I suppose the best place to start this blog is at the beginning.
The hardest thing about my Dad having Bipolar Disorder is accepting that he is no longer nor will he ever be the Dad that I remember, the Dad that I miss. My Dad’s illness is really bad and it has stripped him of everything: his family, his friends, his job.
The Dad I remember was fun.
Dad was the parent that all the other kids thought was really cool. He came to all my school camps and I felt proud to have him there. He would bring his guitar and play songs for everyone to sing along, he would show off his Michael Jackson dance moves which always had everyone in awe, and his favourite joke was introducing himself by his long-winded Cook Island name (20 plus words that I never cared to write down or remember) ending with the punch line ‘but you can call me Nga’.
Mum says I was a real Daddy’s girl.
I distinctly remember it as though it was a routine we had that the moment he walked in the door from a day at work I would run into his arms. I loved my Dad’s hugs. He was like this big bear and I felt safe and warm in his arms. If he was sitting on the couch I would snuggle up next to him and pull his arm around me.
My Dad was the best.
School holidays were always my favourite. Mum usually worked and so for two weeks Dad stayed home to look after us. This meant closing the curtains, getting blankets and munchies and watching the old Star Wars trilogy together over and over. When Lord of the Rings was released it was added to the playlist. Other films included The Golden Child, the Rush Hour films and The Men In Black films. This was definitely where my love of film comes from. We’d also play front yard cricket. Cricket was my brother Luis’ game but we all played it together at home. Dad always hit the ball really far and we’d end up having to run down the street to retrieve it while he laughed as he scored run after run. Often kids who lived on the street would join in too.
I learnt a lot from Dad. He taught me how to play the guitar and we would play and sing together. He taught me old songs that I’d never heard of before. Hotel California was probably one of the first songs I learnt along with House of the Rising Sun. He sang and played in the Church band at Rimutaka Baptist and I remember learning songs off OHP paper that he’d bring home for practice.
My Dad was also a very talented artist. He mostly only drew when we asked him to like when he made my brother and I large cardboard folders that he illustrated for us to put our own artworks into. He also decorated our cakes for our birthdays. Luis always got cars or a cricket bat, I remember getting a barbie in a dress cake (if you grew up in the 90s you know exactly the kind of cake I’m talking about), a Snow White and Seven Dwarves cake and a Barney cake.
As far as I was aware my Dad was the best Dad in the whole world.
I didn’t know what was happening while we were sleeping.
I didn’t know what my mum was dealing with.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time that I became aware of my Dad’s illness. I don’t remember being sat down and told ‘your Dad has bipolar disorder’. It might have happened but if it did I don’t recall it. There is a distinct turning point, for me that I remember very vividly and it was the point that I stopped believing in my Dad.
It was an evening in August 2007, my dad picked me up from Girl’s Brigade (sort of like Girl Scouts) and as we were driving home he pulled over and stopped the car. He chose that moment to tell me, 14years old at the time, that mum had been diagnosed with depression and was spending a lot of time at home in bed. He told me she was on medication and that he was going to take over things at home to give her a break. According to my diary entry he also told me that he had been depressed since the day I was born. The part that hurt me the most about this exchange was when he told me that I couldn’t tell anyone I knew, especially not mum.
At 14years old your understanding of depression is pretty sketchy. The only thing I knew about depression was that it lead to suicide.
So at 14years of age I had been told that my mum was depressed, that my dad had been depressed since my birth and that I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone about it.
But it was okay because my Dad promised me that he was going to sort it out. He was going to take the stress off of my mum, she was going to get better and it was all going to be fine.
That night I went home and I cried. When my mum came to my room and asked me what was wrong I couldn’t tell her. I had promised not to and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to burden her if she was depressed. So I didn’t.
But it was okay, it was going to be okay because my Dad promised me that he was going to fix it. It was all going to be fine. My mum wasn’t going to commit suicide, she was going to get better.
That night and the nights following my Dad didn’t sleep due to the stress which triggered an episode and he became manic.
A couple of days later we moved out, leaving my dad at home, and stayed with a family friend living nearby whose daughter I went to college with.
It wasn’t great. I didn’t like not being at home but I was happy to be away from Dad. We were all a little bit happier. It was a relief to see mum getting some sleep. I think I probably watched her like a hawk since my dad told me about her being depressed. I watched her every move as if she was made of glass and at any point she might break. It was encouraging to know she was sleeping better and I felt like I could relax a little bit too.
I remember being angry and hurt but mostly I felt betrayed. I had cried myself to sleep after finding out my mum had depression. I had felt helpless but I had taken comfort in knowing that my Dad was going to step up and make it all better. What did he do instead? He got himself so sick that we had to move out of our own house so he could get himself right. He’d let me down. I had trusted him to be my Dad at a time when I was so worried for my mum and he had failed me.
From that point on I felt as though it was my responsibility to help look after my family. If my mum was depressed, she couldn’t do it on her own and it was clear to me that my dad couldn’t look after us. That was probably when I started putting up the walls that eventually blocked my Dad out of my life completely. I learned that the easiest way to deal with hurt was to block it out. Ignore it. I didn’t want to feel pain so I tried not feeling anything at all when it came to my dad. That’s how I’ve coped. Shutting dad out of my life is the only way I knew how to make sure he didn’t hurt me again.
I’ve learnt recently that shutting him out doesn’t protect me from hurting at all, it just makes it hurt worse when the wound is reopened.
Every now and again I wish I could run into my Dad’s arms and bury myself in his embrace. Almost everyday I wish I could show him the drawing I did or the set I painted or the thing I built. The little girl in me constantly longs for the Dad she used to look up to and to make him proud.
I know that going into this project that I can’t have any expectations of how it might turn out. I’m not predicting that it’s all going to change over night. I know that this is a long process. Maybe I’ll have a good relationship with my dad in the future or maybe I won’t have one at all. The important thing for me to do is to try. 🙂