Unconditional Love: My Father and My Mental Illness


When my father faced struggles of any kind, he didn’t let on just how difficult things were. He shielded us from it, remaining strong and level-headed. When it came to us kids, he was fiercely protective.

Only you can’t protect your daughter from mental illness; it happens without rhyme or reason. It was no one’s fault when my symptoms started to set in.

I know that my symptoms and experiences were difficult to bear. I wish I could have spared myself and others the grief mental illness causes, but this wasn’t a journey I chose for myself, and I couldn’t choose to undo it, either.

For years, my mental illness didn’t have a name. The search for answers had been elusive. It wasn’t until after my father’s passing that I would come to identify with the words “bipolar disorder”. For the longest time, chaos followed me, the destructive highs of mania and the desperate lows of depression destroyed my life and relationships one by one. I’d retrace my steps in the aftermath and attempt to pick up the pieces, only to have it all shatter before my eyes again as I unknowingly moved through the cycles of mania and depression.

But my father never did give up on me. Though he did not understand or know why I struggled, he never stumbled in his quest to love me. When I butted heads with everyone else he was there, kind and compassionate and loving. He never gave up on me.

Do I wish I’d had an easier path? Sure. But I wouldn’t change it. My experiences have made me stronger. I do not say that casually – it is a very profound truth I’ve come to grasp. I don’t think my father would have changed me, either. Of course he wanted me to have a life without pain and suffering, but he never judged me or expected me to be perfect. He only wanted my love. I don’t know that he ever knew how much love I had for him.

It’s been a year since my father passed away. I never told him, never tried to sit down to explain. I either didn’t have the chance due to a lack of knowledge of what was happening to me, or lacked the words and courage.

If my father hadn’t already passed away, then I’d want to thank him for loving me unconditionally. I don’t know that I would try to explain my illness to him, even though I have the knowledge now. I never asked him to understand what I was going through, and he never pretended to. But what he did was bridge the gulf between me and the rest of the world. He didn’t have to know the what’s or why’s, because he knew me. He never saw me as my disease or the damage it caused.

He only saw love.


Charlie is a graduate student pursuing a degree in English and Creative Writing. When she is not doing coursework or writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and dog. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, in particular essays and novel-length works. She blogs daily on her site Decoding Bipolar, with a focus on education and incorporating positive changes in order to live fully while coping with mental illness.

You can follow Charlie on Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog.

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