A conversation with therapist Nancy Sowell about the family secrets that came out as she was caring for her grandmother with dementia. Nancy recounts the curious distance and even hostility she had always felt from this side of the family, and how it all began to make sense as her grandmother opened up for the first time. She describes the powerful way that dementia can lift a person’s inhibitions, occasionally allowing for shared grief and even healing of old wounds that she had only sensed were there. She also discusses the power of secrets and shame in families, and how difficult it is, even now, to know how to talk about a painful secret with the rest of the family.
An interview with Episcopal priest Carl Russell about the childhood sexual abuse he experienced at the hands of the priest of his family’s congregation. Carl tells the story of how both he and his family were groomed for the abuse, as the priest worked to gain his family’s trust and esteem. [Read more…]
An interview with family educator, Valerie Gamache about her relationship with her mother who had bi-polar disorder. Valerie describes her mother’s illness and the frightening ways she could become suddenly violent and then have no memory for the episode. She reports the ways her family tried to keep, “the Big Secret” to the point that a friend thought her mother had actually died since Valerie spoke so little about her. She describes encounters with discrimination and prejudice that fuel this kind of silence. Valerie has taught numerous family to family classes through NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and spoke about her deep motivation that other families not have to go through what she did.
An interview with social worker and trainer, Liz Brenner about some of the challenges of having a Dad with bi-polar disorder. Liz describes the ways that her parents sheltered her from the realities of her father’s illness, and the ways in which not talking about it was both a confusing secret and also quite protective. She describes his suicide attempt when she was 20, and how living with the fear of losing him was a form of relational trauma. She experienced first hand how the stigma and trauma of mental illness resulted in her father “trying to prove he was sane by avoiding all mental health professionals for 20 years.” She also reports the difficulty of making peace with her father after a manic episode because he did not remember all the unfortunate and sometimes violent things he had done. Liz ended by describing ways that mental health professionals can make a difference by including families, listening to them, treating them with respect and taking their reports of danger and risk seriously.