There were a lot of things I didn't know about when I was 7 years old, 2 of them being:
- What your mental health was (I'd had my share of plasters and bandages from hurting myself, but you didn't seem to get these if you "hurt" yourself in your head)
In a short space of time, my Dad's life changed from being a self-employed painter and decorator, spending his spare time with me, my mum and my brothers; to going experiencing a “breakdown”.
My Dad was still "there" physically, but there were obvious changes in him
Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work, Dad would still be sat out our back garden from the previous day, watching and waiting for aliens. Something which I sometimes joined him in doing - until my bum went numb sitting on the cold step!
Although there were obvious changed in him, and he didn't seem to eat or drink, he was still "there" physically; he looked like my Dad and he sounded like my Dad when he spoke - so that was good enough for me!
On the days when my dad wouldn't talk to me, I’d feel upset and confused; but my mum would simply say that Dad's not feeling very well today and we'll come back another day when he's feeling better, and I would later accept that.
Whenever Dad was in hospital I wanted to see him every day
Over the next 10 years, my relationship with my dad changed a lot. I had always been a Daddy's Girl (probably because he would always let me have my own way!) so whenever Dad was in hospital I wanted to see him every day. When I was younger, this meant a lot of exciting trips to the hospital where I was able to run as fast as I could to my dad's "bay" and give him huge hugs, play pool, meet new people, and most importantly I got to fill out the menu card to say what dad wanted to eat the next day! As I got older, it was because I wanted to look after him and make sure he was OK.
When I heard his reason for leaving our house I felt an overwhelming desire to help him and others like him
Dad left our house one day when I was 15/16 years old. Over the years since my Dad's diagnosis, my mum and I became closer, and it was this day that my mum first turned to me for support. My mum had always been a complete rock, I have no idea how she coped with the sudden emotions that she would have felt and would have had to work through while working, looking after 3 children, trying to sort out the finances, learning about mental health and living with her husband while he experienced some very traumatic times; it makes me feel completely in awe of her. But I now realised that she was human and I began to look her in the eye more and see the pain that she was going through. This stirred up emotions in me which made me realise I needed to support her a lot more. After ringing the Crisis team (who were closed because it was 21:30 so out of hours) and then the police (who couldn't do anything because Dad had only been missing since that morning and not the required 24hours) we just looked at each other and hugged. Fortunately, we had a good ending in which Dad was found.
After a few months, Dad explained that he heard the devil say to him he would kill his family if he did not leave us. When I heard his reason I simply felt an overwhelming desire to help him and others experiencing a mental health illness, to ease their pain and the pain their families experience when your mental health takes a knock, which is why I became a mental health nurse.
Mental health services have changed for the better but there continues to be a lack of understanding
Over the last 17 years, in our experience, mental health services have changed a lot for the better. However, there continues to be MANY misconceptions and a lack of understanding from people who have no experience of mental illness. I don’t think you can blame someone for this, as you can't know something unless you're taught it or you have experienced it; so that is why I feel that local people/councils/mental health professionals who do have the knowledge and understanding need to help educate those who don't – particularly public service persons. I feel this education should also be in schools as children are much more accepting and non-judgemental, and I know as a child that I completely accepted my Dad for who he was, with reassurance from my mum and grandparents.
Even in the face of discrimination my Dad is kind and open and I am proud to be his daughter
My Dad is an inspiration to me. He can bug the hell out of me at times (maybe because we’re quite similar!) But the kind, honest, open and generous person that he is, even when experiencing stigma and discrimination and living in a small town where rumours and gossip are constant and very judgemental, makes me proud to be his daughter and able to call him my Dad.
If you need to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this blog or anything else the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 08457 909090.