People with bipolar disorder alternate between periods of depression and euphoria. People constantly live between high peaks and low troughs. Because of these periods there are also ‘in-between periods’, in which everything seems normal. That is why it is one of the most difficult disorders you can recognise. One percent of the population has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. A disease that persists throughout life and for which there is no miracle cure.
My former best friend had a mom with bipolar disorder. For years I witnessed living with someone who had to live with this psychological problem. Her mother had been a guinea pig of psychiatry in the past. Numerous medications were tested on her and the results were obvious. Her mother’s hands were constantly shaking, she often couldn’t get out of her words and she was constantly oscillating between happiness and depression. One moment she drove from here to there and bought the useless gadgets, other periods she couldn’t get out of bed.
I myself had no preconceptions about her. I respected her as a fully fledged human being, but I realized all too well that it shouldn’t be easy for my best friend. To live with someone who was so unstable. And then it happened to me.
My dad had always been an emotional person. As a child, I watched him fight alcohol addiction for years. But when he was sober, my daddy was the sweetest in the world. I was still young when he and Mom broke up, but the weekends with him were always great. Unlike my mom, I could talk to dad about anything. When he met his wife at the time, I was happy for him. In the beginning, I got on well with her. But there were some things I found strange. For example, I once caught her trying on my clothes when she thought I was gone, or she was quite jealous of my strong bond with dad. I didn’t really want to bother Dad because I knew how much he loved her, but the situation with his wife escalated and I felt like we were growing apart more and more.
His wife was originally from West Flanders. It came as no surprise that my dad moved there. The person I could always count on went to live no less than an hour and a half’s drive from me. Out of sight, out of heart, or so it seemed. Because I heard my daddy less and less and I felt like I had lost my best friend. Until suddenly I got a phone call. It was my father who said he wasn’t doing well. He put it on the fact that he missed me and he thought the distance was hard. He didn’t want to argue with me and he wanted us to be able to deal with each other the same way we used to. But now he had to calm down first. He volunteered to be admitted to some kind of psychiatry. From then on, our whole life changed.
When my dad got out of psychiatry, things got worse. With the little pocket money my mother gave me, I tried to go to West Flanders as much as possible. But every time we got there his wife said we couldn’t stay long. After a while I had had it. Why travel that distance if we weren’t welcome anyway? For the second time I took distance. And my father didn’t do anything about it.
A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my aunt. The tone of her voice made me realize immediately that something was wrong. “Stefke, you have to try to stay calm, but your daddy tried to kill himself. He’s in the hospital now and they managed to save him.” I didn’t understand a thing. She couldn’t tell me any more. She could only add that his wife would leave daddy. That she wanted a divorce. And my father would have reacted badly to that. That same night he took an overdose. This happened two days ago, and it’s only now that we heard what happened?! I was only allowed to leave for Ghent the next day, and there I would discover the truth a little more every day. Not of what had happened, because I still don’t know it today.
The fact that my father found his daughter no reason to live hurt me terribly, because why wasn’t I enough?!
Searching for a diagnosis
Thanks to my education at school, I had some knowledge about the care sector in Belgium. When I arrived in Ghent, my daddy was staying in the closed psychiatric ward. Instead of enjoying my early life as an eighteen-year-old, I had to get dad closer to home. We got him into Duffel’s psychiatry. It was a long search for years to find out what was going on with dad. I had many conversations with doctors and psychiatrists but no one could explain to me exactly what was going on. But that this was more than an innocent depression after the trauma he had experienced.
During the day I went to college and in the evening I picked up daddy in psychiatry. Since I still lived at home with my mother and daddy had no place to live, we drove from here to there. When his period was over and there was still no diagnosis, daddy was allowed to leave psychiatry. We found an apartment in Duffel and dad wanted me to move in with him. The two of us had a good time but I noticed the effects of his trauma every day. At night he was often awake and during the day he was in bed. Since I wanted to be there for him, my day and night rhythm changed too.
And soon I noticed that this was not so healthy. It felt like I was experiencing his depressions. No matter how difficult the choice was, I decided to leave, because I felt worse and worse. Still, I kept passing by every day.
For the next few years, the search for a diagnosis continued and those periods alternated with admissions to psychiatry. Often enough daddy seemed to relapse into suicidal tendencies.
Looking back on it, I felt very responsible about my father during that period. I constantly blamed myself. Because why couldn’t daddy just be happy, content with his life with his children? Regularly I got a phone call from the police that they were at his closed apartment and psychiatry was looking for him.
No reason to live
Three years after his first suicide attempt a bipolar disorder was diagnosed. And all I could think was why hadn’t I seen it before? I had known my girlfriend’s mother for years, hadn’t I? Then how come I was so stupid not to notice what was going on with my daddy?!
Although I did have some knowledge about the problem I went to several informative evenings organized by psychiatry. I knew all too well that the determination of his problems had no miracle medicine and that it would be a long search after the right treatment. This was especially the most difficult. I now knew what was going on with him, but it wasn’t as if that had solved it. One day I got a call from the psychologist who invited me to talk to her and dad. There my dad said he wanted to initiate euthanasia for psychological suffering. I was so angry that a professional healthcare provider let me go through this. I was so angry with daddy that after years of trouble I still hadn’t proven how much I wanted to see him and how important he was to me.
Soon it became clear that daddy had a hard time dealing with loneliness. Then his psychologist suggested to choose sheltered living. In that case you put ten patients together in one house. At first I thought that was strange; my dad wasn’t that bad, was he?! But now I know better. Because since he has been living here he seems to be doing better, and he is stable.
My daddy has bipolar disorder. I make no secret of it, and I never did. If it comes up, I’ll tell it honestly to those around me. Because I’m not ashamed of it either. I don’t know why. My daddy’s my daddy. I love him unconditionally and I’m very proud of him. He’s my hero. Because of that bipolar disorder, I’m only prouder of him. How he fought to be where he is today. I do live in constant fear, to ever get another phone call telling me that daddy actually committed suicide. Especially in times when I see him less. But I’ve learned to live with it.
I’m always going to wonder why I wasn’t good enough, but I know I don’t have to blame him. My daddy is still my big hero. And although I still have that fear, I trust him 100% with my daughter. Because besides being a great daddy, he is also a great grandpa. And I love him, then and now.