I’m an aspiring writer who never returned to formal work after my children were born. This year we’re celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary. We live in a gorgeous NY suburb and have a mortgage on our dream house. I volunteer with the PTA and the wider community; I garden, cook, bake, and craft. We don’t smoke, rarely drink, don’t do anything illicit. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure our children feel loved, respected, and heard, but we also have firm boundaries and reasonable expectations for them. They aren’t spoiled, but they do have everything they need and most of what they want.
We sound idyllic, don’t we? Close family, living comfortably, emotionally literate, and we even have legit British accents. Why am I asking for advice from the offbeat community? The trouble is that my hubs and I have tattoos and a wardrobe full of Star Wars clothes. I have piercings, blue hair, and a fondness for chic style with subversive elements. All of this was fine to start with, I was used to working extra hard to earn people’s trust, I saw myself as an ambassador for my offbeat tribe.
Recently we’ve been working through challenges relating to mental illness — minor but requiring therapy and medication. I’ve lost some friends over it, people who could overlook the superficial stuff, until it seemed less superficial.
Logically I KNOW mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Logically I KNOW that I should ignore those people and focus on the people who are sticking by us. However, even if I’m just being paranoid about the likelihood of our children being taken from us, it’s tough to think that choices I’ve made about my appearance might negatively impact my children in a significant way. They’ve had friends be told to keep away from them by parents, they’ve had malicious rumours spread about them. Possibly even worse, some of their friends think we’re cool.
I know I shouldn’t care, we’re so lucky to have so much love, and lucky to have the resources to get the treatment they need. I just can’t find a good balance in my head between expressing my identity in how I present myself, and keeping some of it under wraps for the sake of my teen daughters. My wardrobe has toned down a LOT in the six years we’ve lived here — should I go back to being a brunette who tends to stick with long sleeves in the summer? – E
In light of recent high-profile instances of celebrities succumbing to their mental illnesses, it’s hard not to have mental health at top of mind, as if it wasn’t already most of the time. To say that stigmas about mental health and seeking help for it have come a long way is an understatement. Many, many of us are embracing the care and feeding of our mental health just as we do our bodies. But the sad truth is that just as many are not. Just as many are using it as tools to avoid making policy changes or to “other” victims and perpetrators of crimes. Mental health has both a growing understanding and a growing willing ignorance around it.
So when I hear that your offbeat outward appearance (fully unrelated to any mental health issues) is taking on new meaning from an association with mental health, it’s troubling but unsurprising. Thankfully, it seems like you rationally know that it’s all bullshit. Your blue hair and nerdy proclivities have nothing to do with your fitness as a parent or within a family. I know those touchpoints to your identity are often what KEEPS you grounded when things get rough up in the noggin.
Changing the minds of the people who are challenging you about it or rejecting you isn’t an easy task and probably distracts you from your own needs and the needs of your family. So it comes down to taking care of your mental health needs and arming your teenage children with the tools to care for their own as well, and to push back when confronted about whatever issues they perceive to be negative.
Here are a few resources to help them with feeling like an “other” or being rejected because of their uniqueness or the difference in their families:
- How To Teach Kids That Being Different Is A Good Thing – Life Lessons – this especially has a great segment on dealing with others online
- Talking to Children and Teens About Being Different
- Building Resilience in Children
- 10 Ways to Raise Resilient Kids in Turbulent Times
And for YOU: I’m glad that you’re on a path with therapy and medication with a strong support system. My first instinct is to have you not make any changes to your appearance for any reason other than your own reasons that you’ve discussed with your therapist. They can also help you talk to your kids about how to deal with other kids and their parents. Ultimately, you’re right that it isn’t likely that anyone will take away your children or anything so serious. Most likely you’ll just continue to confront the walls that you’ve already dealt with since forever as your style evolved. It just takes learning coping mechanisms and ways to deal with it, and you seem tough as hell and super capable.
Homies: help us out! How would you deal with this situation?