Growing up, I would often look around at my friends and classmates I would see them collected by their dads after school and they’d talk about their perfect relationships and their weekends away for father and daughter bonding.
I wondered why I was so different, something these children saw as an ordinary part of their lives seemed so alien to me. I always hoped my family could be like them but any small hope of that was soon extinguished.
I was ten years old when schizophrenia took that hope away. My dad grew more paranoid by the day and eventually it turned to delusions that were pretty scary for us as a family.
Being so young I didn’t really understand the changes that were going on around me and, thankfully, somehow I had managed to avoid most of the turmoil that was breaking my family apart.
That was until one day I couldn’t. I still see that image of my dad sob uncontrollably as he said he couldn’t handle it anymore and I’d never see him again.
This is the stand out moment of our relationship since his diagnosis that I think has affected me the most, and although it’s not exactly a happy story to hear, I think it’s important to share because it has impacted my life so much.
Before I continue I feel I should add that fortunately my dad received the help he needed. From then on it felt like I was right there with him as I heard him wander endlessly through the house in the middle of the night, obsessing over everything and nothing.
Even now, I find it so hard to really recall or put into words what my dad was like when he was ill, particularly because his diagnosis took years and, being so young, I think my family thought it was best that they shielded me from it as much as possible.
I don’t blame them for this but the confusion and hurt I felt in those first few years as I watched my dad spiral out of control still haunts me and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that.
This meant that it was never properly explained to me though and I never got the chance to essentially accept and deal with the changes in my family. Although he was still the same person it was like a part of him was gone and I needed to know it was okay grieve for that.
My way of dealing with his illness through my teens was to completely shut off from everyone and everything.
By the time I had reached 14 I could barely form a sentence without getting flustered or stuttering to anyone that wasn’t very close family or friends. I had held everything in for so long that I had some many things I needed to say but what felt like no voice to say it with.
Harbouring my pain and anger inside for years only made matters worse and, admittedly, I blamed my dad for a long time. I didn’t have the capacity or knowledge to fathom why he was this way.
Of course, I knew he didn’t choose to be this way but I think for him, this was his reality and taking medication wasn’t easy for him to adjust to which, as an angry teenager, I wasn’t able to comprehend.
At his worst he had to be hospitalised, and I remember the uncomfortable visits where he was too ill to speak, and the heartache this caused as I replayed the images in my head was unbearable.
I know growing up with a parent or close family member with a mental illness isn’t uncommon but to me, it was the loneliest feeling.
At school I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of ridicule because of the stigma attached to mental health and I had fears that asking for help would lead to him having to go to hospital again. At home I didn’t want to ask questions in case it made anything worse.
When I could speak out, I don’t think teachers knew how to help and friends didn’t know how to react and sadly I think this stems from a lack of knowledge on mental illness.
I wish I could go back and tell angry teen me that I didn’t have to keep it hidden, that people would listen and help if I asked for it and that it is ok to feel angry and confused.
Not doing so only made these feelings grow and I really had to work to let them go from even day life.
It took me leaving home to allow myself to break these boundaries I had created and since I’ve been able to reflect on my dads illness and make amends as best as we can.
Whilst things have improved with my independence, they are still nowhere near what would be considered “conventional”, but they’re stable for the most part and that’s the best I can hope for.
Deep down there’s still a part of me that hopes and wishes we had a normal relationship, but no matter how many wishes I make or how many pills he takes, this is the life of living with a schizophrenic parent.