I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile. I considered posting on my Facebook about this on October 10th, because it was World Mental Health Day, but my own anxiety around rejection and caring what people think stopped me. What will people think? Will they think I’m selfish for my stance because I’m not the one that directly suffers? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I was feeling was ‘The Stigma’. The stigma of mental illness is something that the media often is ranting about fighting, but the truth is, it is still there and it is still pretty strong.
What is stigma? The dictionary defines it as:
a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
I’m not sure I feel disgraced, but perhaps shameful like there is something wrong with me. This stigma doesn’t just apply to my own mental health ,which I haven’t held an ‘official’ diagnosis of illness since my teens, although it could be that I’m undiagnosed ‘something’. But it applies most recently to my father’s mental health. I consider myself one of his supporters as I am still in his life, unlike my three older sisters, who have never had that great of a relationship with him because of how abusive he was towards their mother mostly during their childhood. I get it, I mean right now it is hard enough for me to be here for my dad and he was there for me as a child. He was a good caregiver mostly in spite of his mental illness.
My dad isn’t doing well right now. This is where I struggle with ‘the stigma’. To use an analogy, if my dad’s mental illness was cancer, doctor’s would describe it as “terminal stage cancer that is unresponsive to chemotherapy and radiation”. But my dad’s mental illness isn’t cancer. He isn’t dying although sometimes when he is in certain moods I feel like the dad I grew up with is dead. Like a cancer unresponsive to cancer treatment, his illness isn’t responding to medications anymore or at least medication isn’t managing his illness like it did in the past. Hospitalized on and off for the past 12 to 14 years, the doctors have tried everything including electroshock therapy to try to find something that works. Almost 70 now, my dad will no longer go willingly to hospital, in spite of the fact that his manic episodes are worse than ever. So to get him to see the doctor we usually end up having to get him court ordered to see a doctor.I get why he refuses, doctors really haven’t been much help for him in the past and the combo of drugs, while much less effective than in the past, is more effective than no drugs.
Trying to put myself in his shoes, I feel terrible about doing that. I mean if he was dying of cancer and chose not to get cancer treatments anymore and just wanted to live out the rest of his life in peace, I wouldn’t have an issue. I’d be having a difficult time dealing with him dying but I would respect his wishes.
The difference: in a mania my dad tends to drink excessively and then endangers others by getting into his car and driving.He takes out massive loans to buy vehicles that he can’t afford to pay off. During a depression, he barely takes care of himself.
My step-mom couldn’t live with him anymore. He was destroying their house while manic and still blames her for how his life has turned out. In his defense, she tends to escalate during conflict but she means well. His last visit to the hospital, the doctors claimed his medication levels were OK and that it was ‘marital discord’ driving the manic behavior.If we were to plug this into the cancer analogy, it would be like the doctor saying: it is your fault he has cancer.
By the hospital’s recommendation, we found him a place to live on his own. The place happens to be an independent living apartment building for people that are 55 plus. Not a nursing home or supported living facility, an independent living apartment.
He has been rapid cycling every 2-3 weeks since he left the hospital alternating between very depressed and manic/mixed manic. He is drinking heavily during his manic phases. Right now, he is angry at us because he feels like we decided for him where he would move. I can’t deny that we pushed for it, I mean he has gotten himself kicked out of the transition housing and basically had nowhere to live.
Back to stigma, here is where the stigma comes in. If my dad had terminal cancer, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone. They would sympathize. But people get judgemental when it is mental illness or if not judgemental really awkward, having no idea what to say.
I hesitate to tell people my dad is Bipolar. I feel like it is his story to tell. At the same time by not sharing, I both miss out on support that I need and also perpetuate the stigma and the idea that having a mental illness is less normal than having cancer.
Bipolar is a difficult mental illness. Right now, my dad has come down from the high. He speaks to me rationally and there is no way that I could activate the personal directive I came down here to activate, even if I wanted to. I want to hold off on activating it as I know it will strain our relationship. If I had come down last week, it would have been a different story. I’m not even sure they would admit him to the hospital right now. I’m not even sure the hospital is the right place for him right now. I mean, he isn’t depressed enough. Not suicidal, thank goodness. If only psychiatrists were more plentiful, I wouldn’t be talking about getting him admitted to the hospital to see one. Later, when he wakes up from his nap, we are going to call his mental health outreach nurse. She is the key to seeing the psychiatrist.
I’m done ranting for now. I am really not sure what I’m supposed to do? I mean, he is fine now, but two or three weeks from now when he has cycled into his belligerent ‘I do what I want’ mood will I be able to say the same thing?
I feel like an asshole saying that I’m having a hard time with this. I mean whatever I’m feeling can’t compare to actually living his experience. But I am. It is hard to watch your parent struggle. I get through this like I always do…