You’d be surprised to know that your Dad is not the man I married. He’s not the same, inside or out. But then again, I guess I’m not either.
Your Dad, before he was your Dad, was relaxed, caring, thoughtful, passionate, sporty, adventurous. The man I married would look at me.
Your Dad is still caring, but he’s not relaxed. He now has frown lines on his face. So do I. He has some grey hairs. He’s put on weight. I’m sure that you just see him as old, but I see him as old before his time.
When you, child #1, were born, our world changed. A miracle had turned us into a family. We were so blessed. But then reality set in. The pressure sunk down. And Dad got sick. It took a while to recognise, and while we were trying to figure out what was happening, it spiralled. Depression turned into hearing things, seeing things. Psychosis turned into danger.
Our GP knew he was out of his depth and the big guns were called in. When they put Dad in a car that could not be opened from the inside, I stopped breathing. When I visited him in a place where I walked past people sitting on the floor, making strange noises, making strange movements, to a room where he had written random, unfathomable words all over a whiteboard, my heart stopped. When the hospital staff told me to keep you, #1, away from the hospital, my mind stopped.
I didn’t know what was happening and no one could explain it to me. My family and friends did not know the details because how could I explain that the man who had looked me in the eye and told me he would love me forever, could no longer look me in the eye? Could no longer hold our baby son. Could no longer hold my hand…
The doctors kept trying to fit him and his symptoms into a box. But he is a person, and people don’t belong in boxes. They kept trying different medications on him, some with awful side effects, like pain, weight gain, constant hiccups. Some would work for a while. Some would sedate. Some would make it worse.
All this time we kept trying to fix our life, retake control; make this stop. A new job for him. A new house. A new town. And, after a good spell, a new baby. Nothing worked.
Finally though, some hope; the new town had a new system. The new system had a new nurse. I believe she saved us.
It got to the stage where I could not handle our life anymore. The constant mood fluctuations, the never-knowing what I would be presented with. The uncertainty, the unhappiness. The hospital stays while I lied to you, our #1 child, being three years old at the time - telling you that Dad was away working. I didn’t know what was best. I didn’t know how to tell a three year-old that his Dad might kill himself, or run away, or…. I couldn’t explain to you why Dad couldn’t look at you, why Dad couldn’t look after you. Why Dad slept a lot, why Mum was so unhappy. I could not do it anymore.
But our nurse saw this. She saw that we were all Dad had left to believe in. She saw how broken I was. And she held me up. She understood. Another drug was given. Another perspective cut through Dad’s mind.
As usual, it took months for this drug to start working. Meantime, Dad lost his job. His ‘dream’ job. The job he had moved me away from my family and friends for. But, we had you both (aged five and two, by now) and slowly Dad was starting to look up and out again.
This time the drug did work. We moved again. A new job, a new house, school for you #1. And life started getting easier. Not back to ‘normal’, because I don’t believe in ‘normal’ anymore. But easier.
We told our family and we told our friends. Some couldn’t cope. Some couldn’t understand. Some didn’t want to hear. Those ones just pretend it never happened now, because they don’t know what to do with it. That’s okay. I wouldn’t know either if I hadn’t gone through it.
Before I married your Dad all I knew about mental health was that some people, not people I knew, were super crazy and probably not fit for society. They needed medicine and probably wouldn’t function properly ever again. I knew people got depressed but I thought that was circumstantial; a break-up, a death. There was a reason.
I know differently now. I know that severe mental illness is an illness. It attacks its victim’s brain. The victim cannot prevent it. The victim cannot stop it. The victim can do very little to survive it. But they can do something. What the victim needs is medicine to help their brain to get back in line. You need a cast on your arm to keep it in line after it has been broken, so it can heal again. To heal, the brain needs love, compassion, understanding and support. It’s a long road.
The brain does not need to be called “crazy” or “mental”. It does not need to be told that it is “weak”, that the problems are its “fault”, that it’s not worthy. Those things will break it again. The brain is already telling itself those things so it needs you to show it that you don’t believe it. Then maybe it will stop thinking that way too.
Dad was sick. Very sick. We almost lost him. We almost lost our family. But it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do anything to get that sick. He couldn’t have stopped it.
There are many reasons that it got as bad as it did; predominantly a health system and a society not accepting of mental health issues as illness. He had tried to seek help before from a GP who pretty much told him to get over himself. He had been let down by people who were supposed to care for him and there was no acknowledgment of how this might affect him.
He hadn’t been taught to communicate and work through his feelings. His life view had been challenged. He lived in a time where being depressed was a weakness and not an illness. But he was saved. By people supporting him. Eventually, by medicine. By understanding. Most importantly, by strength.
I cannot describe to you how strong your Father is. What he overcame so he could be your Father today. It would have been much easier for him to give in to his illness and just let it take him away. But he didn’t. He fought. He tried so many different types of medicines, in spite of the side effects. He kept trying to work; to keep a normal life. He kept trying to be a Dad and to be a husband. He is a hero; your hero.
So yes, your Dad is not the man I married. He is a new man. He is a man who has overcome a life threatening illness in a society that did not support him. He fought to be the person he is today, and he is still fighting. He always will be.
I fight too. I have been fighting for the past eight years. I was thrown into an unknown and scary world. Most importantly though, it was an isolated world. I was on my own in that world. And so I fought. I almost left it but I didn’t. Every day I keep fighting.
So please remember my beautiful, wonderful children, that life is not all it seems. Life is not easy. But we must be grateful for all that we have. For each other, and for health. We are doing our best, but we will make mistakes.
Your life will be different because every day people are talking more about mental health. Every day people are understanding and accepting more. But there is a long road to go, and you must play your part too. Be proud that your dad was sick, because he is still here. Be proud that your family has suffered from mental health issues because we have come through them. Talk about how you feel. Talk to others about how they feel. Talk about what you think.
Talk, care and understand.
That is all I can ask of you.
All my love,