A guest post by Ms Gillian Crossley, an OT in the UK
I have thought long and hard about writing this Blog, mainly because I wanted to make sure, that my Dad was happy for me to do it. He has given me his full consent to write this.
This isn’t going to give any of his personal info or really discuss any of his medical history; it’s just really a reflection on my perspective of growing up with a parent who has a mental illness. I believe that it has positively impacted on my life and influenced the person I have become.
OK, so most people who know me personally already know this, it really isn’t a secret. My Dad is very open about his illness and I have often sat and listened to him talk about it, in fact he is writing a book and I’m pretty sure that one day, he would like to try to publish it.
So where do I begin! …..I would say the start, but I really don’t remember that far back. I do have a memory of sitting at a table opposite my Dad; he was wearing a coloured sash, as were lots of other people, for a long time I thought this place was a prison, turned out it was a hospital.
There was really no way of hiding the fact my Dad had a mental illness and even when I was very young, complete strangers felt the need to tell me details or what their opinion was, or tell their children, who would tell everyone else in the school yard. These experiences, although not very nice, have certainly contributed the person I have become. If this happened to me now, I wouldn’t think twice about challenging it, in fact I have done, a few years ago I was un-friended on facebook by someone who was completely shocked to hear this and made it clear that they did not want anything to do with me.
I believe that people like that, will have a less fulfilling life, because they will never know the valuable contribution that people who don’t fit into the ‘normal’ box, can bring to your life…I can only put this type of behaviour, down to ignorance and the fact that people are frightened of what they don’t understand. All I ever knew was that I loved my Daddy and that I had the best Dad in the world! (I still do). He has always been there for me and I could talk to him about anything (yes I’m a daddys girl).. And my children adore him.
I don’t know if things have particularly moved on from when I was younger…… I think the Time to change campaign is great and all these people are standing up and saying “I have a mental illness” they are trying to raise awareness and dispel some of the myths, in the hope that it will be less of a taboo.
So usually when I say “ my Dad has schizophrenia” I get ‘the look’! The same look most of the time; I think it’s a mixture of OMG why are you talking about this! And do you have it too? I don’t have it….
Sadly this is pretty much the reaction of most people, including some health professionals (even if only their initial reaction)… I wonder how many people reading this blog did ‘the look’………. If you did, I’d like you to think about why?
Is it because you don’t understand? Is it because your only knowledge of mental illness is from hyped up media portrayal? Is it just because, it’s not the sort of thing you expect people to talk about?
If you do have limited knowledge, would you consider learning about mental illnesses, so that you could be more understanding and less afraid to discuss it?
Anyway, when I reflect about my experience growing up and the person I have become, I think that my Dad has had a very positive influence on me. I have never been ashamed of my Dads illness, even though I can’t say I always understood everything. I don’t want to make it sound like a fairy tale life, living with mental illness is always a challenge, but the negative aspects, were generally as a result of the reaction of others, to it.
But my Dad worked hard, faced bullies often and never let them beat him, he stands up for what he believes in and openly talks about his illness, he isn’t ashamed of who he is.
He has lived a full and meaningful life and has a wonderfully supportive family and circle of friends. I believe that the support my Dad has, is instrumental in his successful management of his illness. Lots of people aren’t as lucky and maybe if we were all more tolerant and understanding there wouldn’t be as many people having to struggle with their illness alone.
He has great insight into his illness, which he has gained over time and through writing and reflecting…. I once asked him what it was like to have Schizophrenia?…..
His answer wasn’t what I expected, but was quite profound and has stuck with me since..
He told me that he always lives in two worlds and that sometimes it’s difficult to tell which is which… he went on to explain, that over the years he had started to think of it as a jigsaw… and that he now felt like he had enough pieces of the jigsaw, to be able to recognize the difference between the two worlds…
This gave me insight into the worlds in which he lives, he truly inspires me. Through determination and a desire to live his life, my Dad has strived to do everything he can to manage his illness and help others understand.
So what I think, is that because of my Dad I am a more tolerant person, I am not afraid of what I don’t understand, in fact I have a constant desire to learn about the things I don’t understand and I’m certain that I will be a better occupational therapist because of this.
Regardless of whether I ever work in mental health, I believe learning to understand that people are different and that they are all valuable; will always be in my mind.
Everyone has their own story and as an occupational therapist, I will just be there to help them learn how to pick up the pen……
I am incredibly proud of my Dad, so like the people on the time to change campaign, who share their experience in the hope that one day mental illness will be more understood and accepted.
I want to say proudly, that yes my Dad has a mental illness,, So what??
Original Blog post can be found on Gillian’s Blog: http://gilliancrossley.blogspot.com.au