It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was sitting down in my therapist’s office telling her a story about my child hood, she had tears in her eyes and was visibly shaken as I finished. She sat there staring at me and I couldn’t figure out why because the story I told her seemed totally normal to me, and I had never really thought about it any other way. Part of my therapy had been talking about my childhood and I had been reluctant and put it off as long as I could, talking about my child hood was one of the areas I had put off talking about as long as possible – it was just something I didn’t want to re-live.
We had a dog, a German Shepard named Musket that we had as a family dog since the time I was about 3 years old. I was 12 at the time and Musket had gotten lame and one day she just became unable to walk, she was alert and seemed normal but she couldn’t get up no matter how much she tried, and it became hard to watch. My parents never even considered taking her to the vet, maybe it was because of money issues or whatever, so Musket laid there for a few weeks. She stopped eating and drank very little water and was becoming increasingly weaker as the days wore on, and one day when I came home from school I went over to her and what I saw disturbed me greatly; a maggot was crawling up her back legs and onto her backside.
My dad came home from work a few hours later and Immediately went to him and told him what I had found, and he went inside came back out a few minutes later went into the shed and came out with a shovel. I went in after him and grabbed my own, I had planned on helping him dig her grave, she was the family dog and I didn’t want him having the burden of having to bury her alone. He went into the backyard and started digging her grave, but what bothered me was that he was digging the grave within eyeshot of Musket, and as we dug, she watched. Being 12 at the time I really didn’t totally understand the physiological impact this must have had on her, but it haunts me to this day 25 years later. Once the hole was dug, he told me to go into the house, and I went in and waited, preparing myself for the gunshot that was to follow, as it’s not uncommon where we were from to put down a dog in this way. But as I sat there and waited I didn’t hear a shot, and as the minutes passed I still heard nothing and began to wonder if he had a change of heart and decided to not go through with it and take her to the vet and have her put to sleep; shortly after however he came in through the backdoor. I looked at him and asked him if he had shot her because I hadn’t heard a shot, and he told me no that she was too good of a dog to shoot – that he had buried her alive.
Being a father that is bi-polar is not easy. Did events like this help trigger the mental disease inside me? Yes. After much therapy I have learned that events and trauma suffered during childhood and early adult hood is most likely the direct cause and what triggers the disease. It’s hereditary, and it lives dormant inside you like a raging monster trying its best to emerge and breathe on its own.
Finding the right balance of therapy and medications are key in helping me live a somewhat normal life, but it takes a lot of work and can be extremely taxing, and makes everyday tasks at times very challenging. Surprisingly my mental illness has rarely effected my ability to be a father and raise my children, I can only remember a handful of times when the monster inside of me managed to escape. One time I was in the car backing out of the driveway, I had recently decided I was going to stop my medications and my son was in the backseat and I literally screamed at him for doing something that normally wouldn’t have bothered me, I instantly felt ashamed and apologized as much as i could but the damage had been done – the next day I went back on my medications.
Luckily I manage to have extreme patience with all of my kids. I rarely raise my voice and am totally against spanking them, and that is solely based on how I was beat as a kid and the fear I had whenever I saw my father and I didn’t want that type of relationship with my children.
My marriage hasn’t been as easy and if I hadn’t of found my soul mate and the perfect person for me I would have been divorced, alone and miserable. She is my rock and quite honestly without her I may have killed myself years ago.
I used to curse God because I couldn’t understand why he would do this to me – I just couldn’t understand why life for me was so hard. Over the years I’ve lost countless relationships with more people than I can remember and I just felt tired and miserable and alone all the time. I’ve since come to terms with the way I am and even though I struggle with this illness everyday, I no longer put the blame on anyone else.
I’m always in fear that this illness will be passed down into my children, and sometimes I think I see similar patterns in my son’s behavior but maybe I’m over thinking those things and they are nothing but my imagination, but I can’t help obsessing over it. The only thing I can do is be the best father that I can and create the best foundation I can as a family and never turn my back on any of them. I didn’t have it so easy, my childhood was scarred with fighting, abuse and fear and I was in a prison I escaped as soon as I was able to. There was no love, bond or friendship, my father has never to this day told me that he loved me, and I’ve never hugged him, we shook hands and I called him by his first name. I tell my kids daily that I love them and hug them and spend time with them as often as I can.
I don’t blame anyone anymore, I was dealt the hand I was meant to have, and maybe the reason is I’ve had to sacrifice so that my kids can have a better life and a safe environment to grow up in, and it’s a sacrifice I’m very happy to make.
My therapist tells me that it’s very rare and very hard for someone with my illness and past to break the cycle and become a better father than what I experienced as a kid, and with that I thank god every single day.
It’s extremely hard and takes a lot of work to be a good father and husband with being bi-polar and takes a very strong foundation to survive in. My advice to anyone who suffers from this illness to surround yourself with people who love you and be as strong as you possibly can, its the hardest thing you will ever have to face and the effects it has on your children will only go as far as you let it, but we can overcome and change the future of all those around us. Do not be embrassed, ashamed or feel sorry for yourself – be proud of you who you are, keep your head high and let nothing stand in your way.
Remember, if we stand together long enough, they can never knock us down.