I used to be a typical suburban stay-at-home mom with a side job writing web content for my kids’ old Montessori school. I had friends, children, husband etc… I was busy carving out life on the west coast, and watching my children unfold. I was planning, doing, contributing. It wasn’t perfect, but, on the whole, I would put me at the lucky-beyond-my-deserts part of the well-being spectrum. Then things changed. Instead of the competent funny mom people enjoyed being around, I became the mom people were afraid of. I became the one who was whispered about with a mix of titillation and pity and sentences that started with things like; “did you hear about her son” or “can you believe what I heard about her?”
So, I’m a bit dramatic too. I never actually heard any of those sentences, I only imagined them and assumed they were said. But I felt the isolation, the stigma, the useless pity that comes when your ordinary teenage son suffers a mental health crisis that leads to self-medication and addiction.
The stigma is real. I’ve seen myself shut down entire conversations simply by mentioning my son was in a residential treatment center. If you think it might be hard to tell a friend or family member that your child is anorexic, imagine adding: and an addict.
Most people—no matter how much they love you and no matter how much they don’t want to—can’t help but wonder, just a little, if there was something you did to cause it. They judge you because they are afraid for you, afraid of becoming you, because they are human. Because, no matter how far we’ve come recently, the stigma is still ever present
The isolation, at least in my case, was mostly self-imposed. I only realized it in hindsight, but there were people who reached out to me, but I was unable to take their hand because of my own pain and overwhelming fear. When I did manage to take that hand, it brought me relief, some perspective, and moments of joy. It became my own personal support group that I decided to share. It became giginon.com.
So now I write and reflect on my crazy messed up life, and try to come up with ways to advocate on behalf of those struggling with similar issues. Not telling my son’s story, but my own. Sometimes I publish in newsletters or other blogs and sometimes just my own. If it is helpful to anyone who is going through trauma in their own family, that’s great. But, stigma doesn’t go away by not talking about it, so here I am talking.