George Eliot once wrote, ‘Childhood has no forebodings.’ Perhaps what he should have said is that it ought not to have any forebodings, because, for me, my childhood, teenage and early adult years conjure up memories of a time riddled with fear, anxiety, and very little hope.
As hard as I try, my efforts to numb the effects of my father’s actions toward me over the years are futile in the greater scheme of things. A quick glimpse backwards into the years that molded me, and all I find is a life characterised by trepidation and worry. Verbal abuse, aggressive outbursts, impulsive actions – my father’s daily syllabus – all managed to filter through to my psyche, despite my best efforts to build up a wall. As a result I was forged into a restless, anxious and depressed human being. Unable to sleep at night, there was always one question that plagued my insomnia, filling me with confusion and guilt: do I love or hate my father?
Perhaps what was most confusing for me, was when I finally realised that as much as I wanted to, hating my father was useless because he wasn’t even aware of what he was doing.
When I was 12-years-old, my father was officially diagnosed with Frontal Lobe Syndrome (FLS); a mental disorder which the various doctors said was as a result of a motorcycle accident he was involved in decades ago, as a 16-year-old boy. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and was thrown off his vehicle, which resulted in him suffering severe head injuries. After lying in a coma in a hospital bed for months after his accident, and the subsequent amnesia he suffered, he made what doctors then – knowing none-the-better – called an amazing recovery, despite his brain damage. Managing to attain and hold down a good job, marry, and start a family, his life continued in what seemed a normal fashion.
Twenty-eight years after his accident, I was born. And it was during my early childhood years that his mental health started deteriorating – we later found out, when he finally started receiving the correct medical treatment, that with his type of head injury it was the normal progression for the symptoms to start surfacing a few decades later. And it was these symptoms that very quickly made life unbearable for everyone he associated with – especially his family.
His moods began to hinder his functioning. He became erratic and unpredictable, acting out in an aggressive and often abusive manner. In many ways he lost touch with reality, allowing his paranoia to feed his anxiety and depression. For years he carried on like this without treatment, his condition made all the worse by his alcoholism – which he adopted somewhere along the line as a coping mechanism of sorts – until eventually, 31 years after the accident that caused his head injury, he was officially diagnosed with FLS. Shortly after his diagnosis and the commencement of his correct medical treatment, he was found unfit for the workplace and medically boarded from his job.
In his early 50s my father started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a known symptom of FLS. While his medication and treatment certainly help to lull his outbursts and prevent certain negative side-effects, FLS is, after all, unpredictable in nature and is not curable, only manageable. Many of his symptoms still persist today.
Growing up I could never understand why I had the dysfunctional family and irrational father. It just seemed so unfair to me that while my peers got to play and enjoy their youth, I constantly had to worry about what the situation would be like at home that day; my father’s temperamental moods and actions, my mother’s frail feelings and me in-between, not understanding the meaning behind any of it. For years my anger has been directed towards my father, for making my life – and the lives of my family members – unbearable, and for being the root cause of the majority of our problems.
Unfortunately for me I only really knew my mentally unfit father, I never knew the man before, who was said to be kind, caring and very intelligent. Every now and then a sliver of the man he used to be will surface, and I will be truly astounded by what I find.
It has taken me many years to understand my father’s condition, and while I can’t claim to fully comprehend FLS, I have – through much therapy and personal study – realised that my father cannot help the way he acts, and that for the majority of the time he is not in control of his actions.
To this day I still find myself getting incredibly frustrated and angry with my father at times, but I am constantly working on my reactions and coping mechanisms. I find this leaves me feeling less guilty and more in control of my destiny – I know now that just because I didn’t have the best and easiest of upbringings, the rest of my life is not doomed to carry on the same way.
If there is anyone who has lived through a similar situation to me or knows someone living with a mental disorder, I urge you to read up on the condition and speak to experts. The result is bound to offer you a better understanding, and as a result, help you deal with your circumstances.