ACCEPTING THE GIFT
I would never be as ill
as father was committed
to my chagrin
I became sicker
while loving him.
was not the answer
hiding from fears
of becoming like him.
Growing up with two
I think dualistically
If one is neglected
the other rears.
runs in the family
after wasted years
My father suffered from schizophrenia. When I was an impressionable thirteen-year-old he had a nervous breakdown and heard a calling from God to take off his clothes and walk down the street. My neighbor tried to get him inside but he refused. The police came. He didn’t get arrested because he was obviously mentally ill, but he was committed to the psych ward.
I remember hearing about the crazy man at school and we were laughing about it. Once I got home I found out that the crazy man was my father. I was deeply ashamed.
I suffered from a huge self-imposed stigma against mental illness. At the time, around 1970, I did not understand the concept of mental illness and I chose to hide from it by drinking and smoking pot. I was not happy, the only time I felt good was when I was under the influence. I lacked confidence and felt like I didn’t fit in. My mood changed after I had a couple drinks. I became self-assured, happy, and the life of the party. I was medicating a mood disorder and I didn’t know it.
Years later I realized that I began drinking and drugging out of the fear of becoming mentally ill. Little did I know that my fear was going to be validated. The irony is that in trying to escape from reality I created double the trouble. Alcohol is a depressant and when I began binge drinking the mood pendulum swung both ways. This led to a vicious cycle of self-medication, and then addiction, which only made the situation worse.
The lack of understanding and fear of mental illness is not an uncommon experience. It is an unfortunate reality that many people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination. This can make seeking help even more difficult. I was a prime example of how stigma can impact an individual’s behavior and decision-making. Drinking and smoking pot were only temporary fixes for my mood disorder, and it created a vicious cycle of addiction and mental illness.
It is essential to understand that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. It is a common experience that many people go through, and there is no shame in seeking help. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness can be incredibly harmful, leading individuals to self-medicate or avoid seeking treatment altogether. Seeking help and support is crucial for recovery, and self-medication is not a viable solution. Hopefully, by sharing stories like this, we can break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourage individuals to seek the help they need.
The concept of the poem "Accepting The Gift" is a complex one, as is mental illness. In the case of my father, his schizophrenia was certainly not a gift. It was a source of great pain and shame, not only for him, but also for my family. My own struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction further complicates matters. Mental illness was given to me through genetics but the gift happened when I was able to accept the illness as a part of me and not let it define me. The gift is acceptance. However, there are still valuable lessons that can be learned and positive changes that can be made to deal with a dual diagnosis to learn how to accept a tough situation in order to recover.
My struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction demonstrates the dualistic nature of my mental illness. Both disorders are closely intertwined and can feed off each other, making recovery a difficult process. However, by acknowledging the co-occurrence of these disorders and seeking appropriate treatment, and finding an effective medication, we can overcome the mood disorder and remain sober. The addiction issue also needs to be addressed, if one issue is neglected the other rears. Both issues need to be addressed concurrently, failing to address one increases the likelihood that the other issue will arise.
My final realization that I must accept the present is perhaps the most important lesson of all, and is the gift. Mental illness can be a lifelong struggle, and it can be all too easy to become caught up in regrets about the past or fears about the future. However, by accepting the present moment and making the most of what we have, we can find meaning and purpose in our lives, despite our struggles.
Ultimately, the gift of mental illness may be the lessons we learn through our struggles. These lessons can include empathy for others who are struggling, the importance of self-care and seeking appropriate treatment, and the value of acceptance and gratitude in the face of adversity. While mental illness is undoubtedly a difficult and painful experience, it is possible to find meaning and even positive change through our struggles.