Stigma Fighters: Anita L.

I have lived with the ups and downs of manic depression all of my life. But I didn’t realize this until I started high school. My father had dealt with manic depression most of his life and was tired of hiding it after a while. I guess he figured my brother and I were old enough to know what was going on. Looking back at how things were, I wish we didn’t know; if only I knew how things were going to be. But I didn’t and you cannot predict the future, but I wouldn’t change anything because I’ve become a stronger person because of it.

It started when my father had an accident at the steel company he was working for. It was raining and he was climbing up a ladder, slipped and fell, back first onto a pile of steel. He had been in the Worker’s Compensation Hospital for 6 months in a body cast and was told he was never going to walk again. I was a year old when this happened.

I knew at a young age something wasn’t right with my father, but of course, I didn’t know what it was. There would be days where he was happy, giddy, having a great time with us and there would be days where he’d stay in his room for days; he would always wait until everyone was in bed to come out and eat just so he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Especially at Christmastime, we wouldn’t see him for at least a week and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day he would be with us all happy.

I remember one episode where we discovered he was violent. I must’ve been 6 years old or so, my brother is two years younger than me. My brother was playing with his toy cars, one had broken and my father became very upset. All I remember happening was hearing my father telling my brother to lie on the bed and he would hit my brother with his belt. My father didn’t realize it, but at one point, he had hit him with the buckle and had cut my brother’s ankle badly. I will never forget that. That’s when I started realizing something was seriously wrong. I was scared, scared for my brother, my mother and for myself. All I could think of was “he only broke a small piece off the car.”

Over the years my brother and I were spending every weekend at my grandmothers’ house. I always wondered why, although we always had a great time, something didn’t feel right. Years later, my mother explained to my why; she was protecting us.

When my brother and I were in public school, my father became more violent, as my brother and I got older, we fought more. When we came home from school and started arguing, my father would take more medication just so he would zone out and not hear us. That is when we were told he had become addicted to the prescription medication for his back injury. For 12 years, we lived with the affects of this addiction (Valium, Librium, Demerol and whatever else he could find) and the manic depression combined. The violence increased, my father was hiding everything less and less and we were really feeling the effects.

I don’t know how many times my father had attempted suicide, he tried strangling himself with belts and ties, tried drowning himself in the hot tub, even terrified us when he tried to shoot himself. There were many times where he would overdose into unconsciousness and the ambulance would be called.

My mother, brother and I always felt we were walking on egg shells around my father. We were afraid to talk around him, waiting for the next explosion to occur. It got to the point where my mother and I would right notes to each other instead. My outlet from this was to work, 5 part-time jobs at one time. I felt the more jobs I had, the less time I had at home.

Through everything, my father and I had a very special bond. Everyone would be sleeping, except him, he would wake me up and we would sit at the kitchen table and he would talk to me for hours. I’m the only one he talked to like this, but I know it helped and he felt a bit better. It really hurt me to see him like this. Sure, we had our ups and downs, fought as normal father and daughter, over boys, me wanting a life, etcetera but we were very close.

Eventually, it came time for me to go to college and I moved away from home. That’s when I realized how life was and how life really is. My home life was not normal. I could not talk about home life to anyone. When I finished college, I moved back home and noticed a difference. My mother and father hardly spoke. If they argued, my brother would run away and stay away for days. Me? I would sit outside and read and read and read, in my own little world, so I couldn’t hear them.

I had met a guy, 14 years older than me, but we were in love. That didn’t matter to my father; he made it really tough for us. In my late 20’s, I had a curfew. I had to come right home right after work, if I didn’t, my father and I would have an argument. I wanted to live my own life, but I didn’t want him to start fighting and become violent. Eventually, he did kick me out of the house. We didn’t speak for 8 months after that; they missed the wedding and the announcement of their grandchild. The next time we spoke, I received a phone call at work from my mother; my father had gotten really sick in the hospital and had two weeks to live. My husband and I went to visit him twice in the hospital. The first visit, my father and I had a great visit, we made amends to each other and I knew everything was okay between us. Two weeks from that visit, he had passed away. My husband and I made it to the hospital just as he passed away.

It’s been 10 years since he passed and there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think of him.

I think of the fights we had and look back at things now. Even though he had manic depression and the addiction, he was the best father anyone could ask for. He did provide for us, care about us and I know we meant the world to him.

As a result of my experience, the most important thing you could do for someone with a mental illness is TAKE THE TIME AND LISTEN. You will not fully understand what they’re going through but just being there and listening to them means the world to them.

IMG_20150107_152148-1Anita runs the website, Mental Illness – Do you know?, which focuses on information and personal stories about mental health. You can find her on  Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Linked-In.

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