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For the first time since going public with my diagnosis, I saw my niece and nephew. One of the reasons (and there were many) that I was afraid to open up about having schizophrenia is that I was afraid of how my niece and nephew would react. I didn’t want them to go from giving me hugs, and wanting to spend time with me, to thinking, “Oh this is our crazy aunt.”  I was afraid of their rejection.

My nephew just turned twenty one and is in college. My niece just graduated from high school two days ago and she is seventeen. I have always known they are smart (my niece graduated the top of her class), and my nephew is studying mechanical engineering and also graduated from high school with honors. But smart doesn’t always mean accepting, or tolerant.

I am happy to report that neither one of them acted any differently towards me. I got the same hugs I have always received. I got the same smiles and kind words they have been giving me since they were toddlers.

Of course, I am happy to the core of my being that they didn’t treat me differently. I am not different. I am still the aunt that swooped them up and screamed, “Squeeze monster” when they were little.  I am still the aunt that delighted in filling brightly colored, plastic Easter eggs for them, helping to hide them in their backyard, and watching them run around at full speed picking them up. I am still the aunt that laughs at all of their jokes. I am still the aunt that thinks they are two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am still that aunt.

My niece and nephew have always made me feel hopeful for our future, because of their success in academia, but more importantly because of the things they know about politics, corporations, and how accepting they have always been of diversity.

Today, as I write this, I think the future will be different for those of us who have a mental illness. I think the young people who are in college, and just starting college, don’t attach the same stigma to mental illness as the previous generations. I think we all have reason to hope for a brighter and more tolerant future, where people are more accepting, understanding and educated.

I have other nieces and nephews who have known about my illness for years, and have always treated me as, “Aunt Becky.”

I think all of the young people I love and care about will end up changing the world (it is an aunt’s job to believe that). They have already made an impact on me. My world is better because they are in it. I’m so proud. I’m so thankful. I am so hopeful.

I’d like to pick them all up again, and shout, “Squeeze monster,” but at their age, they might think I am crazy.