Pink Laundry: ‘It was liberating to blame the illness’

It seems like yesterday when mental illness rolled in fast and furious like an angry thundercloud

It seems like yesterday when mental illness rolled in fast and furious like an angry thundercloud, casting a dark shadow over our entire family.

Mind you, forgetting the past is nearly impossible when my inquisitive six-year-old daughter, Molly, wants to soak up every bit of knowledge she can about a grandpa she barely knew.

But how do you explain mental illness to a grieving little girl?

I know it couldn’t have been easy for my own mother – a young single mom who was grappling to come to terms with it herself during a time when the rest of the world was still in the dark.

Although it was Dad who was diagnosed with manic depression shortly after their divorce, we’d all feel the devastating blows of its effects — even myself at Molly’s tender age.

Back then, mental health was a taboo topic – a dirty little secret many families kept on the down low.

While I knew that Dad had a problem with alcohol, I was clueless about his worsening mental state that went beyond the bottle.

To this day, I can’t look at a white crib without seeing ruby red blood dripping off the railing – a cryptic memory from long ago that is still etched on my mind, especially now that I’m a parent myself.

It was a hot balmy summer’s evening, and I was in my room playing Barbies when I heard the banging at the front door and my mother’s cries.

*Bang. Bang. Bang.*

“Go away or I’ll call the police,” screamed Mom, clutching the telephone receiver.

I tiptoed downstairs, but should have stayed in my room.

Rather than heed Mom’s warning, Dad smashed his way through our kitchen window with his fist and climbed inside.

“Get to your room and lock the door,” Mom demanded.

I ran as fast as my little legs could go, slammed my door and attempted to barricade it with stuffed animals, sobbing into my favourite Teddy.

Once the house was quiet, I crept into the hall and followed a trail of blood that led to my baby brother’s room.

Dad was on the floor in the corner of the nursery, rocking his infant son in his arms.

“I just wanted to see him,” he whispered, oblivious I was in the room.

Moments later, a policeman guided me out of the house.

It turns out the broken window wasn’t the only horror we’d witness that day.

Another cop wrestled Dad face-first into the pavement and cuffed him, while a crowd of onlookers came out of their homes to watch the domestic drama – including many of my little friends in the cul-de-sac.

Tears streamed down my cheeks and I wailed for my Daddy to come out.

As the police car drove away, I watched as ‘normal’ families went back into their homes, where their ‘normal’ daddies were probably going to read them a bedtime story.

Meanwhile, mine would spend the night behind bars.

It would be a few months before I’d get to see my Dad again – even longer before I’d let down my guard.

But as we all know, kids are resilient.

While it wouldn’t be the first time Dad would be struck by a severe spell of mania, I’d never stop loving him. Not for a single second.

As I got older, I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together on my own about his condition.

It was liberating to blame the illness for his odd behaviour.

I finally understood why’d he’d suddenly just leave a restaurant in the midst of eating with us, why we were never allowed to give him our telephone number or why he broke in the house that day.

Over the years, my brother, Dad and I would find our own sense of normalcy in our unusual family dynamic.

He became more like a cool uncle that we’d see every second Sunday on supervised visits, but that worked just fine for me.

Mom could have stopped us from seeing him considering the circumstances, but I’m forever grateful she didn’t.

The truth, just like the millions of other men and women plagued with a debilitating mental illness, Dad wasn’t a bad person.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

About one per cent of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”) – my father included.

It’s been almost five years since he unexpectedly passed away in a dark and dingy transitional home on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but it doesn’t really feel like that long ago.

Especially when his curious granddaughter says “Mommy, tell me another story about Grandpa Jim.”

There’s no fairytale ending, prince or hero, but it’s a beautiful, complicated and messy story – one free of stigma and shame that I pray she will tell her own daughter one day.

Kristyl Clark is a work-at-home-mom and founder of the family blogazine, ValleyMom.ca. Follow her on Twitter @shesavalleymom.

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Slo-pitch league to resume play

Township approves resumption, with restrictions, league president says

Langley invited to pedal kart race to raise funds for Madison Place families after fire

Langley businesses partner up with SouthRidge church for the three-weekend pedal go-kart fundraiser

No exodus of teachers during COVID year

Retirements are actually down for Langley’s school-based staff

Langley church donates $10,000 for Madison Place families left homeless after condo fire

‘When this one happened it was almost like deja vu,’ says pastor Paul Olson of SouthRidge church

Driver maces pedestrian after hit and run in Langley City

Police were on the scene at Michaud Crescent Wednesday morning

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

Feds commit $305M in additional funds for Indigenous communities during COVID-19

Money can be used to battle food insecurity and support children and mental health

We were a bit tone deaf: Hobo Cannabis renamed Dutch Love after backlash

Hobo Cannabis has various locations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Ottawa

Most Read