My father had bipolar disease. How do I know? I know because I have bipolar. My father was never diagnosed with manic depression; he was born in 1911 and died in 1982 and at his death had been disabled for about four years from several previous heart attacks and strokes and adult onset diabetes.
Growing up, I walked on eggshells. I never knew what would set off his temper. There was never any in-between with my dad. He would either be irritable and angry, or affectionate and loving. In other words, there was no normal at our house; I didn’t discover this until I grew up and moved away.
During my father’s angry cycles my brother, who is eight years older, and I were in danger of being the targets of my father’s wrath and humiliating vitriol and actions. I remember my father sending my brother away from the dinner table, then chasing after him and jumping on top of him to beat him when my brother wasn’t sufficiently groveling about being sent away.
He submitted me to humiliating punishments and never remembered them afterwards, as though a fog came over him during the punishment phase, and the fog lifted afterward, taking his memory along with it. Of course at the time, I just thought I was crazy and had dreamed each event.
These cycles carried into my teen and young adult life, when I was accused of “making things up” or “dreaming things,” when an abuser didn’t want to admit to an abuse. I regularly doubted my sanity.
A prime example of this was when I was sixteen, I was sent to our family dentist for a root canal. The dentist’s office was only two blocks from our home, so I walked because my mother and father both worked. At the onset, the dentist told me he would be drilling into my tooth, and to let him know if I felt any pain. If I did, he would switch to a smaller needle/drill.
When I related the entire experience to my parents, their joint response was, “You must have been dreaming.” I became convinced I must have been under sedation and dreamed the entire episode.
As the dentist moved his tools over to the tray, his hand was shaking so much the tools clinked together. There was no assistant – this was in the days before assistants were required in the room (1966). He gave me no pain reliever, i.e. Novocaine before he began to drill. The excruciating process took hours, and I distinctly remember he changed needles five times.
By the time the process was over, I was shaking and in horrible pain. It was obvious to me the dentist had been drinking; his speech was slurred. How I managed to walk home is beyond me. When I related the entire experience to my parents, their joint response was, “You must have been dreaming.” I became convinced I must have been under sedation and dreamed the entire episode.
Once I realized where this came from, I began to blame my father, and blamed him for much of the dysfunction in my relationships with men. “That’s natural,” you might say. Yes, but as long as I held onto unforgiveness, the longer I remained in a state of immovability. I could not move forward; I was not teachable. I was unable to see beyond the hurt and chains which kept me locked into my “story.”
Three things occurred which allowed me to transform my heart and mind into forgiveness. The first is that I became a follower of Jesus. As God began to mold and shape me, I realized I could not hold onto the hurts and resentments because that is not who He is. He forgave me for all my past behavior, all the things I did which hurt His children, and I knew He had also forgiven my father.
I began to feel compassion for my father. I began to see the world through his eyes.
The second thing which occurred is I was diagnosed with bipolar. Once that happened, I realized my father was bipolar. He could not control his behavior or cycles anymore than I could. I began to feel compassion for my father. I began to see the world through his eyes.
Looking back, I recognize his depression, his hypomania, his isolation and his shame. I also now understand the fear that may have driven him not knowing or understanding his disease. My own diagnosis allowed me to see my father as a man, a human being instead of just my father.
So I have been able to forgive, to hold him in my other Father’s love, to see him through the eyes of Jesus. I have been able, with the Spirit’s wisdom and reminder of Jesus’ words, to give my father the compassion, love and grace he did not receive from his own egregiously abusive father.
And the third: I can do this because along with the bad memories, I also have memories of my father telling my mother he loved her every single day. And I remember my mother telling me she knew my father loved her more than she loved him. And this single, sad memory makes me want to take my father in my arms and love him unconditionally; it helps me forgive him and give him the grace he deserves.
[It] makes me want to take my father in my arms and love him unconditionally; it helps me forgive him and give him the grace he deserves.