My Father’s Daughter
By Julie Hart, Peer Specialist In Garfield County
I tell you what: I have never felt more marginalized than I do now that I have begun to live my life out loud as a person living with bipolar disorder.
It is for this reason that I now have a warrior cry of “mental skillness,” a roundhouse to kick down walls of stigma and a dancer’s posture so that I might be graceful as I move forward in advocacy. But it seems to me before I invite you to jump on my parade float I may want to tell (and you may want to hear) the beginning of my story.
I have lived with bipolar since I was 2 1/2 years old. One morning I ate pancakes while my two teenaged brothers helped my mom get my dad into the car so she could take him to the hospital. He had, what my mother called it for 15 years, “cracked up.” (When I was in college studying for my bachelors’ degree in psychology I told her, “Mom, Dad had a mental break down.” She finally got it.)
We went to visit him in the state psychiatric hospital, Philhaven, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He gave me a lilac-colored yarn octopus, small enough to fit in my toddler hands. For my mom, he had made one of those kitschy 1970s hand-tooled leather change purse with red plastic stitching.
There is no picture of this and no adult told me so I think this is my earliest memory.
I remember hoping with all my child’s heart that my mom would like what my dad had made for her. (I hope you understand this without me having to explain it in words that my child-self didn’t know, such as Daddy is broken and I really really really really really really want Mommy to like what he made her.)
One of the doctors at the hospital told my dad he would never work again. He came home that summer, and as my mom used to tell it, spent the whole summer picking dandelions out in the yard. Fifteen years later my dad retired as Vice President of the bank (insert middle finger here).
Then my dad enjoyed 10 years of retirement in which he got in touch with his creative side, making candles in the garage and doing watercolor paint-by-numbers. I hadn’t known he was becoming such an “artist” until after he died and my mom offered each of my six siblings and me one of his paintings. I chose the seascape with the yellow lighthouse, not realizing until a decade or so later after my own hospitalization that the lighthouse symbolized what my dad has come to mean to me.
I suppose I truly am my father‘s daughter. His legacy to me was bipolar and his teachings have been
Take my lithium
Drink lots of water
Go ride my moped. (He had a 1979 Indian that he would take out on weekend mornings and drive around the Amish farmlands, sometimes not coming home until dinnertime.)
And before I’m 60, do something that scares me silly. After his mental breakdown my dad could only take baths because he had developed a fear of water. The summer before he turned 60, my dad braved the whitewater and the rapids of the Grand Canyon in a raft.
Huh, look at this: I’m not feeling marginalized at all. Words have power. WE have power.