Dad appeared to me in spinning class

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emotional scar tissue / Humor / mental health / relationships / Uncategorized

IMG_2489Yes, you heard me right.  My father, now reduced to “cremains” (Blog #1 in my “Ashes” series), just showed up right out of the blue.  It wasn’t odd only due to the fact that I’d never seen him in spandex or even on a bike, for that matter, but that I was humming along to a song about miracles.  He died February 26, 2014. I have been waiting rather impatiently since February 27th to hear from him.  I’ve gotten absolutely nothing.  No tingling sense of his “presence”. No visuals, no words in my head, nothing.

Suddenly with my eyes closed tightly, sweat dripping down my face, into my chest and down my backside (ew), he appeared to me.  He was almost smiling. He had blackish hair with very mild grey at his sideburns. I heard his voice. He said, “Well hiya’ Jules!” in a tenor pitch with his thick Maine accent.  I wanted more from him but some resistance occurred in my brain…like some kind of “technical difficulty” where TV images flash on and off again and the more anxious and irritated you get over the interruption in your viewing, the more scattered with static the screen gets. Negative pictures took over, almost fighting in my head over who got the floor…my negative images of him in my life with the crazed, glazed over eyes versus this snippet of him joining me with relaxed ease.  Granted I have many more negative memories than positive ones, but to snuff out the few positives with a self-induced negative was just cruel of myself.

Why would my very own brain sabotage me like that? Is that how I’d rather see him? Is it victim-induced behavior to perseverate over the crappy parts and gloss over the more tender times?  Or are the beautiful moments too difficult to completely open myself up for? How could I NOT be ready for viewing the good stuff? I’ve already forgiven him for the lousy parts.

I did that at the hospital. It would have been grossly cliché except for the part that I did the forgiving AFTER Dad died.  The actual cliché rule only holds true if  I sat by his bed and spoke to his conscious self, whereby he would have been given the opportunity to apologize to me prior to the forgiving-him-part.  I’m hypothesizing here, but my educated guess is that he would have never actually apologized to me for a transitional childhood filled with an almost surreal fear, countless new schools, emotional and verbal abuse. Rather than set myself up for failure, I just forgave him anyway. Given the nature of the beast, Dad could not have been held responsible probably a good 90% of the time.

Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got. – Robert Brault

Besides, the way it worked out Dad was, of course, all ears.   Then there was this awful sobbing noise with these obnoxious nose-running sounds the whole time. The kind a nose makes when one tries like hell to sniff up all the thin liquidy mucous; yet it’s so watery and in such enormous amounts that it is really hard to capture fully.  I was only mildly empathetic, as I know how that feels; however, it was incredibly distracting to say the least. Anyway, there was a moment when I heard this and stopped a sec to pinpoint the whereabouts of this poor pitiful creature.  It was 3: (freakin’) 14 in the a.m. for pete’s sake! Who in the hell else was in this hospital besides my sister (currently in the ladies room), the hospital staff, a boatload of sleeping geriatric cardiac patients and I?

Turns out, it was me carrying on like a loon.  The same me that detests soap operas because they are so silly and dramatic — though some of that music could have accompanied the scene rather beautifully in this particular situation.  I actually heard it all as if I was an outsider looking in. Detachment, a bonus attribute one gets from being a survivor of all kinds of unfortunate childhood circumstances has been my protector, my front line, to throw in a football analogy.

Detachment comes in when a person needs to check out for one reason or another, generally trauma of some kind. With detachment I can say I was there without actually being there.  Get it? That defense takes away the sting of the emotion that maybe your brain can’t quite process at the moment.  It takes the “hit”, if you will. In this definition it’s almost a decision one makes rather than a diagnosis; which describes when  one is incapable of feeling emotional connections. It’s a flavor savor of sorts, holding onto it until the brain decides it can digest the information without freaking out too terribly.

I can’t help but get philosophical about all this though.  My brain thinks like this: the calm, disease-free Dad joined me in my exercise class because my mind was currently freed up from the negativity that I tend to favor?!  Nope.  That can’t be it.  Let’s try this again…My father, now in a healthy, heavenly version, joined me in an activity that I so enjoy because it was then that I was most open to hearing him.  I think I just said the same sentiment twice. Must be true then. I do believe that. I believe his soul is finally at peace.  He was there to tell me he’s ok. What a relief that would be to me.  Shall I tempt fate and ask for another showing just to be certain? (that was me who took 57 pregnancy tests per child, remember?)

