All In the Family

“Having mental illnesses doesn’t mean a person can’t be highly intelligent and extremely successful professionally”

via Coming Out Bipolar, Round 1 « Disorderly Chickadee.

Einstein

You probably know, if you’ve been following this blog, that the main character in my second Street Stories suspense novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, has a main character who is diagnosed as bi-polar.

What most people probably don’t know, is that my dad was bi-polar also.  This didn’t get diagnosed until later in life.  I was already married and out of the house by then, so not as aware of the toll this took on my mother and younger siblings.  Looking back, I guess I can see signs of it before then. He was quick-tempered sometimes and prone to bouts of extravagance, though quite frankly that seemed more like his passionate Italian heritage showing.  I never remember seeing him depressed as I was growing up, which I’ve always thought had to be present to qualify someone as a manic-depressive.  In fact, he was almost always over-the-top outgoing and had a great sense of humor.  Everyone who met my dad, I think, liked him instantly.

He was on medication for heart problems when the bi-polar red flag first waved its undeniable banner.  Sometimes I wonder if there was some combination of drugs that produced the illness, or at least maybe aggravated what had only been an “inclination” to bi-polarism.  There is a lot I don’t know about the subject, despite the research I did for the novel.  In fact, I believe there’s a lot doctors don’t know about the subject either.  Slapping labels on patients that don’t entirely fit seems to happen too often these days.  But that’s a whole other issue I don’t have time to talk about today.

My point today is that mental illness (whether correctly diagnosed or not) is a fact of life in many families today.  In fact, it may be that EVERY family has someone dealing with a disorder even if not everyone knows about it.  It may not be your immediate family, but I bet you have at least one relative somewhere down the line who has one of the 188 mental disorders defined by the DSM and ICD.   The Wikipedia list covers everything from Stuttering (stuttering?) to Schizophrenia, and includes commonly recognized conditions like ADD as well as a few that seem like an odd fit, such as Child Neglect.

If someone you loved found out they were sick, would you turn your back on them and walk away?  Would your fear turn to anger and disgust?  Would you cringe if they asked you for something and tell them to get a job? If you’re the kind of person who would not, I hope you will keep that in mind when you meet strangers suffering from an illness they didn’t ask for or do anything to deserve. Whether that person is homeless or a successful entrepreneur carefully monitored by a team of highly paid doctors, they are doing their best to deal with what life dealt them.

My dad didn’t have to deal with his disorder for long.  A few years later, his heart problems ended his life.  My mother spent that time treating him with a grace, love and understanding that is an inspiration to me.  I think maybe her positive example influenced my own desire to reach out and accept and love despite how difficult or scary or even ugly things can sometimes get. If more people were like her, the world would be an entirely different place.

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