Something has been bothering me lately…more than usual.
Mental illness is embedded within my family. It wasn’t talked about openly and growing up, people rarely understood what it was like to have mental illness or what it was like to have a parent struggle with their mental health.
There were no family counselling sessions or support offered from extended family.
No one at school to talk to.
No friends to commiserate with.
It was like a poorly kept secret, that everyone knew about but no one ever addressed.
It was well into my adolescence when I actually began to grasp that my father wasn’t being mean or cold. There was a name for it. It explained so much.
But still I don’t think I fully understood
Even when I would fetch him water in the mornings which I knew would help ease his panic.
Even when the sound of a door closing brought him to an angry place.
Even when I noticed the eggshells that we walked on leaving a messy trail.
I’m pained to admit that it took me dealing with my own mental illness for me to even remotely grasp the severity of what my father was going through…had been going through for so many years.
And still we didn’t really talk about it.
I remember asking my mother to tell me more about what had happened when he first got sick (Italian speak for when his symptoms began to appear).
I listened intently.
I wanted to know. To understand.
To find myself in the reflections of him.
But it was too much
It was too painful
I made her stop
And I’ve never wanted to hear any more.
My father is older now. Weird to say that he’s ‘elderly’.
He’s 71 years old.
And it hasn’t gotten easier for him
Or for us.
No matter how much I can relate to him.
I still feel like a stranger looking through a window at someone that I can never really reach.
Unlike movies and books, his struggle continues.
Even with having grandkids and being the patriarch of a kooky but kind family that love him very much.
It all still persists
And still people don’t understand
They don’t understand his struggle
And how lonely both sides are.
Anyone suffering with mental illnesses especially anxiety and depression has surely heard people say ridiculous comments like ‘everyone is anxious’ or ‘we all worry’ or ‘everyone gets sad or down’ or ‘you gotta be positive’
Those people despite being naive are also so lucky that they have never known the truth of what it means to have a mental illness.
They haven’t had to beg to any higher being to make the pain go away.
To make the fear of going crazy end.
To make the sad thoughts disappear.
To constantly be at war with your own mind.
I know physical pain is horrible but it’s like an outside force causing it.
Mental illness is different.
You feel at war with yourself.
And that’s so frightening
Because even laying comfortably in bed, those feelings haunt you.
They keep you awake all night
They make you want to sleep all day.
And you can’t really explain that to people.
When people ask you how you are. You can’t blurt out that you’re feeling particularly like you’re going fucking bonkers.
You can’t just say that the sadness in the world is overwhelming you.
It’s so shitty when it’s going on in your own body and mind.
And it’s unbearable to watch your parent struggle.
When you’re young and you want comfort but can’t find it
When you’re young and you want to feel secure and there’s only panic.
When you’re both older and you want to see peace settling in but there’s only turmoil.
When you’re both older and you want to see a happy ending. But you only see him in pain and you can’t help but worry that will be your ending too.
When you’ve done everything but you can’t escape your family history or genetics.
But at the very least, I can unequivocally say:
Dad…now I understand.