Dad’s life was anything but simple. The more I learn about Bipolar 1 Disorder, the more I realize that he was powerless against it.  It sure didn’t seem like that to me at the time.  He was extremely good at convincing people he had it all under control until the delusions and paranoia eventually caused such disruptive behaviors that none of us could pretend it away.  His disease sold him out. The cards he was dealt offered no advantages in the form of buffer from his environmental and physical strain. Nor was his genetic package an aid to his denial, which included an uncle, cousin and nephew, each diagnosed with a schizophrenic disorder. The man was born in the 1940’s to boot.  There was so much left to discover about mental illnesses.

There is STILL so much unknown, especially regarding schizophrenia disorders as they relate to bipolar disorders. Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development and coordinator of the Institute’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, along with 300 other scientists worldwide, is developing a mental disorders classification system for research based more on underlying causes reported earlier in 2014.  So far they have found that the first evidence of overlap between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia through common genetic variation was about fifteen percent and ten percent between bipolar disorder and depression. Fascinating stuff.

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The more I get into my father’s life and times, both prior to the illness and now that he is gone from us, the more I grieve for the man he was prior to this disease getting it’s talons on him.  His childhood environment, with a chronic and debilitating asthmatic condition, placed together with his lack of coping mechanisms to deal with work, financial, and marital stress and his piss poor genetics led to his chronic mental disorder that really by all recollection didn’t begin until his early twenties.  To say someone “cracked under pressure” is only a smidgen of the story in his case. In fact, “nervous breakdown” is yet another term I have difficulty stomaching.  Nothing is ever just that simple.

♦♦Please use stereotypes and generalizations sparingly.  Someone might decide you’re not worth the time to educate and will rather, deck you.♦♦

I forgave my father whether he wanted it or not.  I also apologized for being an adult who wanted nothing more than to forget my childhood, which, in large part, included him. I didn’t know of his struggles as I do now.  I couldn’t have known them then. What I did know I didn’t understand, but I can take his name and his life and build a cause around the need to stop stigma around mental illness.  If he himself wasn’t so ashamed of being ill, he may have had a chance at a real life. He couldn’t accept what he perceived others couldn’t or wouldn’t accept.  And he was correct. At that time and in that small city it wasn’t okay to deviate from the norm to that extent. He was the “crazy townie”. Upon his death I swore I would make something of his life. I wanted him to symbolize something more than just what people saw. That “strange man who walked around the city of Old Town and Bangor, Maine carrying all of his belongings on his back” was a person who meant the world to a few people. He was someone’s uncle, brother, son, father, cousin.

 He was headed nowhere and yet I saw him everywhere I looked.

Every new town I moved to in order to escape him, every new friend knew someone like him, every new experience carried a fear that I might see this man…my father…a sad, pitiful, sometimes scary looking man….who’d not been given an opportunity to work for over thirty years due to the lack of programs available for college educated individuals, who incidentally, were mentally and emotionally handicapped.  What point would there be to managing oneself when he could not even work and be productive in some way?  What happened to his sense of worth? He had none.  He was either bored and depressed or an angry, potentially violent man in a mania episode. Why not become paranoid and delusional…nothing else to do with all that friggin’ free time and no money. And no insight into his illness in order to make necessary changes to his life, even had he wanted to.

Would it have made a difference if I had remained in my home state and given him a reason to struggle for sanity? Or would Dad have sabotaged that as well as he did all his other relationships? Yes. I think it would have made a difference to him. Positive, loving relationships are a huge factor in prognosis. Is that a life I could have handled?  I’m not sure and I will never know.  What I do know is that I can help to make beauty out of my father’s ashes.  Today and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

RIP, Dad. I’ve got your back. ❤

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The Author

I am a licensed clinical social worker who just happens to adore the written word. I have had a private practice and am now writing a memoir on my life in the company of my father and many of my clients who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I hope to dispel some myths and break down some barriers for those with mental illness. I write out of need and complete joy, which I hope to convey throughout my blogs. The human experience is not exclusive to one group. I hope to appeal to most as I touch on some pretty heady material with some self-deprecating humor and raw emotion thrown in for good measure. I have four amazing children, one HUGE dog and a tolerant husband. I am blessed.

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