Ok. So day 5 and thus question 5 of the ‘Questions To a Parent With Mental Illness’ Challenge set for me by one of my daughters. And this morning’s question is (as I believe all of them are) a very real and important question…
As I sit here drinking my early morning coffee and reflecting on just how I am going to answer today’s question from you. A couple of thoughts come to my mind.
The first thought is that this really is another very good question. And actually they have all been really good questions so far. Even the ones that have been a little difficult to answer.
And the other thought, that I had, was more of a mental image really. (LOL You know how I get with my mental imagery.)
It was a picture of you and I on opposite sides of a wide river. We wanted to get across to each other and so we chose a spot and both started building a bridge across to each other.
Your asking these questions (and me answering them), is very much like that, honey.
Building a bridge across to each other. And I truly am so very grateful for this. That is not to say that we aren’t usually able to be together. But sometimes mental illness can be like that wide river and can separate people.
So, what about your question for today?
“When MY mental health is bad do I try to protect you from it, and why?”
Well the honest answer to the first part of your question has to be a “Yes. I do try to protect you from it. And in some ways to also try to protect me from it, in the process.” But honey, I am not trying to protect you from my mental illnesses – but more from any “fall-out” resulting from them.
Which of course brings us to the second part – the “and why?” part of your question.
I think that in some ways every good parent wants to try to protect their children from things. Isn’t that what good parents do? Try to protect their children from stuff that they really shouldn’t or they really don’t need to witness or to experience?
So part of the reason for my trying to protect you from my mental illnesses (or rather the ‘fall-out’ from my mental illnesses) is, I have to be honest, simply that. A father protecting the child he loves.
And yes I know that you are not a child any more and that you have every right to remind me of this fact. (I can just picture you sat there reading this and saying, “But I am not a child anymore!”) And in truth you probably don’t need protecting from it all. The fact is that you have grown to become a very strong and very capable young woman and you know, I hope, how much I respect you for that.
But honey, (as I mentioned in a previous answer to you) your not actually being a child anymore, doesn’t stop you from being my child. Nor does it stop my desire to protect you.
So honey what I do want (and am trying) to say. And please know that I mean this with all of my heart. Is that my desire and my actions in trying to protect you from any ‘fall-out’ from my mental illnesses, is by no means a reflection on you or of my opinion of you. No matter how much it must seem like that at times.
It is instead a reflection of my opinion (and indeed in many ways my experiences and fears) of the damage (the fall-out) that my mental illnesses can cause.
Mental illness – whilst it has been argued could also bring some good things (and I know lots of folk who would passionately dispute that) – can rob a person of so many things.
I cannot even begin to explain the feelings that I experience when I realize that my mental health has declined, or that I have been going through – or potentially going into – an ‘episode’.
Feelings of such things as – confusion, frustration, regret, despondency, and nervous anticipation are always wrapped up in an mental environment of fear. Fear of both the known – based on past experiences. And of the unknown – based on the reality of the loss of control usually experienced.
And so my need or desire to protect you (or anyone else) from any “fall-out” from my mental illnesses, stems from this and is, I think, understandable.
As I said, mental illness can rob a person of so many things. Things such as; control, comprehension, memory, focus, awareness, alertness. And also things such as; dignity, confidence, security, happiness, and hope. These are all things which affect the person who is experiencing that mental illness. But the resultant effects of that mental illness (the ‘fall-out’ as I call it) can have such an impact on those around that person and those closest to that person.
It can affect their dignity, their confidence, their security, their happiness and their hope. To name but a few.
Honey, I said above that I was not “trying to protect you from my mental illnesses – but more from any “fall-out” resulting from them.” and this is absolutely true.
I mentioned in a previous answer that whilst some mental illnesses seem to have a genetic or heredity element to them, I had watched for signs and am fairly confident (although I can’t be 100% certain) that none of you seem to have inherited my mental illnesses. And I am so very grateful for this.
And in truth mental illness is not contagious. But that does not mean that it’s effects, and the resultant; behaviors, attitudes and statements, don’t have very real influences and a very real impact on others.
And we should never lose sight of that fact. Nor of the fact that having to witness and to experience (and often to try to deal with) mental illness in someone we love, can – and often does – affect our own mental health.
And that (all of those reasons) is why I try to protect you from the fall-out of my mental illnesses. And the fact that I don’t ever want my mental illnesses to damage or rob me (or you) of the wonderful relationship that I have with you. Is part of that self-preservation I spoke of earlier.
But honey, we also promised that we would, as far as we were able, be open and honest with each other. And so I really can’t end my answer to your question there.
I have, as your father, tried to teach you all the difference between ‘wants or desires’ and ‘needs’. And the plain fact is that, in all honesty, as much as I may ‘want’ or ‘desire’ to protect you from my mental illnesses (and thus to a large degree try to isolate or hide them [or their resultant ‘fall-out’] from you) the truth is that I ‘need’ to stop doing that and I ‘need’ you to help me to try to stop doing that.
Sometimes, even though our intentions may be good and even though some of our reasons may be sound, we can – let’s be honest here – be our own worse enemy. And yes honey, even this dad of yours gets things terribly wrong at times.
Of course, because of my mental illnesses, I can’t promise to always be open and honest about my mental illnesses and how they are effecting me. Due to the fact that sometimes it is the state of my being in the grip of those mental illnesses which increases or induces the paranoia or the isolation or the depression or the… (I am sure that you get the picture).
But at those times when I am fully able to be me. When I am outside of that grip. When I am able to reach out and to share, I promise that I will try.
Honey, I started this answer by sharing two thoughts. One of which being a mental image of us both being on opposite sides of a wide river but building a bridge to each. And within that picture my mental illnesses were the river.
Although there are times when that river is there but not too much of an issue. There are other times – when the river runs so fast and the current and waves so fierce and so intense – that building a bridge to you, at that time, is just not within my capabilities.
And honey, at times like that – when that river is so wild that all I can do is to try to stop it from bursting it’s banks and flooding and destroying me. The very thought of you being anywhere near that danger is so alien, so counter-intuitive to my love for you, that it just does not bear thinking about.
And I need for you to always remember that love honey.
But having done so, please always feel free to remind me that, at times like these, you are a much better swimmer than I am. And that at these times, the most important thing is not my desire to protect you. But both our need to let you protect me.
With all my heart,