Melanie: Moving Forward

Melanie would like to see Paul get back into his artistic pursuits, which he has not done in a long time. She laments his intense smoking habit but realizes it is something he needs to cope with his symptoms. Although she does not have children of her own, she would like to see her brothers talk to her nieces about the genetic link of mental illness as well as some physical illnesses. She acknowledged the difficulty of talking about her own experience.

You can feel that you’re all alone. That’s how I felt. That first of all it’s a secret and it’s like we to carry on with our lives but it’s not anybody else’s business. That was the message. . . I know it’s getting better all the time and I guess a person just has to jump into the swimming pool and share. If the topic comes up or if the opportunity arises because that’s the only way that we’re going to break down the stigma is by looking for the opportunity and not seeing the person with mental illness as such an anomaly. They’re living all around us all the time. They can be really wonderful people.

She considered the expectations that her father might have experienced from his own father, who she described as an immigrant, a “macho guy,” lumberjack, and farmworker.

I always kind of felt that he didn’t think my dad was manly enough. . .My father was a lot like his mother, very soft-hearted and gentle. I think maybe my dad wouldn’t talk to him about the mental illness. He [grandfather] might have thought it was a weakness, just like he did with his wife. He had said, “Buck up—you got to raise your children. You’ve got to get over that and do what you’re supposed to do.” I don’t think he had a lot of empathy.

Melanie believes her experiences with her father and her brother have helped her become more understanding of people. However, she sees the lack of patience others have with people like her brother. Although Paul is friendly, he is unkempt in appearance; she is able to “look beyond some of the surface things in people.” She applauds the work that her brother Ben and his family are doing. Both Ben and his wife, retired social workers, and two daughters work with people who live with developmental or physical disabilities. As an “insider,” Ben has been instrumental in helping Paul find resources. Melanie speculates that Ben’s experiences growing up have contributed to his compassion and desire to work in a helping profession. As she looked back at her father’s experience, Melanie said “this mental illness helped shape who he was. He was sensitive to other people, very giving, and generous.”


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