Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Father the Star Wrangler

     So this week is national Schizophrenia awareness week. This hits particularly close to home foe me because, as a lot of people are well aware, my father is schizophrenic. For those of you who were not aware, that my father is schizophrenic, well, happy Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Consider your self aware.
 That's probably what one does for Schizophrenia Awareness, right? Become aware of someone who is schizophrenic, and maybe send them a basket of cheeses and cured meats? That's what I send my dad for Christmas and he really likes it.
     I can give you his address.
    Oh. Erik just pointed out that it is Schizophrenia Awareness, not Schizophrenia Appreciation Week.
    Guess I better make with the aware-i-fying.
      The whole awareness thing is good. It's relatively new, and it is good to be able to mention to people that there are schizophrenics out there who are not homeless or in prison. When we were kids, we were not allowed to tell anyone about my father's illness, which was fine with me, because I really had no idea what anyone was talking about when they said my dad was sick. He did not seem sick. I suppose he did things that I didn't understand, but adults were always doing things that I did not understand, and I never troubled my self with comparing adults inexplicable behaviors. My dad did talk to himself, but so did I; I still do actually, so there was nothing even remotely strange about that.      On the contrary. I have fond memories of falling asleep to the sounds of my mother working at her sewing machine and my father quietly mumbling to himself, and feeling as though everything was right with the world.

     I do remember the first time I was aware that my father was having a break down. My mother had gone to a family wedding in Texas and we children were left with my father, who was behaving in a very silly manner, shouting at the TV, marching around the house singing, praying at the top of his lungs. I wasn't scared. On the contrary, I think all of us kids were very excited to see my dad in such a fervor. We shouted along with him, danced in parade behind him and happily acted as a sounding board for some of his more precarious ideas.
     "What about this apple, Doll? You think this is good for eating?"
     "No Dad, that's a ceramic apple." I remember giggling, "You can't eat that."
      "No? That's not a good idea?" I laughed. I knew he was genuinely asking me, and I was delighted to be able to care for my father who very often was stoic and intimidating. "No, you can't eat that. Do you want a real apple?"
     I remember my father's face lighting up and him grinning ear to ear. "Yeah, that'd be great!"
     I was so happy to be helping, that my father's illness was more an opportunity to play and be close to him, than anything I ever would have considered a disorder. In fact, it feels strange even now to think of it that way.
      "My father's schizophrenia is a disorder."
      Yeah. That seems weird.

      As an adult, I have come to understand what schizophrenia is indeed a disorder. I know that it can be a terrifying disorder that can torture both the patient and their family. My father's path through his mental illness has been horrific at times, as it has been for my other loved ones who suffer from a similar disorders. I don't mean to make light of any of their suffering. Right now my father is working to promote awareness of the humanity of the schizophrenic. Isn't it sad that we need to remind people that though schizophrenics may behave a bit differently than the majority of society, they are still human? But it's true. Too often when we see a homeless person speaking fervently on the street, or when we hear of disturbed people committing crimes for what are clearly delusional motivations, we forget that these people are humans who are not only disabled, but who are suffering. We need to have sympathy for them.
(The sound gets better in the video after a minute or two)
Did you watch it?  Isn't my dad awesome?  Don't you want to watch the whole talk now.
Ah, then my job here is done.
Thanks Dad!  I love you!


  1. (Note: The following message is from Claire's sister, Bridget)
    Thanks for posting, sister, and raising awareness. One thing I'd like to point out is there is an effort to change the language around mental illness. No one person IS "schizophrenic". A person has schizophrenia. Similarly, no one IS bipolar. No one is depression. Just like no one is diabetes or cancer. These are all medical conditions that affect people's lives, but they do not define the person. It's not who the person is. I know dad identifies himself as schizophrenic, but one of my friends recently corrected me. And I thought, you know, she's right. Dad is not schizophrenic. He has schizophrenia, but he's so much more than that.

  2. Charlton LaBelleMay 28, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    Such a wonderful article!!!! THank you for writing this, it brought tears to my eyes. Loved the youtube talk, too.

  3. I hope you don't mind; I've sent a link to your blog to a friend whose husband was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was a blessing for them- he had be misdiagnosed for years and survived a suicide attempt- but the diagnosis came the day after their daughter was born, which has been fairly crazy. Thanks for putting a great resource out there for the moms and dads who are trying to navigate parenthood and depression!