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How My Father's Suicide Forced Me to Acknowledge My Own Mental Illness

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I was a fatherless daughter.

When I was 2, my father died. It was not an “accident.” It was not old age. He died by suicide.

Every year, Father’s Day cruelly mocked me. My relationships with men were cautionary tales. I was in a spiral.

Self-harm, a teenage eating disorder, attempted suicide and depression were gaslighted to a degree in which I was convinced I was a moody teenager looking for attention. Barely surpassing legal drinking age, my life was in such disarray I gut-wrenchingly decided to place a son for adoption to give him his best shot.

I still was not convinced my father’s suicide had any effect on me.

Blur of my early 20s passed and I got married, had another son and lived that picket fence life I saw on TGIF growing up. Then, one day, I crashed. I had a breakdown. Forced to admit I needed help, I sought a psychiatrist. My doctor asked me questions off of a clipboard, made a few check marks and asked me what brought me in. He soon zeroed in on my father. My father coped with an unnamed mental illness with alcohol until one day he needed the pain to end. There, 26 years after the fact, I broke down in a stranger’s office, angry and abandoned. My doctor diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder with generalized anxiety disorder. My quirks, my moodiness and my struggles had a name. In that moment, I knew I had to survive for my little boy. I struggle every. single. day. But, I take my meds and I journal and blog and do whatever the hell I need to in order to be my best self in that day.

I cannot say I never got anything from my father. I find myself talking to him, asking if he’s proud of me.

My heart breaks for the little girl who cried herself to sleep, convinced that she had somehow made her daddy leave her. Logic and grief cannot exist together. My life has since changed. I came out to my family, my ex-husband is a wonderful friend and we co-parent beautifully. I forgive my father. I now understand that though we both have mental illnesses, he nor I are “weak.” Mental illness carries a deadly stigma. He paid the price. In his own way, he saved my life. I advocate for suicide prevention and equal medical care for mental health. We can change the outcome so that my past does not have to be anyone’s future.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Christopher Robbins

Originally published: April 8, 2017
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