My mom, who had wanted children her whole life, had a nervous breakdown immediately after my birth in 1972. It took me over 30 years to learn this, and sadly, it wasn’t until after my mom passed away in 2004 that I really started to understand the depths of her mental illness.
For years, I thought of the abuse she handed out daily (from beatings to days without food and being locked in rooms for up to a week at a time) as something that only I had to endure. It never occurred to me that she was the one who had to endure, year after year, poorly trained psychiatrists and combinations of every conceivable psychotropic medicine available during the 1970s and 80s.
None of my friends knew anything about my household when I was growing up. I had one face for the public, and one for when I was home. At home, I lost myself in books and other people’s words because I was never sure which of my own words would get me into trouble. At school and at work, I was smart and outgoing and looked for ways to make an impact.
I’m sure that most people who have known me since my childhood would say that I’m an extrovert. The truth is that I’m far from it. I psych myself up to walk into a room and meet new people, and ironically, I’ve established myself in a field (communications and fundraising) that requires me constantly to be “on” for others. But I need a lot of quiet time to decompress from work.
It’s only since my 40th birthday two years ago that I have come to realize that the quietest people often have much to say: we just whisper it rather than shout it out.