8 years. Tomorrow marks 8 years since my father passed away.
I’ve written a lot about it (no, really: start here, then here, and here ). I honestly thought I had gotten past it, because the past few years had been much more successful emotionally when this day came and went. I felt I had conquered that demon. Or whatever. But here I am, feeling entirely paralyzed by whatever it is that overcomes me during the beginning of July.
I had a dream with him in it a week or so ago. I hadn’t dreamed of him in a long time, and the previous time had been almost a “goodbye” of sorts. He was getting on a rollercoaster and he looked healthy and he smiled at me. Like he was telling me he was okay. This dream, I can’t remember details, but he was there. It wasn’t negative though. But I think I am feeling it this year because I am finally understanding my father just a little bit more since my bipolar diagnosis, or rather, my acceptance of my diagnosis. I see how incredibly hard it can be living in your own head when it betrays you. I realize how people treated him, how they dismissed him, how, even I, just thought he was “crazy” and didn’t want to deal with him because it was all too much. For that, I am so sorry. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, as there are so many of us who lead rather productive lives even with mental illness, BUT–35 years ago when my mother knew things weren’t right, she had no resources in our tiny community.
I hadn’t realized what I was dealing with until I had a recent distinct manic episode following a long period of depressive episodes. Sure, I had experienced them in the past, but nothing like this, nothing where I was able to stop myself and go “woah, you are manic, slow down, it’s okay.” If I am being completely honest, in the moment the mania is nice–you get a LOT done. It’s also horrible, you can’t focus on one thing long enough and you feel like a rambling idiot sometimes. I also know that even though I had the frame of mind to tell myself I was experiencing a manic episode, it took me almost 24 hours to get to that point. I couldn’t sleep, I kept having these AMAZING ideas that I HAD to write down and it was as if something was compelling me to write, I kept telling myself to go to sleep, but there was this voice going “if you don’t get up and write this brilliant idea down, you will regret it tomorrow because what if you forget this tiny little detail? And this tiny little detail will make or break this idea!” I tried so hard to shut my brain off, but I kept getting up, writing down these ideas. I was exhausted the next day, but I still HAD to get the ideas I had written down into a cohesive format, so I spent a good portion of my day, as exhausted as I was, writing out this plan. Then when it was done, I was trying to move on to the next idea, all while trying to multitask and do everything I had been putting off just a few days before.
Only a few weeks prior I had barely been able to get out of bed.
You can understand how that can screw with a person. The real mind-fuck is: I am actually medicated. I went to my doctor, we adjusted my medication, and I am ultimately FINE. Sure, I may have another episode, because, unfortunately, medication is not a magic fix. BUT, with medication, therapy and a strong support system, which, I do have, I am stronger and better able to deal with these situations. My father wasn’t as lucky. Medication is hard to get right. Mine was working just fine…until it wasn’t. Then we had to adjust it and now, i’m cruising along again (mostly) okay. I don’t know my father’s full story. I doubt I ever will. But what I do know is that the stigma of mental illness contributed to a lot of what went wrong in his situation. Which is why I refuse to hide mine. Maybe you don’t agree with that, but this is my life, and I have seen what pushing it under the rug does. I’m not my diagnosis. I’m not a liability. Even if I forget that every now and again. And neither was my father.
This doesn’t magically absolve him from all the awful shit he did, but I do understand it and I choose to believe that those things were a product of an unmedicated, mentally ill mind. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe he was a real jackass. But, regardless, he helped create two very amazing women, who, in turn, between them, created three pretty amazing girls. So there’s that.
When my father first died, someone reached out to me and said “I’m so sorry for your loss–but you weren’t very close, right?” As graciously as I could, I thanked them and tried not scream and hurl obscenities at them. It is the one thing I have always struggled with when it comes to my father and his death. I felt like I wasn’t “allowed” to grieve. Especially not after all this time. Maybe that is why it is still there. Because we weren’t close. Because I didn’t know him. Because I keep learning more about him through myself, so I start feeling connections that I never had before, so I lose things I never knew I had. Which, realistically shouldn’t hurt. But they do. It kills me that I didn’t answer the phone when he called in the weeks leading up to his death. It kills me that I didn’t understand, REALLY understand what it is like to be at war with your own head. Growing up and learning so much about myself and seeing the struggle though my own eyes. I just wish I could sit with him and say “hey, I get it” because it feels amazing when you realize you aren’t alone. When you see or read or hear about other people who go through these things. Because while you wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy, it exists, and it is nice to know you aren’t alone in the world with your struggle.
I pray my children do not have to go through this–but I don’t blame him, or harbor any ill will. So, while this is a generalization, and does not apply to everyone with bipolar disorder, MANY with the illness, (myself included), feel things incredibly deeply. Every emotion is jacked up to 11. So yes, this means I cry a lot. It means I get REALLY sad and I can feel sad about things for awhile. I cry over the world and the horrible things that happen. I can get super bummed for a long time and feel weighed down. But it also means I have so much joy. Incredible, mind-numbing, jaw-dropping joy. Delight. Wonder. Love. I find happiness in such little things. I’m not sure if I am willing to give that up. It is a part of who I am. Good and bad. So I am sad today. And I may be a little sad tomorrow. But it will pass. And it will be okay. And so will I.