This morning I read an article which made me unreasonably angry. I didn’t disagree with anything in it and it contained nothing but the truth, so what was my issue?
Sinead O’Connor’s video shows a woman crying out for help, a lost soul begging for assistance with her mental health issues. At times like this, when a person most needs others around them, that’s often when they disappear or, as the article says, “We don’t care for people with mental illness very well. We distance ourselves, we minimize their sickness, we condemn their symptoms. We wash our hands when they become too difficult to handle, when their care becomes too messy. We ghost them.”
I’ve had to really pick apart what made me so angry and it’s not the article at all, which is intended only to help people understand instead of make fun of her. No, I’m angry at our current mental health care system. You see (trust me, I debated long and hard before putting this out there), I don’t really speak to my father anymore and that’s something I carry in a huge, father shaped sack of guilt everyday.
It started when I was 19 and at college. I got a call from him where he literally screamed at me for stealing his shampoo. I was left in such shock and confusion that I stared at the phone for a good long time afterwards sobbing. I had fallen through some Twilight Zone hole and didn’t know how to get back out. Luckily I knew a friend who was training to be a councillor and she explained that it wasn’t really him, it was something making him do it. This is what began the 15 year battle to get someone to DO SOMETHING to help. Spoiler alert: no-one did. They still haven’t.
First I saw my own doctor, suffering from depression and anxiety from the shock. I was still too ashamed to come right out and say what the deep problem was so I just mumbled something about ‘feeling down.’ He took one look at my blue hair and piercings and dismissed me as a silly teen. My sisters tried calling dad’s brother only to be told we were being hysterical.
A few years later I started receiving six, sometimes more, letters a day from him, all complete nonsense. My boyfriend at the time thought it was hilarious and, when I told him to stop laughing, he laughed more. I saved the letters up, taking some to my own doctor and sending some to my sisters. They posted them as proof to his mum and brother, while my doctor was genuinely concerned and advised me to speak to dad’s doctor. My Nan read the letters and phoned dad immediately, saying “they’re worried about you, they’ve sent me all these letters.” So, that was the end of that plan.
I visited dad, as I often did in the holidays, and pretended to be ill. I still feel like a huge, duplicitous harpy when I remember his concern as he took me to the doctor. When I got there and explained everything, the doctor told me he’d make a note and, when dad would next go in, it would come up. The funny thing about paranoia, though, is that you tend not to trust people, including doctors. So, no, dad didn’t go despite all my pleading (and there was a lot), so that was the end of that plan.
Whereas previously I would always challenge him or reason with him over his delusions and paranoias, the only thing I could do from then on was let it wash over me. I was banging my head against a brick wall in every sense and, most recently, a call to Mind reassured me that unless he was a danger to himself or anyone else, there wasn’t a lot I could do. While it didn’t make hearing how the person upstairs was monitoring his movements or how the village was talking in code against him any easier, Mind took a lot of pressure off me. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of how nice the person I spoke to was. Thanks, I really mean it.
I haven’t cut him out of my life completely. If he needs me I’m always there. The thing is, his relationship with the rest of my family (I was young when the divorce happened) was fractious to say the least and our relationship had it’s own, very difficult, problems, so I doubt we would have been like a sitcom even without this. But it’s added an extra layer of pain to the times I do see him and, for that, I blame an almost nonexistent safety net both for me and my family. People have to get to the point where they’re literally begging for help. If my dad had torn off all his clothes and run down the street threatening to kill the president you can bet your life someone would do something. Instead we live a kind of Purgatory, knowing it’s happening but feeling completely complicit in pretending it isn’t and it’s not good enough. There has to be another way, and we need to figure that out before it’s too late.