I come from a family with a long, sad history of depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, alcoholism and abuse. I experienced my first major depression and panic attacks when I was 19. I have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. I developed fibromyalgia (like many trauma survivors) which became very bad and has stayed that way for a long time. Aside from being very painful, it brought with it permanent debilitating sleep disorders. I have had a very tough time getting through school and earning a living. I have been living on disability for over ten years.
On top of the mood disorders that came down to me genetically through the family tree was laid the burden of serious emotional abuse by a raging, mentally ill, alcoholic father and the criticism and demands of a perfectionistic, controlling mother. She had an idea in her head of who I was supposed to be and never let reality or compassion get in the way. She was also unwilling to protect her children or herself from my father’s daily outpouring of rage, humiliation and delusional behavior.
Despite growing up in an emotional war zone I accomplished a lot. This was never acknowledged. Oddly, this became a source of strength for me. I was constantly being belittled at home (which took a terrible toll), but that contrasted so sharply with the rest of my life that at some point in my teens I just stopped believing them.
Unfortunately, the anger and criticism continued and I never received any family support to help me deal with my mental health problems. To my parents, my illness was just another vulnerability that could be exploited. My three younger brothers see my mental health problems as a moral failure, a fraud, and a direct criticism of them. This kind of rejection or backlash is common in families with abuse. Unable to tolerate their hostility, I broke off all contact with them several years ago (in my late fifties).
My art and photography have helped me deal with conflict in the family and my own illness. Often I can use an element of humor in the mix. Looking at the work on this page will give you an idea of some of the problems I deal with every day as well as some of the feelings I have about the way I have been treated. I hope that you will be able to find something here that gives you support in your own struggles or just makes you laugh.
• Recognizing Emotional Abuse: A factsheet from Prevent Child Abuse New York (PDF file, 80kb)