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‘It was liberating to blame the illness on his odd behaviour’

It seems like yesterday when mental illness rolled in fast and furious like an angry thundercloud, overcasting a dark shadow over our entire family.

Mind you, forgetting the past is near impossible when my inquisitive six-year-old daughter, Molly, wants to soak up every bit of knowledge she can about a grandpa she barely knew.

But how do you explain mental illness to a grieving little girl?

I know it couldn’t have been easy for my own mother – a young single mom who was grappling to come to terms with it herself during a time when the rest of the world was still in the dark.

Although it was Dad who was diagnosed with manic depression shortly after their divorce, we’d all feel the devastating blows of its effects — even myself at Molly’s tender age.

Back then, mental health was a taboo topic – a dirty little secret many families kept on the down low.

While I knew that Dad had a problem with alcohol, I was clueless about his worsening mental state that went beyond the bottle.

To this day, I can’t look at a white crib without seeing ruby red blood dripping off the railing – a cryptic memory from long ago that is still etched on my mind, especially now that I’m a parent myself.

It was a hot balmy summer’s evening, and I was in my room playing Barbie’s when I heard the banging at the front door and my mother’s cries.

*Bang. Bang. Bang. *

“Go away or I’ll call the police,” screamed mom, clutching the telephone receiver to her ear.

I tiptoed downstairs, but should have stayed in my room.

Rather than heed Mom’s warning, Dad smashed his way through our kitchen window with his fist and climbed inside.

Shattered glass and blood covered the floor and countertop.

“Get to your room and lock the door,” demanded my mom, who looked terrified.

I ran as fast as my little legs could go, slammed my bedroom door and attempted to barricade it with stuffed animals, sobbing into my favourite Teddy.

Once the house was quiet, I crept into the hall and followed a trail of blood that led to my baby brother’s room.

Dad was on the floor in the corner of the nursery, rocking his infant son in his arms.

“I just wanted to see him,” he whispered, oblivious I was in the room.

Moments later, a policeman guided myself out of the house.

It turns out the broken window wasn’t the only horror we’d witness that day.

Another cop wrestled Dad face-first into the pavement and cuffed him, while a crowd of onlookers came out of their homes to watch the domestic drama – including many of my little friends in the cul-de-sac.

Tears streamed down my cheeks and I wailed for my Daddy to come out.

As the police car drove away, I watched as ‘normal’ families went back into their homes, where their ‘normal’ daddies were probably going to read them a bedtime story.

Meanwhile, mine would spend the night behind bars.

It would be a few months before I’d get to see my Dad again – even longer before I’d let down my guard.

But as we all know, kids are resilient.

While it wouldn’t be the first time Dad would be struck by a severe spell of mania, I’d never stop loving him. Not for a single second.

As I got older, I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together on my own about his condition.

It was liberating to blame the illness on his odd behavior.

I finally understood why’d he’d suddenly just leave a restaurant in the midst of eating with us, why we were never allowed to give him our telephone number or why he broke in the house that day.

Over the years, my brother, Dad and myself would find our own sense of normalcy in our unusual family dynamic.

He became more like a cool uncle that we’d see every second Sunday on supervised visits, but that worked just fine for me.

Mom could have stopped us from seeing him considering the circumstances. I’m forever grateful she didn’t.

The truth is, just like the billions of other men and women plagued with a debilitating mental illness, Dad wasn’t a bad person.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

About 1 per cent of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”) – my father included.

It’s been almost seven years since he unexpectedly passed away in a dark and dingy transitional home on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, but it doesn’t really feel all that long ago.

Especially when his curious granddaughter says “Mommy, tell me another story about Grandpa Jim.”

dad2

There’s no fairy tale ending, prince or hero, but it’s a beautiful, complicated and messy story – one free of stigma and shame that I pray she will tell her own daughter one day.

 

One of Vancouver’s top Mom Bloggers, Kristyl Clark is a work-at-home mom of two little Valley girls proving there is nothing bland about the burbs. Her adventurous family seems to always be out on some sort of crazy quest, from helicopter rides and wild river rafting, to top-secret paranormal investigations and living the high-life sampling the fine wines and foods of the Fraser Valley region. The ValleyMom.ca blog inspires her loyal fanbase through the trials and tribulations of suburban family living, guiding readers to local hotspots and hidden gems in her Canadian backyard

5 Comments

  • Jodi

    January 28, 2016 at 9:56 am

    What a beautiful story kristyl. I was diagnosed at 2:25 with bipolar disorder. Growing up wasn’t easy as he said everyone is in the dark. And people don’t realize that it affects men and women. My lovely condition was handed down to me by my father. Oh the stories I could tell. So glad you’re sharing yours.

    Reply
    • KristylClark

      January 28, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Thank you so much for the support Jodi and for sharing your own personal struggles with mental illness. This means so much coming from you xo

      Reply
    • Wendy Stuart

      January 30, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Jodi, there is hope. Kristyl, thank you for sharing and I’m sorry it is too late for your dad. Jodi, you need to know about Q96. It is a supplement with 36 vitamins and minerals that are chelated so they go straight to the brain instead of through the digestive system. There are 28 independent clinical studies from universities around the world to prove that it works. Most diseases and disorders are a nutrient deficiency. The nutrients have been depleted in the soil, so no matter how well we eat, we all need to supplement. There is an independent micronutrient support company that can work with you and your doctor if you are already on medication to transition safely. Please contact me for more info. We are nutrient deficient, not drug deficient. Check the website for the clinical studies and testimonials. There is so much more I could share. I just want to reach out and give you hope. I can be reached at wendystuartq96@shaw.ca and the website is http://www.shopQ96.com Please try this.

      Reply
  • Lynne

    February 11, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Just read your story in this weeks surrey/ north delta leader (feb 10). I wanted to say thank you for being brave and embracing vulnerability in sharing your story. It’s not easy… But so worth it! We all have stories to share about mental health…. Both how it affects us personally, and as a family member or friend or co-worker. Being open about mental health issues will create an environment of mental wellness one day!!

    Reply

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