When your Grandmother unknowingly Stigmatises You

(CW: mentions self harm)

Something weird happened to me earlier. I have an interview with the charity Rethink Mental Illness next week to apply for a role that acts as a sort of young people’s advocate especially with a Young Offenders Project. I was explaining this to my grandmother whilst we were sitting down after lunch when she said:

Oh Beth. Really? Ok the young offenders who go around bashing cars and the sort- fine help them but the ones who (making a gesture) sort of slash up and down their wrists…stay away from them- they are just too complicated.

It was obviously quite an awkward and painful moment for me, I just nodded my head a bit dumbfounded realising she has no knowledge of my self harm and really, why would she? She not only regarded self harming as something young offenders do but also warned me to stay away from these complex and mysterious people. My first thought was of what horror she would feel if she saw my own arms, something I mistakenly felt she would understand about eventually. The sad realisation that that would be  best avoided at all costs.

However, this shouldn’t really surprise me I think it is only that as I get older I am becoming more aware of my previously idolised grandparents’ weaknesses and frailties, in particular my Grandmother on my mother’s side as she is the only one still alive.Despite her own serious dealings with mental illness, including two or three hospitalisations, she still has a very backward understanding of mental health and ill- health, and she is of her generation in that. Another similar, less directed, event relating to this happened on a walk with her and my uncle last week. She referred to a relative who had ‘you know gone odd’ whilst my uncle explained in my other ear that he was severely schizophrenic.

I love my grandmother very much but her attitudes towards the topic alarm me and act slightly as a stab in the chest each time. I’ve learn how now to cope with mental illness from her unfortunately as she has cut herself off from the world in a sense becoming incredibly selfish and insensitive, acting out often against my mother as a way of defusing her own insecurities- which I doubt works very much. This said, I won’t show her my scars  not only because of her judgements but also because I see no point in adding to the already great burden of old age and furthermore to the pain I know she buries deep in her belief that she is to blame for passing on the ‘tortured mental’ gene to me.


1 thought on “When your Grandmother unknowingly Stigmatises You

  1. Oh, Beth…this could have been written by me, seriously!

    My relationship with my own Grandparents has deteriorated in recent years, partly due to my ongoing issues with MH. Like you, I keep my SH/scars a secret from them not only because they wouldn’t understand, but to protect them from what they may not be able to cope with. I’m pretty sure they’d be horrified were they to see the state of my arms.

    It must be disappointing, to be taking some positive steps only for them to be invalidated by a well-meaning but, ultimately, ignorant comment. I think what you’re doing is amazing, and I’m sure most would agree. I’m proud of you, little one xx

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