What My Dad's Death Taught Me About My Mental Health
Six months ago my dad called to arrange dinner for the following Saturday night.
The day before our dinner, he wouldn’t wake up.
Two weeks later, he died.
It still feels like I saw it all happen in a movie. Like it was someone else’s parent that I cried for in the hospital corridor or held hands with, silently praying for it to squeeze back.
I often struggle to find the words to explain how I feel when others approach the subject. Friends offer their condolences and I give a scripted, “It’s OK, it’s a part of life” because the alternative is to crumble and confess that my chest might burst if I admit to myself that he’s really gone.
Behind the bravado of positivity I portray to the outside world, I secretly worry about the fragile structure of the mind and how if a man with so many successes struggled the way he did, what’s to stop the same from happening to me?
If it broke you Dad, will I too end up broken?
His battle with depression, with anxiety and the road it took him down haunts me every day because I understand his motive to drink, the urge to block things out. I wholeheartedly appreciate the desperate need to drown out a pain that lives so deep it rattles in your bones.
It took seeing him there in that hospital bed, fighting for a life he’d tried so hard to disconnect from for all these years to make me realize the extent of his struggle. And for the first time I felt closer to him than ever before because that very same pain, that feeling of impending doom that never lets up is something I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. A pain so many can relate to and that ultimately led to his undoing.
But while those two weeks spent at the hospital linger in my mind like a bad dream, trying their best to make me doubt my own capabilities, all they do is push me to do better. Push me to manage these feelings of anxiety so I might spare the heartache bestowed on all of us when we had to say goodbye to someone we thought we’d have more time with.
I may have doubts about my own ability to push on, but if you want the real truth, well, my mental health improved the day my dad died. His death affected it for the better.
And perhaps in some twisted sort of way it was always meant to? One last crucial life lesson passed down from father to daughter.
His death affected my mental health for the better because no longer do I take it for granted or not make it a priority. Every choice to meditate, to eat more vegetables, to exercise, to spend time with loved ones, to sleep eight hours, to go to therapy, to create a life on my own terms and to walk barefoot in nature is now done with his loss in mind. The day my dad died, he unwillingly became a part of an ongoing six year journey to better my mental health and I refuse to ever let his untimely death be in vain.
A small piece of me may have been buried with him but in its place was left behind a girl who is more determined, more passionate and more grateful to be alive than ever before and ultimately, his battle with alcohol taught me the responsibility for our own mental health never stops. Ever.
In the harshest of ways, he gave me a reality check — none of us is indestructible. We’re all just busy floating through life, separated only by the choices we make.
The loss of a parent is something you carry around forever, bringing with it the ability to destroy you or the opportunity to reignite you.
I know which I choose.
If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.
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Thinkstock photo via Creatas.