCD. I have known this fact for many years. Through my extensive literature review research during the past two weeks I’ve come across hundreds of journal and scholarly peer reviewed articles that highlight this fact. I want my memoir The Seashell to stand apart from other memoirs like it. I hope that what will in fact set my memoir apart from the rest is the chapters I plan to dedicate specifically to my family and to my older brother, who is also a OCD sufferer and survivor like me. My mental illness encompasses so much more then just little ole me. The delicate and gnarled branches of my family tree are far reaching. My first steps in having this come to fruition in my memoir is that I have asked my older brother to write and email me his earliest memories and experiences with OCD throughout his forty six years of life. From his struggles to his triumphs and also the coping skills he’s developed over the years. My brother is the first born in my family, the oldest of all my cousins. He also was the very first person in my family to graduate from high school and went on to earn two college degrees. He now works as a PA-C in a well known drug and alcohol rehab facility in Maryland, where he has dedicated his life to helping people recover from their addictions. He is eight years older than me and has a lot more life experience under his belt. Because of our extensive age gap I was too young to remember a lot of his suffering or specifics from his experiences. We also over a period of time had a fractured relationship, which is currently in the midst of major healing and repair. The birth of my only nephew certainly helped things along. Children truly are a blessing. They bring renewal, peace and a deeper sense of love to family. I’m anxious but excited to read my brother’s revelations and then create a chapter dedicated to him and our complex relationship based of off his personal memories and life experience. Stay tuned for more revealing revelations to come, as I plan to interview more members of my family. Which is also an important part of the autoethnographic process for my thesis research. I will write more about this process for next weeks thesis progress report. I’ve certainly found my flow and I hope you all have found yours! Take care guys! Xo