In order to fully understand MY mental illness you need to know a bit about my family history. I am going to tell you about my dad. He also battled mental illness. My dad had many struggles in his lifetime and Major Depression was one of them. He also had horrible Anxiety. I'm not a doctor, but when you start combining mental illnesses it gets confusing. Clinically, he was Bipolar or some say Manic-Depressive.
I didn’t understand the severity of his condition until later in life. As a kid I never thought about mental illness. I didn’t have to. Heck, I didn't make the connection until well after college. You know how it goes—we don’t always take seriously, the things that don’t directly affect us. On top of that, my dad’s mental illness was always masked by habitual drug use, to include alcohol and other drugs. He received help countless times in his life and proceeding that was usually a relapse. His addictions kept him away from his kids and the rest of his family.
Now, in my adult life, I’m familiar with mental illness. I’m more educated than I’ve ever been. I know that it kept my dad from being himself. I have a couple memories of my dad from childhood, but the rest, the most important ones, were later in life. That’s just how it worked out.
It wasn’t until I found out he had HIV that I developed a relationship with him. He wanted a second chance because death was knocking on his door.
I never judged my dad. Not once. I never told people that he was a loser or a horrible father. I think it’s because I knew. I knew in my heart that he struggled I just wasn’t sure why. While I say I never understood the severity of his condition, I did know compassion. That would be one piece of advice that I would give others who are trying to understand mental illness. Just have compassion. The rest will come.
My dad began writing letters as a part of his healing. There were many years between the last time I saw my dad and his first letter. Actually, I recently began sorting through them. I have every single letter from him. In his writing, he was the best dad. I looked forward to those letters. I always wrote him back too. He would send pictures of what was going on in his life; photos of his dad, his other kids, and events and activities he participated in. He spent lots of time in a halfway house. A halfway house is a center for helping former drug addicts, prisoners, psychiatric patients, or others to adjust to life in general society. So many of the photos he sent were from his time at these houses.
Eventually he asked if he could see us. When I say us, that includes my sister Katie. You’ll hear from her later. Anyways, we started visiting. The visits were not how many imagine of a father and his daughters. He was embarrassed, ashamed, and unsure of how to act around us. It was mutual at times, but we tried not to show it. We met up at restaurants where he’d say he was thankful he had some cash to treat us to lunch or dinner. He never really had money when he was clean. We’d see him for some holidays where we were often gifted with a religious trinket. I personally was never religious, but I supported his beliefs. He said believing in God helped him to get sober and eventually come to terms with his path in life. He found peace in his mistakes. I couldn't argue with that.
On his road to recovery and in his letters he continued to ask for forgiveness. I forgave him. I forgave him long before he asked for it. I took each moment I spent with him and I cherished the shit out of it. I wanted to learn about his struggles. I felt that it was the only way for me to show him he was loved. He was ill and would soon leave this world.
I did all I could to make him feel like he mattered. In the end, he said it did. The last time I saw my dad's face my sister and I were sitting by his side. He was on oxygen, but basically gone. Not coherent. He would never open his eyes again. We touched his hand. We talked to him. We even laughed a bit. More like giggled. Because we're human. I mean, what do you say?! I think it was very fitting. My dad would've liked to hear us giggle.
At his funeral he wanted the song Wild World played by Cat Stevens. “Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. It’s hard to get by just upon a smile. Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. I’ll always remember you like a child, girl.”
Join me next week as I take you back to my college days.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.