On your birthday, and on every day, you should know how appreciated and loved you are. I am your daughter that was shy, was afraid of strangers, had separation anxiety from Mom (from what I hear), and was afraid of my own shadow. I played it safe and didn’t take risks. I tried not to be trouble.
You worked long hours and weekends too and spending time with you was special. I wanted to be just like you so I decided I hated butter too because butter was “gross”.
I loved writing and reading very early and we bonded over that. I loved having something in common with you (other than picky food choices), and taking trips to the World’s Biggest Bookstore (or any bookstore around). I wanted to show you I was smart because I saw how people respect you.
I always tried my best in school and in life and tried to be a good daughter so you and Mom would never have to worry about me.
I was very shy and had my fair share of bullying, but you always gave me pep talks about how to deal with bullies. And later on, how to handle terse situations in the workplace. I learned many important people skills from you.
You have been a strong provider of emotional support my whole life. I don’t think either you or Mom expected that I would experience the challenges of living with a mental illness, but maybe in the back of our minds, we all knew it was a possibility given the strong family history. And I have to say, I can’t even imagine what it is like to see your child in that state and to feel like you can’t “make it go away” for your child.
First, it was the anxiety.
No one expected that first panic attack that happened in Montreal right before we were about to drive home to Toronto. I was so scared and begged you to put me on a train or plane and insisted I couldn’t get in the car. Eventually you and Mom talked me down and got me in the car and by the end of the car ride I was okay. You didn’t question what it was and thankfully I had an appointment with my psychiatrist that week and got the treatment I needed right away.
And next came the diagnosis I feared: Bipolar Disorder
Seven years after my first panic attack, we found out why I was experiencing more anxiety than usual, unable to sleep, had out of control spending habits and other unpleasant symptoms. I received the diagnosis I never wanted to receive. I knew the family history. I knew there was always a possibility I could have it. Because of stigma, I thought this was “the worst thing that ever happened to me” and that it would be my darkest secret. But you would not let me turn this diagnosis into a pity party.
I wanted to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself and be consumed by bipolar disorder. You (and Mom) refused to let that happen. You would not let me think I was different and as you always do when I need help or advice, you would give me your famous pep talks.
If it wasn’t for you, Dad, I would not have been able to “come out” of the proverbial “bipolar closet” and write blogs for mental health awareness sites like Healthy Minds Canada or for International Bipolar Foundation under my real name because I should tell my story. I wouldn’t be so open about my illness. I recognize it is an illness, but it is not a curse. You helped me realize this. Not only do you read my blogs, you use them and my story as an example for others who need hope and who need to know that they are more than a diagnosis.
Something else you have helped me to realize is that I should not compromise my sense of self or change for anyone. I love how stick to your beliefs and you will stand up for what you believe in and you don’t care about the opinions of others.
Just as you revered Grandpa, and we will always remember how brilliant Grandpa was, and how he would have made a great professor, I look at you the same way. You are brilliant. You are a professor in your own way. You are a professor in “The School of Life”.
I was upset when I didn’t get into Teacher’s College as I had no idea what to do with my life, but you suggested that I look into a college program to become a law clerk. I did, and it turned into a great career. I have no regrets about my career choice because it brought us closer. I was able to enjoy the courses at school more as I could discuss class material with you. I was able to feel more confident at work knowing that I am your daughter and people respect you- and boy, do they ever respect you! I always joke that in the personal injury field in Ontario, being your daughter is like being the daughter of a celebrity. Everyone likes to tell me how brilliant, witty and funny you are (because it’s true) and I am proud to be your daughter. You may not have had sons to carry on your last name, but I think your son-in-law understands why I can’t change my last name!
I want to thank you for not letting me get stuck in my head. I want to thank you for coming to my doctor’s appointments with me so you could learn more about me and to learn how to help me. Thank you for not looking at me as “incapable”. You never worried that I would be any less capable of doing whatever it is I wanted to do. You always had faith in me.
Thank you for your never-ending patience, support, guidance and for always reminding me not only who I am, but why I am more than a diagnosis.
Happy Birthday Dad. You Rock!
Love, Your #1 Groupie