What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is written by an anonymous reader.
Having a mental illness is a lot like having a physical illness. One of the main differences to me is, since you can't see the injury, you might think that it is easier to overcome. If someone is missing a leg you would not expect them to jump over a hurdle easily, you would not expect a person who is deaf to focus just a little harder so that they can hear you. It's seems like it is the same way for people who are born with or develop a mental illness. It can be frustrating to live with someone, especially when they don't take medicine that can help them cope, but even on the best days, with the right cocktail of meds, life can be paralyzing and incredibly difficult for not only them, but the people around them.
Most of my life growing up my father was reasonably stable. He went to work each day, he enjoyed participating in triathlons, he went to tropical destinations to surf and even surfed during blizzards in the dead of winter. He was always the crazy fun dad, not the crazy dad, yet.
After one of his trips to a far away place, he returned with that he thought was the flu. He had the flu for a very long time. I lived across the country then and my mother and sister would update me and tell me that he was still sort of sick and that he could not quite get better. Then one day, a day I remember well, they called me to tell me that he had been admitted to a mental institution. That he had attacked my sister who went to check on him and was screaming about wild animals attacking him. It turned out that he had actually gotten a blood infection, that infected his brain and to this day we aren't entirely sure how it is all connected, he was diagnosed as being bipolar and manic depressive with taxoplasmosis (it wasn't the flu).
Things changed VERY quickly. I moved back home, he had to leave his job, he stopped all physical activities and just sat around, catatonic, eating cookies and not speaking. It was like he had died. I remember being in my new apartment in my hometown, my boyfriend at the time was in the living room watching tv, I was in my bedroom resting for a minute and I heard the doorbell ring, I heard my dad's voice and before I knew it, my door was flung open and he threw a burrito at my head. He was wearing an Iraqi solder's uniform and was just muttering nonsensical things, then, when I came out of my room he starting throwing tons and tons of 20 dollar bills up in the air and at me and then he ran out the door. I looked at my boyfriend at the time, unable to even explain anything, picked up the bills on the floor, cleaned up the burrito mess and then I too just walked out the door on to the street and started to cry.
At first people were there to help, because he was the dad, that was everyone else's dad who didn't have one. After awhile, when it became clear that he wasn't getting better quickly "enough" people stopped asking about him. In fact, they avoided even saying his name. So he sat there inside the house, watching the weather channel, eating his cookies growing further and further away from who was. I felt embarrassed that my dad was like this but also felt ashamed that I was so embarrassed.
This was 14 years ago. He has been in and out of the same mental institution several times. I even took my kids there once to see him and he just sat there smiling not saying a word. In the meantime we suddenly lost our mother and instead of being able to talk to him about it, or seek comfort in him, we had to not speak to him about it at all. He spiraled and was out of control and somehow managed to spend half a million dollars in several months with nothing to show for it.
A couple of years ago when I went back home to visit, it was great. I could not quite place my finger on what was different, what had changed, but it had. When I asked my sister if she noticed it too, she said yes, she said that he was almost like before, he was almost, normal again. We made sure to tiptoe around this, hoping that it would stay and it did for awhile and ended again. Last week, he sent me an invoice via email. It was an invoice listing all of the money that I owed him for raising me, health insurance, groceries, family vacations. Everything that would account for him just being my father. It's not entirely clear if he expects me to pay it, it usually works for me to ignore the emails that are sent at 1:44 am (I always check the time stamp), because whatever is within them is usually not good. It is hard for me not to write back "Is this net 30?" If I write anything its, "love you!", or "this seems like you sent it in the middle of the night, are you feeling ok?", then we usually urge him to contact his therapist. I like it better when he sends me emails about the evils of domestic cats, even though he convinced they are going to ruin the world, it's just cats and it feels lighter.
I wish that my children had a grandfather that could spend time with them alone, but I'm worried that he might run off in a fit of panic and leave them standing alone on a street corner. I wish that I could have called my dad when I nearly died after a surgery but everyone told me not to burden him, I wish that my dad could have held me after my mother died rather than manically trying to plan a funeral that would have horrified her. I wish that my dad didn't buy insane expensive necklaces for me that he can't afford which I force him to return but he instead gifts to a random taxi driver. I wish that I lived closer to him but I also am thankful that I live so far away.
I wish that he was only missing a leg so that I could help him get a prosthetic one, I wish that he was deaf so that he could learn to sign, I wish that he didn't have to live through the pain he lives through now. I wish that he was just a regular dad, but he isn't and it is what it is. I hope that I can teach my kids about what mental illness is, I hope that I raise them into adults that don't suffer from the same issues or help them cope with it if they have to, I hope that they can also educate people and help eliminate some of the stigmas attached to mental illness.
I wish and hope that the same thing doesn't happen to me.