Guest Post in Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month
by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh
As many of you know, I speak often about my journey with mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness month and rather than rehash where I’ve been, I decided to open up my site to others who wish to tell their stories living with or loving someone who must traverse the complicated landscape that is mental illness. Hopefully, in these guest posts, you can see the subtle ways that awareness is necessary in order for us to live healthy and full lives. AND also how difficult it is for those around us to deal with our mental health issues. Getting healthy and seeking treatment not only for ourselves, but for the people who love us.
This first post was written beautifully and from a perspective that I found haunting and touching. I hope you also find some strength and understanding from it.
Thank you, Mstygerlily for sharing your story with us.
You can contact mstygerlily via the following:
Love someone and mean it,
My Daddy Is Depressed
by Ms Tyger Lily
I, like many women of my generation, have “Daddy Issues.” Other than getting divorced from my mother on paper, my Daddy was an ideal father. He made all of the obligatory appearances at special performances. He’d go with my mother to Parent-Teacher Conferences. He made pancakes when I would have a slumber party. He even did a couple of stints as the president of the PTA at the various schools I attended. On the surface, my Daddy did everything to appear to be the ideal father.
So, why do I have Daddy Issues?
My Daddy is depressed.
Depression is not the trite and overused expression that teens toss around to express their boredom or dissatisfaction with their adolescent emotional turmoil. My Daddy suffers from clinical depression. At my current age, I now understand the disease way better than I once did.
If you have no experience loving someone who is mentally ill, think of it like this:
It is like constantly living on the hottest day in the summer while everyone else is has an Olympic sized pool to swim in and all you have is one of those small kiddie pools you can buy at Toys R Us; it’ll cool you off a little, but it isn’t as refreshing as being able to submerge your whole body. The person you love is there, and you know that they love you, but it isn’t as immersive a love as the love others get.
There was something wrong with our relationship for years, but as a child, I thought there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until my parents separated and we all started to go to family counseling, that my dad came to grips with the turmoil he’d been living with his entire life.
Having a parent who is depressed means you’re never sure which version of your parent you’re going to be faced with in encounters. His mannerisms are often erratic. His moods are beyond inconsistent. His emotional reactions to situations are often not in sync.
Over the years that I’m never quite sure if I love my daddy for who he is or for the idea of what my daddy should be. My father has been on medication for 18 years. He has tried talk therapy, hypnotists, diet changes all to no avail. When he has a good spell, he enjoys life, he’s an excellent conversationalist, and he can be so charming he makes you want to be around him and bask in his stories and accomplishments. When my Daddy’s on an upswing, I LOVE hanging out with him. He’s so funny & witty, though extremely bossy, and I feel every bit the Daddy’s Girl that I am. He never is that daddy for very long. It wasn’t until recently I began to understand how little control he had over his moods. When he’s going through a bad spell, it hurts physically to be around him. He sleeps for days on end, is prone to swing from anger to sadness to ennui, and repeats himself frequently.
I feel torn because I want to tell the truth about how his condition has affected my siblings and I, but I also want to protect his appearance. He has always been extremely concerned with how people perceive him and by extension, us, hence the reason he always made sure to maintain a good image of being the family man even if it was a façade. Not wanting to admit something was “wrong” made it even more difficult for us to figure out how to “fix it.” It made me hyper conscious of my mental state; I didn’t want to get married and have babies that I would affect by my affected personality. It seemed irresponsible to me that my father knew something was wrong and never “fixed it” before it damaged his relationships with us and with my mother.
In Fall 2008, my father called me and told me he had an enlarged prostate. After a few tests were done, it turned out he has Prostate Cancer. 8 years ago, I lost my grandfather and surrogate grandmother to cancer. My grandfather had lived with it for 7 years, but my Lita died within 3 months of it being found. Those losses were still fresh in my mind when my daddy called me. I started to see the sands in my Daddy’s hourglass ebbing out. When he called me to tell me, I was putting the groceries away. I told him that everything was going to be ok and that I loved him more than he knew, then hung up. My legs couldn’t hold me up anymore. I curled up on the floor and sobbed.
My father has never handled disappointment well; depression keeps him from being able to be optimistic. When the doctors told him he could have between a few months to several years, he heard “a few months.” He relays “a few months diagnosis” to us, we got upset, prepared for the worst, only to find out that “a few months” is the worst case scenario and highly unlikely only Life with Daddy is always emotional rollercoaster. I prayed every day and every night that my father wouldn’t give up on life.
When I went away to school, I put some space between my father and I. I needed to develop a coping strategy on how to deal with him and his inconsistencies. Trying to create a relationship with him, and still preserve my mental stability has been exhausting.
Now, I call my daddy periodically and make small talk. I ignore his moods and draw him into upbeat conversations. I do it for both of us. Even though he sounds distracted or barely listening as if he has a million other things he would rather be doing, I have learned not to take it personally. I continue because I don’t want to ever feel like I didn’t do everything I possibly could to facilitate a relationship between us.