Well it is now day 13 and I have already got so much out of doing this “Questions To A Parent With Mental Illness” challenge. And I hope that those of you following this blog have also got something out of it also. For those who are new to the blog, you can find out more about this challenge by clicking on the link in red above. But basically every morning I answer a question – set by one of my daughters – to me about my mental illness.
So let’s have a look at today’s question…
My Darling Daughter,
Having only yesterday answered your question about how I think my mental health effects our family now. And, if I am honest, having felt that answer really didn’t say very much. I am pretty sure that my answer to today’s question will be more complex and far more difficult to write/type.
Actually, it has to be said, there have been times – within the journey that we are taking by doing this challenge – when I have seriously felt like not answering a question so openly here on this site, and emailing you the answer instead. And honey, I have to tell you, that this is one of those times when a private answer in email seems so much more preferable.
But we made the decision and commitment to do this openly and publicly and I want to respect that decision. So here goes. And I apologise right from the start if anything I tell you causes anyone any distress or discomfort.
If I am totally honest with you honey, I cannot think of a single time in my life when my mental illness have not in one way or another affected my relationships. Especially my relationships with my family. Be it in my earlier life – with my birth family, or later in life with the family that was created by my marriage. And yes honey there are of course, similarities in the ways that my mental illnesses impacted both of those families. Or at very least my relationships within them.
One of the most fundamental, tragic, harmful and damaging ways in which my mental illnesses have affected me is by almost totally removing my ability to believe that I truly belong. And honey I so very much want for you not to be saddened by what I tell you here.
But my mental illnesses have always caused me to feel outside of, disconnected from, alienated, and somehow partially but intrinsically removed from nearly every relationship I have ever had.
And actually you only have to scan through previous posts on this site (or through my poetry on the poetry site) to see how this has been a common theme. In fact, I did a whole series of posts (on this site) entitled “Of Roses, Walls and Towers…” (which you can find by going to the relevant ‘Contents M-Z‘ page’) all of which looked at this isolation and at relationships.
Honey it (along with other stuff) has even impacted my faith and my ability to fully see myself as a child of God. And interestingly this is something which I mentioned in Bible Study group at church on Monday evening, since I was leading a study on the Father-heart of God.
As you know honey – because I came clean about it and we discussed it – I had done my best to hide my mental illnesses for most of my life. And, as you know, I did my best to hide it from you kids right up until but a few years ago. But of course in hiding my mental illnesses I was also hiding the reasons behind some of my actions or my behaviours – behind why I was often distant from you kids. And even though I had noble and well intentioned reasons in mind in doing that, it simply caused you all to find alternative reasons. Reasons that sometimes so very wrongly told you that I didn’t care for you or love you. Or that I was disappointed in you or unhappy with you.
And honey I cannot even begin to adequately explain, or to adequately tell you, how deeply sorry I am for that. And for the damage that it did to our relationship for years. And yes also to other relationships within the family. To everyone in this family and to my marriage itself.
I recall so vividly the numerous times when I came home from work. Work that I spent so much time at not only because of the demands and pressures placed on me, but also because the more time I spent there, the less time I was at home and thus the less chance of any of you finding out about my mental illnesses. And I would simply stop at the front gate and stand looking in through our front window at Matthew and his mother playing together.
And times, even before that, when you were at home and Matthew was but a baby, and I would stand in the doorway to the lounge and watch you three talking, or playing, or joking around and again I saw in my mind that I didn’t belong as part of you all.
Times when I would be so totally over-whelmed with a deep conviction, a deep feeling, that I simply didn’t belong as part of that picture and that you would all be so much better off if I simply wasn’t around.
And honey I don’t tell you that to upset you, or to make you feel bad for me. I tell you that because it was those deep feelings, those deep thoughts, and the voices that echoed through my mind, through my pained confusion, telling me that I didn’t belong and that I shouldn’t be a part of those pictures – part of the very family unit which of course, in reality, I should be part of – which have caused so much effect on our family in the past.
Honey, I know that you kids have been upset by the way my marriage ended and the way that I was treated within that. But honey we also have to accept – as bad as the behaviours and actions of a certain person were – that even that was, to some degree or another, resultant from my mental illnesses and the way they affected me and thus all of you.
I can honestly say honey, hand on heart and without any doubt in my mind, that the single most harmful way in which my mental health has affected our family is how it (and my response to, or management of it) so very often stole me from you all and consequently all of you from me for so many years.
It is funny honey, funny ironical not funny haha, since I have so many issues with my memory how easily vivid recollections come to my mind of such times as the Christmas morning immediately after my breakdowns.
The Christmas morning when Matthew was but 9 years old (you were not at home for this) and how desperately he wanted and needed his father – who had effectively not come out of his bedroom for months – to have Christmas dinner with he and his mum. And I will never forget the look of joy on his face when I entered that kitchen that Christmas Day dinner time. Nor will I ever forget the look of pain, hurt, confusion and disappointment on his face when but moments later – having erupted with frustration, confusion and anxiety – I walked right out again.
Likewise I don’t think I will ever forget the words he spoke to me when, a few months after his mum had left us, I asked if he regretted his decision not to go with her but to stay with me and to look after me. “No. Never!” He answered resolutely. “I have finally got my Dad back.”
And honey – again I am saying this because it is relevant to the question and not in anyway to cause you discomfort – I don’t think I will ever forget the conversation that you and I had – not that long ago now – after your having been gone for so long. When you shared with me how all those years ago you had felt as if I was pushing you away, or had stopped caring about you. Something which simply wasn’t true and which (albeit admittedly along with other things) kept us out of each other’s lives for years.
The truth is that there are many ways how my mental health (and indeed my physical health) has effected our family honey. But of all of them, I believe that, the secrecy, the confusion and the resultant wrong conclusions and decisions, and my not being able to fully show my love for you kids – the children I loved most deeply – have been the biggest and the saddest ways.
Honey, I said at the start of this response that I felt that my answer to yesterday’s question didn’t say much really. And I said at the end of my answer to your question yesterday that I was “sure that I will have other thoughts on this question. And given its direct link to tomorrow’s question (yes, I admit it, I already sneaked a peak when checking out today’s question) I will probably cover more of this tomorrow.” And I was right honey.
Because honey when I look back at how my mental health has effected this family in the past, and I consider how we all approach it now and what little effect it seems to have on this family now. I am so very grateful that so much has changed. That is not to say that there still isn’t some previous damage which needs healing. But I am so very grateful that we are, at least, on the way to that recovery.
With all my love.