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Living with a father who suffers from bipolar Living with a father who suffers from bipolar
by Abigail George
2010-06-06 09:28:01
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My father gives a unique, relevant and compelling voice to the invisible voice that prevails when it comes to the invisible thread of mood disorders. He has suffered from bipolar mood disorder from his late teens. During his own personal life experience he has triumphed above all overwhelming odds that confronted and challenged him.

Everyone suffers from ‘emotional baggage’ but there is more to it when it comes to bipolar or suffering from any other mental illness including a mood disorder.

My father has always taught me to dream big. Growing up I always knew that there was something special about him. He has suffered and lost, gained from personal blows to his ego and throughout his many life experiences his indomitable strength has always shone through. In my eyes he has always been nothing but a saint. He was the perfect father when I was growing up. I remember all the things that he taught me. He taught me how to love most of all and that the human heart is indecipherable though the keys to unlocking it are numerous.

He often came, and still does to this day, under fire for spreading the awareness of mental health in our community - he puts and pours his heart and soul into it - but he deals with it on a daily basis as best he can.

There is a dual relationship between mania and depression when it comes to bipolar. They are inseparable. They are bound, bonded together like Siamese twins.

The mania gives rise to behaviour that is reckless, wild, unpredictable, unforgiving; it makes you think that you are exceptional and despair, a slump in your mood and desperation comes with the depression. Depression is fast becoming the sickness of our time and of this generation. It has become a silent killer with indeterminable triggers and setbacks.

From my own personal life experience living and growing up with a father struggling with bipolar was far from easy. It taught me hard life lessons like that if you are suffering from a mental illness you can still be strong on the surface of things, keeping it together, functioning in a stressful workplace, a household filled with children creating chaos and mayhem in the kitchen but you can still feel empty and frustrated from the depression you are suffering from.

One thing I have learnt is that there is hope even when you feel rejected, helpless and alone. When bipolar becomes such a struggle that it becomes difficult for you to function and survive there are people around you who can motivate you with positive words of encouragement when you need it the most from the people who care about you and love you for who you are. Not just as a nameless, faceless person but who see you as a human being that comes with all the flaws and imperfections of being human.

On some days when I was still a child and sometimes confused by my own father’s behaviour it would feel as if I was looking into a cracked mirror; that was the place I called home. Although my father still made me feel safe when I was small and as long as he kept his demons at bay he kept my own far away from my own child’s mind.

There were the five of us caught in the middle of this raging storm at sea with no lifeline in sight sometimes, my mother, my sister, my brother, me and my father. There were days when the only link we had to each other was my father. The battle against the depression was an uphill struggle. Visits to the clinic where my father was hospitalised for his mania were regular occurrences when we were growing up. So were family counselling sessions. We all had to see and sit down face-to-face with a family psychologist every week while he was there but this very quickly became normal for us. In these sessions nothing was sacred or held back. Everything came under scrutiny that happened in our house but we never gave away much, all of us tending to be quiet and withdrawn. This was obviously learned behaviour. We were taking our cue from our parents. As children we didn’t know how to recognise a helping hand that could soothe the situation we found ourselves in.

These times gave us false hope sometimes that perhaps this would be the last time; just maybe. But that wasn’t to be. The illness always came back with a vengeance. Even now I can see how my father’s daily suffering affected and impacted my siblings. As adults we all carry the deep emotional wounds and scarring coming from childhood. We internalised our father’s sadness, melancholy, depression, manic state of mind, the restless and frustrating mania that we and he had no control over and slowly we learnt to accept it as our own.

My father makes everything around him beautiful. It spills out of his mind, his tenderness, his kindness, his tolerance, his calm, cool, collected head, his words and his language in the books he writes prolifically, out of the devastation and wreckage that was and is bipolar and his genes and his spirit. It has not diminished with age.

Being bipolar has not tarnished his image in the community instead it has made him a beacon of hope and an example to others who live daily with the denial of having a mental illness. When he was unafraid to discover who he was, he put the spotlight on the illness that he suffered from. While he relived his manic episodes in terrifying flashbacks while he was awake and that came upon him in his dreams from his subconscious when he was least expecting it there are those who cower back, who refrain from exploring the ghosts that haunt them from their own past but he took it in his stride.

When I think back to my childhood a whole deluge of images swim in front of my eyes; it is sometimes a manic blur frame by frame by frame. My childhood was a crazy place to live in. I can’t even imagine what it was like for my younger sister and brother growing up. The only way all of us could deal with the ‘bipolar’ was not to say much about the subject; for it to remain a moot point when it came up for discussion in front of the psychologist.

