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Daughter speaks out about father’s mental illness to educate others

Mental Health Awareness Week was touched by a special feature this year.

A Bermudian woman, who is living in the UK studying for a degree, posted a personal account of growing up with a father plagued by mental illness. The response generated was overwhelming.

The women, who we are calling Ms X to preserve the identity of her father, documented her story, ironically, while filling a role in a housing-related support service for 15 men with mental health disorders.

She said it was pure fate that pushed her “in the direction and role” she truly loves and relate to her father's symptoms at the same time.

“In Bermuda I didn't know anyone who acted as bizarre as my father, nor did I cope or respond well.”

An avid blogger, she suffered in silence before writing her story.

“It's me coming to terms with my father's condition and educating others in the process.”

The story generated over 160 comments, 570 likes, 215 shares and 20 inbox messages and “tons of strangers” follow her posts on Facebook.

“The majority were Bermudians and a few foreigners trying to cope with their loved ones who have mental health disorders.

“Others were individuals trying to overcome their own mental illness like depression and OCD, social inequality, harsh stigmatisation and employment discrimination.

“People have asked me to do some public speaking on Mental Health, start a support group and continue educating the uneducated.”

Here's an excerpt of the story Ms X posted on September 26:

I am the daughter of a father with mental illness.

I grew up plagued with embarrassment and confusion because no one ever took the time out to explain his mental condition, bizarre behaviours, console my feelings nor gave me the life skills to cope with a parent who didn't have the mental capacity to be a father figure.

How does a young girl tell a parent or her father that faeces belongs in the toilet — not a cardboard box?

Why did dad cake his entire face with black shoe polish believing it was suntan lotion protecting his melanin from skin cancer then visit my primary school for all my friends to witness this scary sight?

What made my dad wear a motorbike sprocket around his neck in public like it was the latest fashion statement and push MarketPlace grocery cart up and down Parson's Road? I just wanted my dad to act normal.

[My father] has been embraced by some family members and rebuked by others as result of their lack of knowledge and understanding of his psychiatric history ... that stretches back to 1977.

Some think his lifestyle is a lazy, irresponsible choice! My dad wasn't born like this!

Involuntarily found myself working within this complex sector of males exhibiting clone-like behaviours just like my father, wearing strange ornaments, carrying urine in Pepsi bottles, washing vegetables in Tide laundry detergent and pulling up weeds.

No one comes from the womb saying 'when I grow up I want to coexist with Parson's Road's weeds and stock pile them like Lego blocks or becomes the CEO of Keep Bermuda Beautiful without dividends'.

Just because a person is able to maintain a job, conversation, sexual relations and call you by name don't mean all is well within their brain chemistry.

It's like a car, the body is rust free, but the radiator is faulty.

We live in a world where it is more acceptable to have cancer than mental health issues.

Schizophrenia is such a taboo topic, no one discusses it because of the serious stigma attached!

The [mentally ill] in our community are considered societies outcast, bums/beggars, homeless, an outright nuisance. Just the sight and smell of them makes your nose cringe!

The sight of my dad has brought disgrace to [our] family hierarchy because he hasn't met their expectations of what a 61-year-old male and father should be.

You and your family are not immune to mental health illness (schizophrenia, delusions, voices, bipolar, OCD, paranoia, anxiety disorder, autism, drug abuse, alzheimers).

I am going to throw in some PMS to sweeten the Koolaid, because some women go off the deep end for a few days every month.

It's an imbalance of the brain chemistry the cognitive thinking process — the relationship between speech, feelings, thinking and behaviours.

Just because you don't have it now doesn't mean your future is exempt.

Bermuda has many males with mental health issues that are undiagnosed in Westgate Correctional Facility, acting up like it's a MAWI psychiatric ward.

We actually have a generation oblivious, which included me! We are uneducated and unfamiliar with these individuals' abnormalities.

There is actually a Facebook Group called 'Where is Scientist Now' because Bermudians find a grown man riding a toddler size BMX bike up and down our Island humorous, captivating and bizarre.

His missing teeth, dirty appearance and peculiar actions have made him a local celebrity! That's how limited our mental health awareness is.

It amazes me how the UK takes mental health issues and homelessness very seriously and does not permit such individuals to wander or sleep on the streets!

They provide shelter, medication, family support, educational programmes and legal legislation on safe guarding vulnerable adults.

[My father] has a home, a warm bed, clean clothes, family and cooked meals but due to his mental illness he prefers to be one with nature.

If the family forces him it's a locked ward at MAWI and medication, so we leave him until a member of public calls MAWI or police.

I've had to learn to accept his abnormalities were not a deliberate attempt to hurt, offend nor embarrass me.

I don't know what my dad's breaking point was. I still have so many unanswered questions. His mental health started deteriorating in the late 1970s, since the age of 29, when his symptoms/behaviour became intolerable and bizarre.

In his younger years he attended school. He was a very popular fly guy, a ladies' man and gainfully employed as a maitre'd. He was married, a provider, and a talented painter. He has three independent adult children and healthy beautiful grandchildren who he doesn't really know because his mental state doesn't allow a relationship to flourish.

It is like mourning the loss of a parent whom you heard once existed and was stolen from you because of mental illness.

I write and share my dad's story to educate rather than discriminate because we are all as strong as our weakest link.

Remember this before you cast your next judgement!

Signed no longer ashamed.

A Bermudian woman has spoken of the realities of having a parent with a mental illness.

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Published October 14, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 14, 2013 at 2:26 am)

Daughter speaks out about father’s mental illness to educate others

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