How Dad has helped me to manage my mental health challenges
I let my arms float free in the bathtub as a young child. I detach and slide down the sides of the tub until all but my face is above water; my ears are under, and the further I go, the more my nose points upward so I can breathe.
I lay still. It’s peaceful, and I listen to my heartbeat through the water. I wonder if this is what it sounded like in my mother’s womb, safe. Eventually, the peace becomes lonely, and the beating becomes louder, faster, but I remain under as long as I can hold my breath and then I am calm again; I wonder, ‘Is this what death feels like?’ Alone.
Silence scares me, loneliness isolates me, and my thoughts start gnawing at me. I’ve never slept well because of the fear of being alone and unconscious.
I don’t know how to turn the TV off tonight, and it’s 4:24 am, and I feel that usual panic that rips into my chest at night, leaving me scared and alone, flooded with thoughts. It’s okay, there are about three hours until the sun starts to come up, hold on, breathe, it’s okay, you’re safe. My eyes are beginning to warm up from the salty tears that are effortlessly rising. I feel all the air is being pushed out of my throat and chest, and I feel deflated. There isn’t enough air going in. I am panicking, and I need to calm myself, but how?
I feel my heart thudding inside the walls of my chest; how does something that feels so hollow feel so full of emptiness?
I’ve been trying to relax, and I don’t notice that I am picking at my cuticles and tearing the skin back. When I do notice, a memory jump-starts my mind. In most of my writing, my fingers type what feelings or memories tumble around in my mind. Like a washing machine, the thoughts and feelings go in and tumble round and round for an hour or so. Eventually, I take them out, sort them into sections, fold them neatly, and them where they belong…. That is how my mind works, sometimes, there is that one glove or sock that sticks to the side of the machine, and I miss it, and it goes through the process repeatedly until it’s noticed. Memories get stuck, too; eventually, I will get it out; that is where I have landed tonight. I’ve found the missing glove, and I can now pair them together, hand to hand, where they belong.
My dad used to notice my raw cuticles, and he would get Band-Aids and tape the tips of my fingers to help me stop this habit. I watched as each bandage was wrapped around carefully on each finger with love. Dad always held my hands in his, bringing them together and kissing the top where my hands met his. His countenance was both caring and concerned. While holding my hands, he would brush his thumbs against the sides of my hands, in his way of silently saying, “It’s okay.” After this, my fingers never hurt so much because his love took away my pain.
Don’t fight everything in life, speak your mind respectfully, and learn to walk away from what is toxic.
My dad will always be my daddy. He is a protector in my eyes, At the same time, I know that if I want to talk, I’m going to get the truth and not a sugar-coated cookie. For this, I respect my dad and am proudly like him, I have become a truth-teller. Through the years, I have watched and made mistakes, but the most important thing my dad taught me has been to pick my battle, don’t fight everything in life, speak my mind respectfully, and walk away from what is toxic.
I’ve taken many years to learn this and am still learning. I have changed, and so has Dad, and that’s the beautiful part, we grew together, never apart. Throughout life, our bond gets stronger because there is no bullshit on either side. We are honest even if one of us wants to cover our ears from the profanities that slip out by me.
Neither of us says things for the sake of speaking; we’re respectfully honest. No one is perfect, but he is to me. He is everything I could want in a father. I miss him; he is my other glove, a perfect fit. When the glove gets stuck in that machine, I get stuck in my head, my hand is cold and empty, and my warmth is 45 minutes away. With many obstacles on that path, our relationship is not as easy as we’d like it to be. I think we’re both used to that, but there isn’t a day I don’t think of him. I don’t doubt there is a day I am not in his. I trust in our love that no matter the space, we’re always close.
I don’t believe any parent can prepare for what life can throw our way
I was too young to remember the separation of my parents. I only know what I know now. When I was in a toxic relationship as a young adult, Dad would say that sometimes loving someone isn’t enough. He was right, so I have never questioned my parent’s separation. All I know is I still have Dad. I don’t pity myself. I think I am lucky, even if life has not always been easy. There has been kicking and screaming along the way, and I wasn’t a straightforward child. I don’t think Dad knew how to respond to a daughter crying for reasons she sometimes never knew, or how to cope with my mental health. I don’t believe any parent can prepare for such complications and more was to come later in the years, but he did as much as he could to help, especially the little things.
Our family dinners, on a little wooden, blue-tiled coffee table.
