Growing up, I thought I had the best dad in the world. I didn’t understand why I was only allowed to see him for a week or two every year. I didn’t understand why the rest of the world didn’t seem to support him. I didn’t understand why he would randomly cry and couldn’t hold himself together when my sisters and I would cry.
I didn’t understand why he was fanatically religious, to the point of bringing my sisters and I to a cult “church.” I didn’t understand why he started to avoid my calls and visits when I questioned his paranoid reasoning about things going on in his life. I didn’t understand why when I reached out to my family they ignored our cries for help for a man that felt like the world was against him, and eventually turned to thinking I was against him.
Until, in my early 20’s, I learned the truth about my father, a truth that I think I always knew but didn’t have the words or understanding as a child to articulate – my father is schizophrenic.
To say this has been one of the biggest hurts and healing journeys of my life would be an understatement. But to also say that this has offered me profound gifts that I would not have learned otherwise is even more important. Here are a few of those gifts, which have served me in all my relationships.
Just because someone doesn’t see or feel what I see and feel doesn’t mean it’s not true.
I struggled with no one acknowledging that what I was experiencing with my dad was real, even when I reached out for help. I was told that’s “just who he is,” that I was actually the one that was mentally damaged, and faced gas lighting about what was going on. I have always been sensitive. I felt something was going on from a young age, despite what I was told. To believe that and deny my own truth is crazy making.
They say to trust your gut. In all things in life, trust yourself. I am thankful that this journey has taught me and continues to teach me that, in the end, trusting in myself and not letting self doubt, others’ opinions or their refusal to see the truth sway me is where I need to live to be happy in my life.
I have to put myself first. Sometimes that means letting go of people I love.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make in my life was to end my relationship with my father. Some days I wonder when I will get the call that he’s passed away. Some days I wonder where he is and what he’s doing. Every day, I feel happy, at peace, and free from the years of my feeling responsible for helping someone that does not want my help.
In any relationship, there is the truth of who someone is and the unreal of who we might want them to be. If I live in the place of wanting someone to be who they are not and who they don’t want to be, then I am living in a non-reality just as much as my mentally ill father lives in non-realities. That life is a place of suffering that never brings joy.
It is not my responsibility to rescue anyone else. I do not have to suffer in order to try to make someone else happy. I do not have to put up with strange behavior in order to get scraps of love when there is a cornucopia of love waiting for me elsewhere. You have to let go in order to make room for more. For me, that meant letting go of a child’s idea of who her father is and accepting that he never was and never will be the dad that I wanted.
Some people are incapable of giving me the love I need.
One of the ways we mature and grow is realizing that our parents are humans with their own flaws and experiences that have nothing to do with us. My father’s mental illness is a part of who he is. It’s taken me years of healing and work on myself to fully grasp that he is incapable of the love that I desired as a little girl
It doesn’t mean that the hurt is less. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel grief about it. It means that it’s not personal. It’s just who he is. The acceptance of who a person is comes with the acceptance of what his or her limitations are, of what love they are capable of giving.
Trying to get the love I desire from someone that’s incapable of delivering it is like wanting water from a rock. It’s impossible and infuriating, because a rock is a rock. It will never offer the water I seek.
Family is not limited to blood.
It’s normal and natural for me to have feelings about not knowing what a father’s love and support is like, but I also have love from an abundance of others that I would be blind to if I limited myself to receiving love only from those that are blood-related. Staring at the one rock that will not give me what I want speaks more to my own judgments and incapabilities of letting go, which blocks me from discovering and receiving that bounty of love that I am eternally grateful for.
If you have a mentally ill loved one and you’re reading this, you’re not alone. I know the deep pain of having to come to terms with the reality that someone you love is incapable of returning that love. Seeing, feeling, and living in the truth, in what is real, is a gift. It’s a gift many of us take for granted. It’s a gift I’ve been given from having the parent that I’ve had. I hope the truths I’ve learned help you on your path, and I wish you all the love, peace, and joy that you deserve in this life.