Rayne: Eliza, do you consider yourself mentally ill?

Eliza: Rayne, at one time, I would have said I am extremely mentally ill. I no longer say that. And there’s been an interesting journey for me. I actually have talked about this a little bit on the podcast, but I was kind of excited to get a chance to talk about it more fully with you. I grew up with my mother, who’s bipolar I and schizoaffective. So that means that she has like extended bouts of mania and depression and also psychosis, and it was undiagnosed for many, many years. My childhood was very much just… being extremely confused by volatile behavior. My parents got divorced when I was around 10, and I basically became her primary caretaker at that point. There was a period of a few months where she was hospitalized three or four times in two months, so that was very confusing and a lot for me to deal with. And, you know, I took on this role that in hindsight I… I shouldn’t have been asked to take on, but that’s how the cookie crumbled. So of course, through all of that, I am dealing with what many would have called depression and really severe anxiety, because I’m constantly being put in this situation where everything is so out of my control, and there’s nothing I can do as a kid, and also, nobody else is doing anything. So my understanding of mental illness then was as something that is really bad and really scary. And I was constantly witnessing how many systems and how many people don’t know what to do with it. In this new type of trauma therapy that I’m in, I am really moving away from the biochemical model for myself when it comes to mental illness, and adopting a framework that that fits for me a little a little better. That’s my mental wellness tour.

Rayne: I think we have some parallels. My mother was also very mentally ill, but also very, very physically ill for my whole life. When I was young she got very sick and has been sick for my whole life. I really was like — I felt like a primary caretaker. And also, like a primary sort of mental health caretaker, being an eldest daughter in a family that was going through so much. So it was very similar. I mean, my childhood was marked by a lot of grief, my mom was extremely depressed, my dad was also extremely depressed, that led to a lot of, you know, sort of, like physical decay in our household – it was sort of an aesthetically untenable sort of situation. Now, therapists really do a lot of talking about how mental illness makes it harder to do basic care tasks, like shower or do the dishes, but that wasn’t really a normalized thing at all when I was growing up. It was a very unstable kind of overall environment. And I had a really similar thing where I was put in therapy really, really, really young. And it was definitely very much a damage control thing. And, you know, this is something I want to get get into later, but I feel really lucky, actually, that I never went on meds. I have OCD and that has for my whole life manifested itself as a really acute fear of drugs, in a weird way. So even though I was diagnosed, even though I was prescribed pills, many times I never took them because I was really, like, pathologically terrified of drugs in any form. I don’t think I even told my parents when my psychiatrist prescribed me meds. But something that I always thought was really interesting is that when I was 16, I was manically depressed and anxious all the time, I couldn’t leave my room — like it was really bad. And I would go into therapy, and I would be like, “My mom is dying. My grandparents died, my pets just died, I’ve missed like two months of school. I feel like the world is collapsing around me.” And they would be like, “You should try Prozac!” You know? Like, there were all of these very material things happening in my life. Like I was experiencing grief, I was experiencing very material destabilization. And the response really was not to talk that much about any of the things that were happening, but to be like “maybe you should take these pills, so you can be smart again.”

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