I do remember the family outings, I remember you taking us to the pool and holding me because I can’t swim, going to the beach, camping, bike riding and roller skating, and the movies. Our five-hour trips in your truck, when going to the farm to stay with Nan and Pa, and the way the lucerne smelt, and would crunch when you first put your foot on the ground after arriving. That you always took sips from my happy meal coke, and that I never shared with anyone but you. Our family dinners, on a little wooden, blue-tiled coffee table. Just knowing the struggle I was having, and you would reach over to cut my food up, because I was never able to hold the knife and cut it myself, well into my late 20s. We would have my favourite chocolate pudding and vanilla ice cream.
Dad got me outside, a place I fear became fun and full of lasting memories
I know our memories will be different, and that you are hard on yourself, I know you hated that we came to the work site when you would have rathered spent that time with your girls, but you never really knew how much fun we had there. We made many things, we went to parks, I got to play with my big sister with an inventive mind, and some of our biggest laughs are because of this. You got me outside, a place I fear became fun and lasting memories. I watched you build homes for families to live in and grow. I still drive past them, I am proud and I say ‘My dad built that home with his own two hands’ the hands that I proudly hold today. I watched my dad work through many forms of struggles in life, and never quit, you taught me that.
You have left history in this world, you created comfort to others, and structures that will stand years beyond me that I can one day hopefully get to show my children.
My tears were not due to him; it was the adjustment to change.
After my parents separated, I’d get homesick and cry on my weekends with Dad. How does a father know where to begin to bond with that kind of child? My tears were not due to him; it was the adjustment to change. If I could take back those tears and see how special that time was with him, rather than the change of environment, I would, but I can’t. I can see that hurt because I can remember his eyes, lost and foreign wondering why I was crying. He would always get me a glass of water. The action of taking a sip made me regulate and breathe. I was grounded and at home with him.
I can feel this lost part in both of us, and today it’s like we’re rushing to grab lost time when we get to see one another, and the hours go too fast. Time is too short. I am 31, and when I am with my dad, I feel like a happy kid again. He’s my daddy, my protector, I am his Kitty, the little one who stands alone by the tree as a toddler, unique and awkward, but he’s always there for me.
I have an unbreakable bond with you, now and forever
Dad’s hugs are different from others, and there is an unbreakable bond. He has taught me a lot, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time; he has helped me grow, and he has helped build resilience within me and strength. Dad taught me my passion, advocacy, and to use my voice healthily now (that one took a while, I’ll admit, but I am here).
When I love, I love so deeply it feels like grief; my love hurts because I don’t know what to do with it. I fret, I overthink and I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest to taunt me about how fragile I am.
I never meant any of this to happen, I can’t even explain how it began
Dad has watched me crumble, cry, and go through much, and I saw the true impact when Anorexia Nervosa engulfed my life. I remember the first time seeing him tear up and his voice break while I was slumped on the lounge. He didn’t understand, he asked, and I said, ‘Stop please’ because, selfishly, seeing him cry hurt too much, and I had no answer for him. I wish I had let him let his tears out and share with me what he needed; instead, he broke in his voice, ‘I’m sorry. No, dad, I am sorry. I am sorry you’ve had to be the strong one all the time. I know what that feels like now, and it is a heavy load to bear.
We can only handle so much. I would hold my hands over my nose in absolute shame in the hospital because I was trying to hide my Nasal Gastric Tube from Dad’s eyes. I looked in the mirror before he came, and the reflection shocked me. What would it have done to him?
When I heard Dad coming, I hid my face in my hands and cried shamefully. He reached out and gently pulled my hands down and he made me feel beautiful and normal. And loved. He choked up and put his hands on my head while softly saying, ‘You need this, Kitty, please’, when tried to pull out my lifeline and pulled at the tape on my nose from a sudden strike of fear. Dad always pulls me back to reality, inside I knew I had to fight against the battle of Anorexia.
Dad sat with me and held my hand while my exhaustion pushed me in and out of sleep.
I see you, dad. I truly see you, and I love all of you
Dad, I want you to know I will never give up. I may struggle through time, but I am strong and have a purpose. I see that now.
If this illness experience has done anything, it has taught me to be grateful for life and that there are bigger and better things than obsessing over control. I’m not saying I don’t battle daily; I do, and I am a long way from recovery, but I am also closer than I have ever been because of hope. Because dying isn’t like floating in a bathtub, warm and quiet, it’s painful for my family, painful for me, and I am sick of being sick.
I want to live and hug you every chance I get. That’s what matters in life.