My father is still after all this time my hero. He is a writer, a father, a teacher, a futurist, a nurturer and a protector; noble, patient and wise and my best friend.

Bipolar holds your body and your mind hostage. There is no way that you can go back to the previous life that you lived without it coming back to haunt you sometime in the future. It clutters up your brain like a game of pick-up-sticks; erases happier memories, your head space, it doesn’t make you hold back on the small truths and big lies that you hold inside your head and your heart. It takes a long while before your dignity, health and integrity is restored. It is always a healing work in progress.

This mood disorder can render you helpless and senseless at the worst of times.

It makes you want to project a healing crusade onto the yoke of bondage that you throw off when it comes to bipolar. One that you want to project onto the feelings, emotions, actions, reactions and responses that rise up within you when you are either faced with a high head on or a bluesy low. You can never go through moodswings without it leaving its indelible mark behind for the whole world to see, especially your loved ones and your close family. Reaching a fine, subtle balance when you suffer from bipolar can sometimes be just out of reach. You have to learn how to deal with the frustration, the distress that comes with the illness and the lack of control all in one and learn to let go of it. Learning to surrender is all a part of it.

It is hard to live with, love someone with all your heart and grow up with someone who lives in such close proximity to you who suffers from this illness. When you are a child your own moods, your private thoughts make you resilient, make you bounce back consistently from things that trouble you, strengthen you from the inside out, and make your realise that facing this illness demands sacrifice on your part no matter what age you are.

You cannot discriminate. You are forced not to and cannot self-destruct or sabotage yourself in the relationships you have with other people, your family, your friends or the life your lead just because daddy isn’t himself today or doesn’t want have the energy to spend any time with you or play with you. Yet as a child you still have to find a release somewhere. For all of us, the four of us, we fought our own way out of this illness that seemed fit to overwhelm us, pull us down drowning, forced us to put our hands up and surrender.

I cannot speak for all of us. My father’s moods could be electric, maddening and confusing. The journey for all of us was one towards the all-consuming presence of light that would shut out the invisible dark side of his nature that touched us. Bipolar leaves families bewildered, heartbroken and marooned in an uncomfortable space between reality; what is normal and what is abnormal. My father’s experience with this illness was a very private one. One he did not share easily sometimes with the rest of the family but as I grew older he began to slowly confide in me.

The only way to transcend the painful revelations that comes with bipolar is to realise that there will be days when there is depression, stressful situations in which conflict and challenges abound that we all will be faced with, moods that are terrifying and all at once lifesaving. There were moods that needed to be killed with pills.

The freedom that comes from having this knowledge is a comfort and it transforms us daily. It can also drive you slowly insane sometimes when everything normal, happy and cheerful is out of your reach.

There was always a radiant smile behind which my father hid and while he suffered in silence we all did in a way. We covered up this family secret, bipolar, with secrets and lies even if we didn’t mean to we went out of way to do it.

My father teaches me everyday how light can be illuminated, how it can co-exist in fragile systems, hurtling through space and between bodies at indeterminate speeds, always infinitely expanding and contracting to the universe’s own breath not unlike our own breath and how some people call this light God.

The human condition is also a great teacher. It teaches us that human beings suffer needlessly, life is unfair and that sometimes bad things happen to good people and there’s no reason that anyone can come to for why this happens. We can’t explain it only see it, the illness as a blessing in disguise. It has taught us all so much about love and acceptance. Lessons we wouldn’t even have conceived of if it didn’t happen to our family. Every family has heartache of their own and their own problems that they deal with.

My voice is just one in a million. My father’s valiant struggle with this mood disorder, bipolar, is also just one in a million.

The journey we have all been on has always been and is the destination. He has always been larger than life and his spirit invincible. His love so strong, his vibrant laughter, his bedazzling, enchanting smile comes daily shining through brightly even when all there is is gloom in the day and it burns unashamedly, giving off invisible, yet intense, almost blinding vibrations like the white sun. I can see it in his eyes; sparkling like glitter or sequins.

Lost inside of him somewhere is still a little boy who grew up with a father who was a barman at an elite, posh country club and a mother who was a housekeeper.

He is all mine and I am so thankful and grateful for that. I am grateful for his generosity and warmth. He is love and his love is inside of me. It grows from strength to strength with all the adversities that I face. I call him home. He is a gift. I love him for his courageousness, the sound of his voice when I call his name ‘daddy’, when he needs me, his oddball sense of humour and his humility.

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