On Attending Family Functions with a Mental Illness

The dreaded question for anyone in recovery for a mental illness: So what are you doing now?

There’s no socially comfortable way to respond. “Oh, nothing much, just got out of the psychiatric hospital.” “I’m in a partial hospitalization program, so I do that all day.” “I’m not doing anything but working on my mental health.”

All of these sound like, “I’m being lazy,” to the lay mentally stable individual – neuronormals, if you will. At least that’s we, the mentally ill, think: everyone will see me as the laziest person ever, & I don’t deserve this time to myself. 

I recently had a death in the family, so I’m in my hometown of New Orleans attending various family functions. I got The Question from every family member I’ve encountered. I think I gave a different response to each one, ranging from, “I’m still working on my Master’s,” (which I’m not) to, “Trying to figure out what to do with my life.” My heart dropped & anxiety set in every time it was asked. Surprisingly, no matter my response, I got the same reaction:

“Take your time.”

At first, it sounded like a generic response older people give the young regardless of the situation. As I heard it more & more, I began to think that maybe there was a method to their lack-of-madness; maybe they knew something I wasn’t ready to admit to myself. 

What I realized – through extensive introspection & journaling throughout my visit – is that I rarely take the time to focus on myself. Even while in PHP (a partial hospitalization program), I still am plagued by thoughts & anxieties about money, getting a job, impressing people, the works. The advice “take your time” is more sage than even they realize, because what it really meant to me is, “You are worthy. You are doing fine. You can do this.”

I acknowledge many of you don’t have a support system or family like mine. I am blessed by every god out there. For those in this situation, I am sorry, & I am here.

For those of you who do have families – even big, nosy, good-intentioned ones like mine – I urge you not to be afraid of their questions. Don’t let fear deter you from the ones who love you. Don’t let your inner self-critic sway “what are you up to?” into “you are not worthy.” It’s probably not what they intend; it’s your personal subconscious projecting bad mumbo-jumbo onto them.

Instead, own your struggles & your successes. Say, “I’m in treatment right now, because it’s where I need to be.” They may not understand, but they also might. Most importantly, you understand. And guess what? You matter. 

I was talking to an aunt of mine at a baby shower recently, & she told me she loved my blog – this blog – about mental health & recovery. It meant so much to me to be acknowledged as I am: flawed, big-hearted, & sincerely trying. This can happen to you too.

So say yes to that family reunion!

Say yes to the birthday & anniversary parties. 

Say yes to your family, loved ones, & friends.

They may just say what you need to hear. 

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2 thoughts on “On Attending Family Functions with a Mental Illness

  1. Honey, we all have our own struggles, some bigger than others. I was so proud of that first blog that I read of yours. Don’t ever feel alone. I’m so glad that my acknowledgment of your blog was something that made you smile. For such an emotional weekend of baby showers and funerals, you made me smile plenty! So many of us share your feeling of wanting to stay away from family functions because of those dreaded questions, “what are you doing now?” But I’m a huge believer of minding my own business, not giving a care about your job or lack thereof. Maybe I just don’t give a damn about that kind of thing, maybe I’m just not an intrusive person. I truly enjoyed our time spent together this weekend and believe it or not, YOU taught me a thing or two. With that being said, go work on yourself and I’ll do the same. Much love~

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  2. You matter just as you are. Honest, struggling, and real. And “take your time”, at least from my perspective, is truly what it means. Don’t rush into a career that you think will impress others, or that you think will make you rich. Take your time, work on you, find your passion. You’re worth it. I’ve been there. I’m there now with a family, creeping along some days like I’m in a fog. I love your blog, and I’m proud of you. Charmin is right. You’re not alone.

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