When you have a mental health disorder, no matter what it is, you may experience what I did with my father regarding my mental health issues. But before I can get into the most recent of the events that occurred with my now estranged father, I want to go back to my youth.
My relationship with my father wasn’t always contentious. In fact, when I was very young, we got along great. He taught me to play board games, would read to me at night, and generally was a good dad in my eyes. However, eventually it changed. I became a person with opinions. I started to think for myself and I did not always think in the same way that my father did.
He didn’t like that. I was too much like my mother. I needed to be put in my place. Whatever, his rational behind it, he became more of a source of fear for me than a loving father. Part of this was because of his drinking problem. My father is an alcoholic (though he would never admit that to be true, which is the source of our estrangement today).
His drinking is, in my mind, his defining characteristic, which is sad and disturbing at the same time. The other characteristic is his emotional and mental absence from my life, from childhood through the bulk of my adulthood. And considering we are not even on speaking terms now, I doubt that will ever change.
Okay. Enough background. Now to the part about my mental health. As my post, “My Diagnosis” revealed, I have struggled with mental health issues pretty much all my life. At an early age, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was in therapy for about six months and then stopped going. But what I did not mention was why treatment was so short-lived.
You guessed it. My father was the reason. It was a fight for my mother (a school counselor with extensive psychological education) to even get my dad to agree to a short stint in counseling. He didn’t believe in therapy and counseling and thought it was all worthless. I can only imagine what my life would have been like later if I had had the opportunity to stick with those early sessions with my therapist (who was amazing and who did help me quite a bit).
Fast forwarding now to my teenage years and my eating disorder. I was sickly thin. I had inflammation in my pancreas and spleen (signs of organ damage and possible failure), and if I stood up quickly, I almost passed out. But my dad was against treatment for my eating disorder. He didn’t think I had a mental health issue. He didn’t think there was an issue at all. I was fine in his eyes. Nothing to worry about.
You can see how all of these points in my life were defining moments and how a different course of action would have changed my life in significant and lasting ways. If I had gotten eating disorder treatment, maybe I wouldn’t have a binge eating disorder today instead of anorexia. If I had gotten early treatment for my anxiety and depression, maybe my bipolar disorder would have been diagnosed and treated long before I was 32. If only.
When I recently started therapy as an adult and began also getting medical treatment for my anxiety and depression (before I was diagnosed with bipolar) and I finally told him after a few months in treatment, he acted okay with it. But, then the sideways shaming started. I went to visit my grandparents and he told me that he didn’t tell them I was struggling with anxiety and depression, all he said was that I was having a hard time with a physical condition I was diagnosed with (PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome). He didn’t want them to know I was in therapy or had a mental health diagnosis.
I was so hurt by his actions, I have no words. It was shameful to him that I was getting help for mental health. But if I was struggling with a physical health ailment, that was okay. It was literally easier to talk to my grandparents about my ovaries than my brain. His actions showed me that he would never accept me for me and would never accept that mental health conditions are legitimate and treatable through therapy and medical management.
That was the beginning of the end of our relationship and now, he doesn’t even know I have bipolar II, unless someone on that side of the family has read this blog and told him. I wish a lot of things about my father and our relationship, but most of all I wish that he hadn’t been so against counseling and therapy in general and that his opinions on those matters hadn’t so greatly shaped the course of my life. I can only imagine where I would be if I had an earlier diagnosis or long-term treatment for the mental health issues that affected me over the years.
Let me know what you think about my experiences. Do you have similar stories about people close to you? Have people in your life let you down? Leave comments or feel free to share this post if you like it! Thanks!