I was sixteen when I found out that members of my close family suffered from serious mental illnesses, some of which could potentially affect me. Initially I fell into a complete state of shock; this was my relative whom I saw frequently and had became very close with, how did I fail to notice? Why did they not tell me? If, like me, you are native to the lovely state of Alabama or anywhere else in the southeast for that matter, I am near positive you have had a similar experience.
Maybe it was that time you heard uncle Dan just had the “demons in him” or possibly that cousin Linda was having her “very special friend (of twenty-five years) come to dinner” and maybe you ended up just as I did, blindsided by the decades of lies rather than the final admittance. If that is you, then I encourage you to keep reading. If you think that doesn’t apply to you, I promise it does; you need to keep reading.
Truth hurts, but secrets kill; and in the context of Alabama, this colloquialism could not have more irony. We have developed a community built on the tradition of toughness, grit, and the less-often acknowledged desire for perfection, often shunning anyone involved in “soft” or “indecent” behaviors yet we live in a time where uniqueness and emotional vulnerability are praised. How are we as the upcoming generation supposed to be competent in a society which necessitates emotional intellect and general openness when we originate from a state that normalizes latency and lack-of-acknowledgement? How do we measure up, Alabama?
Ultimately, what astounded me the most about my situation was not that my relative had endured this without my knowing for so long, but how many others shared stories like mine. How many families fell apart due to secrets like that. So where does it end? Where do we stop sweeping it under the rug and start clearing out the cobwebs? When do we start talking? If we as Americans hold our representatives in Washington to the highest standard of complete transparency, shouldn’t we do the same in our own homes?
The situation has become beyond critical and it is now that we must take action and fight against this practice. It is our responsibility as a progressive society that we label the southern tradition of “we just don’t talk about it” for what it is: toxic, destructive, and deadly. It is time we, yet again, re-label it our duty to change the stigma.
Written by: Olivia Blanton / @o.blanton
Edited by : Isabel Hope / @isabama / @isabamahope