Days of emotional, familial, cultural or religious importance can be painful for many; for some of those suffering with poor mental health, it can be downright unbearable. Perhaps the day serves to remind one of an absent, neglectful or abusive person; perhaps it intensifies loneliness; perhaps it triggers elements of illness such as flashbacks; perhaps it serves as a painful reminder of contributing factors to illness; perhaps it serves as painful anniversary or simply has unpleasant associations.
Whatever it is, these days can be tough. It’s worth taking a moment to think of those around us who may be hurting as we celebrate, something I’m conscious of doing around mothers’ day, Christmas, Eid, new year etc. And maybe sharing our own stories might help remind others that days full of happiness for most can be painful for others.
So here goes nothing… *deep breath*
One of the ‘Days’ that I struggle with…you’ve guessed it…is Fathers’ Day. Those who know me might be surprised to hear that as I have been noted for my (forced) nonchalance whenever my father is mentioned. However, several of the mental health professionals in my life have suggested that I need to open up to be able to heal from the complicated hurt and damage my father has caused me, an element which has led to my becoming so mentally unwell.
Right now, I have been helped to finally acknowledge that this one force has had a dramatic impact on my life, outside of even the obvious, which I had still denied until recently. You see, as well as leaving my mum and deciding to have nothing to do with me, my father seems to have wiped me out of existence to the extent that upon coming face-to-face with my mother and I as we visited my ailing grandad he said hello to my mum by name, asked her how she was, chatted happily to her, and acted as if it was only the two of them in the room. A few weeks later, he would go on to tell someone that he had 3 children, when his firstborn who made the total 4 was sat just 3 seats down from him. This series of perhaps benign-seeming occurrences have happened a few more times, and might not seem like much, however the team around me have helped me begin to see the subtle reinforcing message here that now plays so poignantly in my mind due to my mental illness: “I’m not a real person and I don’t matter. My absence is no different to my presence. My death is no different to my life.” Now, please don’t think that I’m confusing causation with correlation, my illnesses (as most mental illnesses) are complex and multifaceted. But my denial of the role that my father and his actions have played has been demonstrated to me recently to have added to the damage. This is not about blame but about trying to heal, about trying to let myself feel the hurt that I denied or hid for 23 years.
And I did that partly because I was terrified of those I loved leaving me the way he did. I grew up in terror, from a very young age, that loved ones would move on from me and as such became entirely paranoid with doing everything within my power to be as least trouble as possible, to never take and only give, to anxiously police everything I said or say nothing at all for fear of causing even the smallest amount of upset and offence, to never expect ongoing relationships of any sort or expression of love or friendship, and to value myself lower than any living being in order to make sure everyone knew that my priority was those around me and never myself. I felt this most strongly in my wonderful family; my dearest family are my father’s family (who went above and beyond to fill the gap he left behind, for which I am more grateful and humbled than I could ever express) and I have always lived in absolute deathly fear that they would leave me as he did and, worse, leave me for him. These people mean everything to me, they are the most wonderful family I could wish for, but I’ve always been paralysed with terror that they’d be gone from my life; my world would shatter. And that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to acknowledge, let alone express, the pain I feel from my fathers’ absence from my life and subsequent cruelty (using that word makes me feel ashamed, but I’m assured that this is proper for what has happened), in fear of upsetting them. The logical, adult me knows that these amazing people wouldn’t do that to me – but the frightened child and the poorly adult still relates to all people in this very confused, scared, unhealthy way and still feels that her life is of no value; these longheld beliefs form a lethal mix with the suicidal ideation that forms a prominent part of my illnesses: if my suffering is so great and unbearable that I need help, support and time from others, rather than giving those things, is my death not better for all involved?
These are just 2 very small examples of a very complex mixture of factors that makes Fathers’ Day so difficult for me. It’s not in my nature to share these things, and there’s lots more that I’ve not shared, but I wanted to try to make people pause and think about those around them who might need a little more care and attention when most are celebrated. And I also wanted to try to start picking away at that wall that stops me acknowledging and discussing the pain my father has caused me.
Then, of course, right at the bottom, under all that heavy stuff, is the little girl who just wanted her daddy who she sometimes saw around town with the half-sisters that she desperately wanted to know.
Sending squeezes to all those girls and boys, big or small, struggling on one of these big ‘Days’ – you’re not alone and you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of to be struggling; there’s no need to put on a brave face, force nonchalance or laugh in the face of it (though do go ahead with that if that’s how you get through it!). Your pain is real and understandable; it is not your fault or a burden that you have to carry alone.