With the long weekend that just passed, I wanted to wait to share this post until today, when I knew people would be back to their everyday schedules and more likely to read it (it’s just that good).
The writer of this piece is, again, someone I was introduced to through a friend. Her name is Kelsey and, although we don’t know each other in real life, I feel genuinely connected to her after reading her words.
As cliche as it may sound, Kelsey’s writing truly makes you understand what it feels like to be a part of the roller coaster ride that is her dad’s mental health and addiction struggles.
My favorite thing about this piece is how well it shows that people’s experiences can impact their loved ones mental health too.
It’s heart-felt and heart-breaking all at once, and I’m pumped to share it here:
My dad is my hero. He is my favorite person in the whole, entire universe. We have the same humor, we have the same cackle, and we have the same antsiness when it comes to scheduling/agendas. Our hobbies together include: Watching Family Guy, making terrible, bologna sandwiches (drenched in too much Oscar Meyer, mustard) and taking midday naps in a shitty, box-fanned vortex, with our two, unruly Irish Setters.
My dad is a Clinical Social Worker.
And he’s damn good at what he does.
I’ve listened-in on countless, midnight phone calls, convincing his clients to “make it” or “hold on” until tomorrow. My dad would repeat: “Phil, you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”
Dad would take a few minutes, nodding/listening to the distraught man on the other end, “Phil, call me in the morning. Promise me you’ll be around.” And just like that, Dad and I would continue our movie night, no comments/questions needed. Phil would call 6am tomorrow morning.
On the weekends, we’d go to garage sales so dad could, “Buy Richard a table for his Birthday,” because Richard didn’t own any furniture. We would take a pit stop, on the way to the grocery store, so dad could “Give Janice a pack of cigarettes, and a Snickers, so she’d make it through the week.” Always something.
He’s my hero.
But he wasn’t always.
I found out my dad had a problem in 2005, when I was in 8th grade. Through Mom’s crying, through selling our home, and through a short-lived divorce, I found out that my dad had another talent.
My dad is addicted to Poker.
And he was damn good at what he did.
Until he wasn’t.
We lost a lot that year. My parents decided that restarting (again) in Idaho was the best option. In turn, we watched my dad like a hawk, and Dad attended Gamblers Anonymous Meetings (G.A.). Out of guilt, Dad encouraged mom to be a stay-at-home mom. In turn (because her babies weren’t in need of this role), Mom reconnected with her good friend, wine cooler.
Looking back, I never recall being sad. My parents were always dysfunctional. My dad always worked a lot, and mom always drank. Just how it was.
By 2014, Dad had stopped going to G.A. Meetings, and Mom was Mom (that’s another story, for another time). Dad was working later nights. He was gone more weekends. He was on-edge, stressed from working On-Call at the hospital. I loved my Dad, but he was definitely a different person than he was in 2005. But I understood. Mom wasn’t working. He needed the extra cash. I’d pitch in when I could. I would let him borrow $200 here, $300 there. I’d let him put groceries on my credit card.
Regardless, I was proud.
Dad had stopped playing poker.
Until he didn’t.
In summer of 2014, we found out Dad had never actually been working nights, or going to Hospital seminars over the weekends. Dad was never borrowing money for groceries… Dad’s friend, John cracked one day when Mom cornered him. “John. Where’s Steve? And don’t you dare lie to me.” John whimpered, “He’s at a casino in northern Idaho. He will tell you he’s in Vegas, but he’s not. Someone needs to drive and get him…”
Dad finally called, after ignoring our calls for 3 days. “Jan. I messed up. It’s bad.”
Over the last year, Dad had gambled away an unspeakable amount of money. He took money from my Brother and I to count cards, and he maxed out our credit cards. I thought, “Kelsey…How could you be so blind?”
That was just the beginning.
ACUTE WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME:
We also found out that Dad had been abusing opioids. He had been addicted for the last 7 years. My Brother and I knew that Dad would pop an anxiety pill here and there… but we didn’t realize the dosage, or frequency, or how bad it really was.
Wasn’t it normal to take an anxiety pill, every once in awhile?
With his new job in Boise, insurances/doctors had changed, and Dad no longer had the “Doctor, Homie-Hook-Up.” Dad went off these drugs cold turkey. In turn, Dad went crazy. In 2014, Dad started going through Acute, Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome. (It’s now 2017. He isn’t any better.)
Dad stopped being any form of my Dad. His “Family Guy humor” stopped, his cackle stopped, and he spent most of his time in the room of vortex fans, sleeping. His hands shook. He preferred to sit alone, instead of goofing with his kids.
Recently here in 2017, Dad tried to explain this chemical imbalance/withdrawal syndrome to my Aunt. “It feels like I’m going to jump out of my skin. And I have a hard time with day-to-day tasks. The thought of shaving gives me high anxiety.” He continued with a story: One-day at work (before he realized how bad it was), Dad was counseling a couple. The couple was fighting in Spanish, and Dad couldn’t get a word in. Dad was patiently waiting for them to stop speaking Spanish, so he could help.
The couple was speaking English.
Later in the summer, Dad crashed the Prius. His reply to the accident was, “I wish it killed me.” That day Mom took Grandpa’s guns from the house.
A couple months after Dad fessed up about gambling, and beginning the journey of this new mental illness, Dad lost his job. They were losing the house. My brother broke his arm and lost his job as well. I was the only one in my family with a job, and I was just offered an internship at my dream job, outside Seattle.
One Saturday afternoon, while working in the Boise, Idaho Mall, I had a full-blown panic attack. I fell in the backroom at my store, chest pounding, not being able to breath. How could I leave to Seattle for this internship? “How dare I think about leaving them.”
My boss at the time (now Mentor, and who I consider a best friend), Meghan, found me defeated on the dust-bunny covered, cement floor. I’ll never forget the way she calmed me down. These were the conclusions she lead me to (took me until just now to finally accept):
-I can’t save my parents
-I can’t send them money (no matter how indirectly I’m asked)
-Mental illness is real
-Suicide is real; I can’t blame myself
-I can only focus on me, and my well being
Because of this mind-set, I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I could.
-I took my dream internship outside Seattle
-I became a Jr. Marketing Coordinator for the company
-I paid off my car (big win for me!)
-I dropped in on my first mini-ramp
-I received my Bachelors of Business Administration Degree
-I moved to California
-I became a Marketing Coordinator for another, kick-ass company
-I started volunteering for a dog rescue
My dad rarely calls. When he does, and I see his caller ID, I think “Is he ok? Is he calling to say goodbye?” This is the truth I live with.
We lost our house, and my childhood memorabilia, yearbooks, and Harry Potter action figures are stored in my best friend’s garage. My parents are living pay-check-to-pay-check in a small, rental house. Mom finally got a job after 8 years. Dad is on unable to work, and is applying for disability. I haven’t been home in 8 months, and I’m honestly a little scared to.
However… When days are bad, and holidays away from Idaho feel extra heavy… I think back to when my dad helped Phil, on the phone all those nights…
“Kelsey…you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”