My story about mental illness is essentially my entire life. Mental illness wasn’t something we talked about in my family, so I’m not sure I ever put my finger on it as a child, but an Introductory Psychology professor told the class of over 900 people that if we were in this field to figure out our own problems, they didn’t want us. Somehow I knew that he meant me, so I gave up my dream of becoming a psychologist.
I was the oldest of six children, and as the oldest, I was supposed to set an example, although my next oldest sister was always the good example. But I was never good enough. We were a military family, and never stayed in the same place for more than a few years. California was home, but I haven’t spent more than a few days there once in a while since I was 11. I was born in California, and then we went to Illinois and my sister was born there. We returned to a different part of California, at least three different cities (part of the time my father was in Korea), before we moved to Spain, and then to Texas, and New Mexico, where I only stayed for a year before breaking free and coming to Utah on my own.
There was always something that wasn’t right. Since elementary school I had been a loner, and had regularly been beaten up by bullies on the way home from school, and I could never really trust anyone, but I knew that nobody cared because soon I would go away and be somebody else’s problem. I was not allowed to need help, but neither was I allowed to be independent and take care of myself. As long as I could remember I had been full of anger that had no place to go, which leaked out in uncontrollable tears so I had to run and hide.
By late fall of my first year away from home, my roommates had noticed me staying up all night crying, sleeping in the afternoon, and being generally miserable, and they suggested that I go to counseling. I had known that I needed help, but was never able to give myself permission. My first therapist didn’t ask the right questions, and I didn’t know what to tell him, and he concluded that I was just homesick (homesick for what, I wondered), and would be fine when I got married. Since I had not even dated much, and the boyfriend I thought I was going to be closer to by coming to that school was long since engaged to someone else, I wondered how that would ever happen. But I was dismissed from treatment after ten sessions of having no idea what I was supposed to say. I had learned enough by that time to know that I was depressed, and when I went home for Christmas that year I was very careful to act normal so that nobody would notice anything wrong with me. I needn’t have worried. People don’t tend to notice things that they don’t want to know.
The next year I had different roommates, who didn’t want me because they would have rather had someone else in my place, but I didn’t have anyplace else to go so I stuck it out. One day someone saw me crying through church, thought that I was beautiful with a red, swollen face, and asked someone to introduce him to me. I had no memory of meeting him when he called the next week. Within about three months he asked me to marry him, and since I never really expected anyone to want me, I said sure. I will never understand what he saw in me. I told him that I was crazy, but he said he didn’t believe me.
That winter I continued to cry a lot, and was referred to counseling again this time by church leaders. My new therapist was so busy, he could only work me into his schedule every other week, and when I was there he really didn’t seem to have time for me. I didn’t think that he was even listening when I told him about wandering around town until 3 a.m. wishing that a car would hit me because I couldn’t deal with being home for the meeting my roommates had called to discuss a problem (me), or about trying to cut my wrists with a safety razor and only managing faint scratches. A few weeks later when I told him that I was going to get married, and right away because I couldn’t live with those roommates any longer, he threw all of that back in my face and told me that getting married was the last thing I ought to do because I would just go and raise a dysfunctional family just like the one that I came from. I walked out quietly and never talked to him again.
My husband tried to give me a life, and to encourage me to develop hobbies and interests, something that my parents had never supported. He gave me goats and sheep — I had always loved animals — and eventually gave me a spinning wheel for Christmas since I was a knitter and he thought I would also like spinning and weaving. He was right. Many of the best things about me might not exist if not for him. But he often went overboard, and I was never able to give back to him anything remotely equivalent. I was never even really sure that I loved him.
I had told my husband from the beginning that I wanted a career, and he agreed to that. But when I applied for graduate school in speech pathology I was turned down despite having top grades, because my interests had become divided and my grades dipped slightly, and I was told that I didn’t have adequate social skills to work with children. One supervisor told me that I didn’t belong in the social sciences and ought to go back and try for a second bachelor’s degree in engineering. I was demoralized and gave up on school and career, and spent many years telling people that all I got for four years of college was debt, and education wasn’t worth it.