I was going through a tough divorce with my first husband when I experienced depression for the first time. This was back in 1983 and I've had two more episodes of severe depression since. Each time my Dad, George, was there to support me and his love was key to my recovery.
When I first experienced depression he sat back and watched me start my treatment. Then, when my therapist suggested a diary or writing a record of some specific events in my past to help me understand my present, Dad gave me a book and encouraged me to write, he checked I had written something every day. He didn't always find it easy to speak from the heart but by putting pen to paper he supported me in his own way.
I decided it would save me some difficult moments if I allowed him to read it each weekend. He would leave a few questions for me to ponder at the back of the book each time. Sometimes I ignored the questions as they were too painful. Sometimes I openly answered them as part of my daily entries. Sometimes I would be reminded of something else to write about and he might know the link I was making.
It was our way of communicating without eye contact and a way of avoiding facing the emotional aspects with him at this difficult time. We never talked about how painful some of the words I wrote must have been to read, to realise my point of view of family events in the past and what his daughter was dealing with behind her marital door. We never reviewed the book together when that episode was over. The book just got swapped less frequently until it got filed away as we didn't need it anymore and my depression lifted; life moved on.
My Dad was there for me at a time when some people pushed me away because of my mental health. I have seen people blank me, avoid talking to me, cross the road to make it clear they will not acknowledge me, when all I wanted to do was say hello, not take up their time.
Sadly, I lost my Dad two years ago. When I went to go through his things I stumbled across the book we shared all those years ago. It was on the shelf next to another book that looked just the same. I flicked through the new pages, not recognising the handwriting until about a quarter of the way through. It was Mum's.
Mum had a stroke and Dad had asked her to write about it. In the early days the grammar, spelling and storytelling was difficult to follow. Then it became more coherent, until it was clearly a diary of her rehabilitation, return home, getting back to normal and finally her distinctive writing style shone through again. She never wrote about emotion or feelings but positively recorded every stage of her progress until it was becoming unremarkable. She recognised her stroke was a time to do some writing of her own.
When my Dad was ill towards the end of his life, I reflected on the support he had given me and wondered whether he too had experienced depression. I remember calling him one day to say I was having a bad day and he replied 'me too'. Sometimes we didn't need to speak, I assumed in his own way he was telling me he felt it too. Often I would go round and we would just hold hands and be there for each other.
With mindfulness and other techniques I have been able to manage two more episodes of depression since I shared my diary with my Dad, and thankfully his death was not a trigger. It was a time of celebration and reminiscing about a wonderful man who gave us the tools to live life through all types of ups and downs - in our own way. I miss him greatly. I'm proud of all he achieved. Father's Day will be a day just like his birthday and other key dates in the annual calendar to remember him with love.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year and it's important that we feel able to talk to those closest to us about how we're feeling. Being able to talk to family and friends about our mental health can be the difference between feeling supported and feeling isolated and alone.
You don't need to be an expert to talk about mental health, simply being open to talking, or listening, like my Dad was, can make a huge difference. If you are struggling to find the words, visit Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, where you can find tips to start your conversation
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