Accepting A Parent’s Mental Illness: How I Found Peace

In Inspiration, She Speaks by Sierra Williams3 Comments


I recently read an article by Kalyn Hemphill about the lost causes in our lives. Like everyone out there, I too have my own share of lost causes. They include an aunt on pain killers, a cousin who dropped out of high school at age 15, and my father who has Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

I didn’t notice my dad’s differences while growing up. But really, I didn’t get the chance. My mother had a keen eye, noticing my dad’s constant need to self-medicate with everything from marijuana and alcohol to cocaine and pills. My parents’ marriage crumbled, and by age 10, I stopped seeing my dad altogether. And that’s when my mom learned about his diagnosis.

Bipolar Disorder causes emotional ups and downs with experiences of great emotional “highs” and low points that can include thoughts of suicide. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, can cause sufferers to see hallucinations, hear voices, and even have delusions about false realities.

Personally from my father, I’ve heard that the world will for sure end in 2017. He believes a witch cast a spell on him, a lawyer (he’s never met) is in love with him, and I can’t forget his winks though phrases like “I’ve been blessed (to see the supernatural) and I know stuff (as in government conspiracies).

At 54-years-old, my father is an ex United States Marine who still lives with his mother. He hasn’t dated anyone since my mom divorced him, almost 20 years ago. Stepping into his earth-colored home is like stepping back in time to the 1970s. There are no cell phones. There are no computers. Because the internet is evil.

I’ve spent my entire life without him, wondering about this man that lives 40 miles down the road. Until recently, I didn’t understand the extent of his disease. I just thought my dad was selfish. That he was an alcoholic. That he didn’t care about me. And because of this, a dark pool filled deep inside my heart, making me bitter, angry and confused.

Everyone dreams of certain life “moments.” Besides having tea in England, I dreamed of having my picture taken. You know that stereotypical high school graduation pose with both parents? That one. Because I knew it was something I’d never have.

And for the first time in years, I saw my father at my high school graduation, a surprise on behalf of my Nana. An encounter that lasted long enough for a pat on the back, a “congratulations,” my dream picture, and a confused aura that encircled me, even weeks after the ceremony.

The man of my childhood was gone. The strong marine lost his muscles. His teeth were gone, his hair absent, too. He spoke in jittery spurts of colorful language, and his appearance was disheveled. I admit my confusion that arose from his introduction. (Who was this man?) But I was too wrapped up in the moment to actually process that my dad was standing directly to my left. My mom later explained to me just how sick he was. How far gone he was from the handsome man she fell in love with so many years ago. I’ve spent the past three years reflecting on our encounter.

My mom recently lost her job.

Was it a spontaneous moment in anger caused by the lack of my father’s financial support? Or was it an honest subconscious longing? A need for closure? A desire to heal a wound that’s had over two decade’s worth of infection to spread? Whatever my reasoning, I called my dad recently.

I called my dad recently. I called my dad recently. Yes, I still can’t believe it.

The call lasted two minutes. We scheduled dinner, and two nights later I found myself staring face-to-face with the biggest trial God’s ever allowed to touch my life.

Remnants of John were still there. His love for rock music. His ’97 pick-up. His quest to find the perfect restaurant. Which in this case happened to be a shopping mall Chick-Fil-A.

But the mental illness was too strong. I had to look hard and dig deep to place together the fragments of my father’s words. To understand what he was trying to convey. We walked into the mall, and the loudness of his voice was overwhelming. Embarrassing, even. The content of his sentences was inappropriate. Conversation topics included him winning the lottery, angels, and even a cannabis fueled cupcake factory. And yet I kept my composure. I showed him the respect that he not only deserved because he was my father, but because he’s human. For the first time, I didn’t let the judgmental stares of everyone around us affect my moment.

He asked about me, my beliefs, my endeavors and members of my family. People he once called…family. I told him I was at the University of Tennessee, studying to be a journalist, a writer. “Like on Fox News?” he asked. “Yeah, kind of like Fox News,” I said.

We talked for about two hours. Though we were close through my early years, he’d missed all of my teenage years- the years that matter, the years that shape a person’s basic philosophy of the world. And yet the meeting wasn’t awkward. The only awkwardness that compassed us was not from me, or even him. But from the people who let their curiosity get the best of them. Though I understand their wandering eye. My dad is an interesting sight.

It took years for the bitterness to grow. But it took one night to be replaced by compassion and understanding. The doubts of his loyalty, his caring, even his love for me subsided. For the first time, I wasn’t told this. I saw it first-hand. I saw that he literally could not love me the way a normal-functioning father loves his daughter. Will he walk me down the aisle someday? I don’t know. I don’t even care.

My father is no longer a lost cause, but a human, God’s own creation, a member of my family that deserves every last chance. What caused him to no longer be a lost cause? I did. One person.

One person who cared.

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  1. Pingback: » Accepting A Parent’s Mental Illness: How I Found Peace

  2. Great piece of writing and beautiful outlook. I have a cousin with Bipolar disorder and my grandmother suffers from major bouts of depression and questionable mental health in general. Thank you for writing this. I’ll be forwarding it to family members. May God continue to lead you in and to His love and His mercy.

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