June 16, 2016

I remember when my father had a breakdown, caused mainly by intense pressure at work. It was the first time I had ever seen him ill and it came completely out of the blue. In a matter of weeks he turned from being a healthy and functioning 59 year old man into a shadow of himself. The psychotic depression hit him so hard that he became delusional, suicidal and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

One of the things that struck me during the weeks before my father was admitted to hospital was the unwillingness of those around him to acknowledge that ‘this’ was really happening. Everyone was acting on autopilot, pretending that everything would be ok and that my dad would simply wake up one morning feeling fine. I remember feeling incredibly angry that no one seemed to be recognising how seriously unwell my father was.

I was trained in mental health and, whilst I knew what my dad needed, I was also his daughter and it was hard to manage my professional understanding in conjunction with my personal attachment. I remember feeling that my life was changed forever and that the man I had believed could protect me in any circumstances would never be the same - he would no longer be the sturdy force that I could always rely on.

I guess that’s why so many people find it difficult to come forward and admit that they have a mental illness, or are struggling with an aspect of their mental health – like it or not, the perceptions of those around them  might change, even those closest to them.

I can remember the fear in my father’s eyes, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone look so lost, it was as if he was trapped somewhere deep within his mind and he didn’t have a key to free himself. One of the most painful parts of my father’s depression was the self-loathing and self-doubt that surfaced within him, he started to believe he was a terrible person, someone undeserving of love.

Visiting my Dad in hospital consisted of the same routine, convincing him that we loved him, that he hadn’t let us down and that we would never leave him. I believe that in spite of the darkness he was experiencing, these sentiments somehow managed to light the tiniest corner of his mind and knowing we loved him was stronger than any medication he was prescribed.

During my father’s sectioning, my uncle, brother and I went into his employers and managed to get him retired – a decision that was very difficult for us. This was made even more challenging when our motives were questioned and we ended up being made to feel as if we were trying to squeeze money out of his employers.

Essentially, they couldn’t get their head around the fact that my usually competent, intelligent and athletic father was so unwell that he was unable to even dress himself, let alone drive a car into work. These perceptions left us having to explain the intimate details of my father’s mental state and, whilst they were ultimately compassionate, it wasn’t without a fight.

I can remember the day I sat before a panel holding my fathers hand as they discussed the possibility of his discharge from hospital. As a family, we were not convinced that being an in-patient was the ‘right’ environment for my father to get well. His desperation to be with my mother and his fear of us leaving became a hindrance to his healing in hospital and we decided we were better providing care for him at home.

I sat there as they questioned us, simultaneously remembering all the times my father sat before my headmistress and teachers as they discussed my own mental health during my terrible teens. My father had never wavered in his love for me during those challenging and painful years; his love and belief in me had always been present and been enough to help overcome the debilitating self-doubt I had back then.

When they agreed his discharge I saw the first real flicker of my father return, he couldn’t believe that he was free to walk out of the ward and refused to return to collect his possessions for fear they would change their mind. My mother and my ex husband were waiting for us in the family room and as we left the ward my mother slipped her hand into my fathers; it’s a scene I will never forget and brings tears to my eyes as I type this.

Probably one of the most defining moments in my father’s recovery occurred moments later in the hospital car park. My father at this point was heavily medicated, shaky and very anxious. As we got to my car I looked at my Mother and she simply nodded to me as I passed my car keys into my Fathers hands. It was, on reflection, probably not the wisest move on a health and safety level, but something in my gut just told me that he needed to feel like the head of the family again. I cannot tell you how proud I was as we travelled home, albeit in a very slow and jolty fashion. It seems such a silly thing to remember, but often it’s these tiny reminders of who we are that breathes life into our broken selves and enables healing to begin.

Sixteen years ago, my father had a psychotic breakdown; it changed his life, and that of my family. My dad never went back to work, but he did get better. It took time – a whole heap of time – and we, as a family, had to convince him that he was loved and worthwhile and help him to come to terms with being retired and considered unfit for work - a difficult concept after 40 years with rarely a day off sick.

What I find most difficult looking back on those months is how my father’s self-stigmatisation and shame around feeling unable to cope prevented him from seeking the support he sorely needed. If he had felt ‘allowed’ to talk about his difficult emotional state, if he had given himself permission to reach out to us all at an earlier stage, then the likelihood is that my father would never have been sectioned.

My dad is now a 74-year-old retired man who has the good fortune to have my mother beside him still. They live more fully than they ever did when my father was working, and he loves his life. Whilst his mental illness may have changed our lives, it in no way changed my opinion of him. He is my father, my constant source of unconditional love and my hero.

What did you think of Emma's blog? Tell us in the comments.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.

Comments

I suffered a break down a few

I suffered a break down a few years ago from ill treatment from my employer, ironically I was a mental health nurse. I am now 100% recovered and am working in a different job (not nursing) but despite being well NMC have put conditions on my practice despite the fact it was I who declared myself unfit and them not putting any conditions when I was actually Ill. Conditions are there to protect the public apparently as if I will always be a broken person and a danger to the public. If this is how the NMC sees mental health what chance is there for the general public having a more positive understanding. I am glad your father recovered and thanks for writing a heartfelt piece, I can relate to the feelings of failure and letting my kids down. All the best Emma.

Thanks

Thanks so much for your reply and I agree that often when you take the courageous step of acknowledging you are dealing with a mental health condition, employers react with fear that renders the employee even more helpless. So glad things are better for you xx

OCD anxiety stress and depression sufferer

This story had me in tears so powerful. Im a 31 year old father of two. Something that I am not proud of but my children have separate mothers. Right now I am going through a legal challenge as my ex partner up and left with no reason taking our baby son with her. Because I have a mental health issue I have had those feelings similar to your father that I feel unloved I feel I have let my children down and my family as I am being hit with so many false allocations and because people look at the mental health tagi as somebody being crazy not actually look at them as a troubled person then they feel they can accept allocations that are being made are true and it's wrong. We did not ask for mental health problems we didn't think oh let's start thinking this way and then we will get depressed etc it's something we have to deal with. It's so wrong that people would rather judge than try and understand sending my best wishes to you all and from a father to yourself as you father is most likely to be very proud of his daughter.

PTSD

After being diagnosed with PTSD some 16 years ago it took a long time to get my life to work again. Receiving benefits was not going to be something I wanted long term, I wanted a life with physical and financial security. I never shared my condition with many people and tried to be employed, but things like parking my car in car parks alone, being forever on high alert fearing robbery, guns and many other things created such anxiety which I also needed to hide. It wasn't working. I started my own business where I never had to leave home but did on days where I felt I could. I was fortunate to have success but it looked different in many ways, I needed to employ people in all areas to be sure nothing was ever missed. Great people who would be out and about for me while I stayed mostly cocooned where I felt safe and strong. If only there could be more support for those who can build themselves up putting into place all the support helping them succeed, removing some of the pressures and in turn lessen anxiety. Specialised Legal help, financial advice etc ... Without stigma. I thank you all for sharing. God bless.

hello

Very good article! We will be linking to this great content on our site. Keep up the great writing.

What did you think of this blog? Tell us in the comments