I Grew up in a House of Mental Illness and Silence

We kept our issues to ourselves

Christine Schoenwald
4 min readMar 16, 2022


Photo by John Mccann on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: Suicide

Shortly after my father died, I was going through his things when I found about fifty audio tapes crammed into an old shoebox. I was curious about the tapes, so I dug around his closet and found a cassette player.

I only had to hear a few seconds to understand that the tapes were recordings of his therapy sessions.

Had he been seeing a therapist? That was shocking news to me. He’d never indicated in any way that he had regular therapy sessions, though, judging from the tapes. He’d had quite a few.

As far as our family’s mental health, my parents had focused solely on my brother Fred’s schizophrenia.

Although it felt like I was eavesdropping on his private conversations, I listened to the tapes for answers to my long-standing questions.

Why had my father felt the need to be endlessly stoic?

Why hadn’t I been encouraged to discuss my feelings and fears?

Did mental illness run in my family?

On the tapes, my father said he was sorry he hadn’t done a better job protecting me from Fred and his erratic, sometimes violent, outbursts.

My dad assumed I was okay, and he didn’t have to worry about me as I was the normal one of his children.

I don’t think anyone in my family was without mental health issues.

I struggle with fear and anxiety.

My mother has strong indicators of narcissistic personality disorder. She lacks empathy, is highly manipulative, and has an inflated sense of self-importance.

My father feared flying, and both parents had driving phobias.

However, since my brother, Frederick, was the only one diagnosed with a mental illness, that’s where our energy went. It didn’t matter that he didn’t appreciate or want our concern.

Fred was the designated mental health patient.

Frederick was eight years older than me and wasn’t diagnosed as schizophrenic until his twenties. But the signs were there — his actions were irrational and his…



Christine Schoenwald

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Next Avenue, Business Insider, and Your Tango Christineschoenwaldwriter.com