Inheriting a Mental Illness Isn’t All About Genetics

photo credit: Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Being proactive is being aware

My husband and I have recently been discussing when we will have kids. It’s a typical conversation to have between newlyweds, but one that is scary to conceptualize. I want to fill our house with the sounds of a baby and grow our family beyond our two cats.

I have always wanted children, and now that the possibility is becoming very real, it’s scary. Generally, this is a normal thing to be worried about it. We all want the best for our children.

Having children is a significant life change, so it needs to be discussed. But I worry about what I may be passing down to my children. I have lived with mental illness for much of my life.

I have had anxiety since early childhood, which later morphed into different mental illnesses as I got older. I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through.

The thought of what we could pass down is also a standard topic. For instance, my husband is worried about what he may pass on to our kids.

My husband always mentions if our kids will have celiac disease or not. Since celiac runs in his family, that’s an illness we will have to watch out for with our future kids.

Celiac is no big deal — of course, I don’t live with it, but we can buy specialty food. I have adjusted to living with someone who has celiac: different food, different toasters, and clean countertops at all times.

But when it comes down to anxiety and mental health issues, it’s different. There is a shame and stigma attached to mental health, one that I have experienced as well. This cannot be a disorder that you can live with. It almost feels like you are a failure if you have a mental illness.

Of course, you are NOT a failure for having an illness.

I live with mental illness, so I know how much of a struggle it is every day. I don’t want my future children to experience this. I know I do not have kids now, but I will one day. This is a thought that is heavily on my mind and has been for years. I don’t want another person to go through what I have gone through.

This is a more vulnerable piece for me to write, but know that this comes from my heart. I only want the best for my future kids. My worry comes from a good place, but what’s the point of worrying?

Nature vs. nurture

There is an aspect to my worry that can be answered with nature vs. nurture. If we have the genetic makeup, does that mean we will have that disorder? Much like gene expression for celiac, environmental factors can cause a disorder to present itself.

“People don’t simply “inherit” mental illness. A number of biological and environmental factors are at play in gene expression..”
-Professor Kathryn Douthit on Counseling Today

Environment plays a huge role in shaping who we are. Our environment can also affect gene expression, as mentioned by Professor Kathryn Douthit. This means that our environment can shape and affect us, but what kind of effect can it have?

Research has suggested that environmental factors could potentially be modified with appropriate intervention to help counter someone’s genetic disposition for mental illness. More research needs to be done on just what environmental factors or other extraneous variables can co-occur to cause mental illness to develop for someone.

Relinquishing control

I have such a need for control, and I recognize that. Perhaps this falls back to my perfectionism or lack of awareness of mental health at times; I want a better life for myself and my family.

I don’t know what it will be like when I have kids, nor will I know how to manage my mental illness once I have children. So why should I focus on controlling something that is completely out of my reach? I should focus on myself and making sure that I am okay.

I have to take care of myself to be a healthier version of myself for my future kids. Making a plan for my own mental health can help me navigate new motherhood when it does arrive.

The coping techniques I have now may not work or be appropriate for when I have children. My whole life will change, and I’ll need to learn to go with the flow.

Take my lesson of worry as a sign to let something go in your life that you have no control over. I am so stuck worrying about the mental health of my future children that I fail to see the reality I live in now.

I can’t be worrying about my future kids when I have me to worry about. My mental health is hard to manage at times, and I need to find better coping methods.

I can’t control passing down mental illness with kids, but I can be proactive with my own mental health.

Being proactive is being aware

I will never stop learning about mental health; I always want to improve myself. I can focus on myself, meditation, and learning more about better taking care of myself.

Being this worried about being a future mom isn’t going to benefit me right now. What I can do, is focus on my mental health and work on finding peace within myself.

I know that if I take care of myself, happiness can bleed out to those around me, even my future children when my kids come.

Writing this article and diving into research, I have learned a lot. I have learned that there is nothing I can do right, not ever, to prevent this. What I can do, is to better myself now and in the future.

In therapy, you learn tools, tips, and tricks for better living. It sounds like an easy ride, but it isn’t straightforward. Your brain has been wired a sure way to make you believe by your environment.

Change is good, no matter all the bad that could happen.

As originally posted on Medium and NewsBreak