Shit clueless parents say to their children with mental illness, part 1

In college I had finally started to get help for my mental illness — because I no longer needed my parents’ permission to do so – but still being in close contact with my parents, I faced a lot of opposition to my efforts (e.g., my father said that I was being selfish and lazy by paying a professional to talk to me rather than change myself into someone worthy of real friends). Now, my father has said a lot of shit to me over the years, but I’m thinking that some of what he said to me during this time was truly exceptional.

These might be my father’s top three:

  1. “You are NOT taking a semester off from college. You want to work minimum wage? I’m not going to let you ruin your life like that”.

I was going to an ivy-league school and very academically motivated, but during my first year in college I was so severely depressed that I was not appreciating any of it, and often couldn’t even make it to class. I had told my parents that rather than wasting money and credits on courses that I was getting so little out of, I might be better off taking a leave of absence for a semester to work and get my health together. Looking back it is obvious that taking a semester or more off would have been the right thing for me to do, but my father had some image of the ‘perfect college experience’ that meant four consecutive wonderful years and he was unwilling to let go of that dream. And despite having a Ph.D., he was unable to grasp the basic distinction between leaving college for a semester and dropping out forever. Of course, I got my leave of absence two years later, when my mental health problems had become a crisis and I had to withdraw mid-semester for two months of hospitalization. But too bad that it ever had to come to that.

  1. “You should exercise a lot while gaining weight, so it becomes muscle and you won’t get fat”.

By the end of my second year of college, the administration had taken notice of my worsening eating disorder and decided that I would only be allowed to return to classes in the fall if I had gained enough weight to no longer be an imminent health risk. So I spent the summer (at home) seeing therapists and nutritionists with the explicit goal of gaining weight. Somehow my father missed the message that I needed more body fat to stay alive, and that the possibility that I’d get fat should have been the least of his concerns.

  1. “You want to kill yourself? Why don’t you just do it already!”.

A month after I returned to college for my third year everything went from awful to worse. Though I really didn’t want to live, I had promised myself not to take my own life and often struggled to resist that urge. My father later explained that he only said what he did to “snap me out of it” (whatever that means). I don’t think I even need to explain how fucked up this is. But a meme I saw recently is applicable here: ‘The worst thing you can do to a person with an invisible illness is make them feel like they need to prove how sick they are.’

Here is where you can read part 2 of “Shit clueless parents say”:

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