How My Dad Supported Me Through Bipolar Disorder Recovery


I lost my dad one year ago.

My dad was a very special person. He was the kind of guy that everyone liked. No one had a single bad thing to say about him. His sense of humor and kind demeanor served him well. While he was not perfect, he set the bar high as an example of what kind of man I aspire to be.

The last few years of his life were a challenge. My father had a condition called supranuclear palsy. It is brain disorder that causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movements. The disorder results from deterioration of cells in areas of your brain that control body movement and thinking. He also had glaucoma, which caused him to go blind, as well as a bleeding retina several years ago.

My wife, two daughters and my dad lived together for 18 years until he had to move into assisted living. This experience was short-lived as he required a higher level of care six months later. But it was during our time together that my dad was able to live out his “golden years” as a proud father, father-in-law and grandfather.

But specifically for me, my father’s love was demonstrated in many ways. When I became ill with bipolar disorder he was unwavering in his support. I cycled in and out of three inpatient psychiatric programs for eight years as well as an extended amount of time in outpatient counseling. Also, during this period I abused substances which certainly didn’t help my condition. But despite all this, my dad never gave up on me. He was a faithful man and I know that he prayed daily for my health and well-being.

I have a picture in my mind of my father walking through the door of the various psych units I was in with a broad smile on his face. He visited my every day. I’m sure that seeing me in such a diminished condition was not easy for him, however, he never let me see that.

It was this kind of support that helped me immensely. In my professional career as a counselor, as well as a member of the recovery community, I’ve witnessed many cases of individuals whose family members have disowned them, just to have them fall and spiral down deeper into their illness and despair. I was fortunate not to have had this experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mother. My mom was the tough one. She kicked my ass – day in and day out. But my dad was the counterpoint to my mom’s relentless pushing for me to succeed. This combination worked. Looking back on those days, I realize that my dad had infinite patience with me. He was able to encourage me by expressing his love more from his actions than his words. It wasn’t until the last couple of years when he was in skilled nursing that we verbally shared those three special words with each other, “I love you.” I made sure to say it to him as I departed and he would respond in the like until he was unable to respond at all. But I made sure to continue saying it.

In the last three days of his life, my Aunt Helen, my cousin Carolyn, and my wife Suzy were at his bedside. My daughter Lillie was able to be there as well. He loved her and her sister Sarah deeply. We consistently expressed our love for him, and despite his inability to communicate verbally, I believe he heard those important words.

When I look back at my life with my dad, I realize that he wanted nothing more than for me to be healthy and happy. I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to live together for as many years as we did and that he was able to witness this. His care and compassion were without limits. He loved me dearly and would do almost anything for me. In recent years, I tried the best I could to give him the same kind of care and attention he gave me. As an only child, it was difficult at times to balance all the responsibilities I had when it came to taking care of my dad, but I didn’t do it alone. Aunt Helen, Carolyn and Suzy were there as well. But I still felt like the one primarily making the major decisions.

This was, at times, very stressful, so I had to practice self-care to handle everything. I managed to make time to exercise, get rest, attend my recovery meetings and use my social support system to help me deal with the pressure of being a member of the “sandwich generation.” I also made sure to maintain my medication regimen and regularly check in with my psychiatrist and therapist.

My father passed away into the Great Beyond a year ago. And while this experience is fresh in my mind and the pain is present, I find solace in knowing that he and I were able to cultivate a beautiful relationship. There is something special about a father and son. I will always carry a big piece of him in my heart. I will try to do my best to make him proud and to carry on his legacy of kindness, humility and generosity.

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Thinkstock photo via Ron Nickel / Design Pics


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