By Kyla Friel
As a teenager it’s easy to think that you’re the only one who is struggling.
Every negative moment, emotion, comment, every perceived failure, bad grade, and critique – it all feels like a slap from the hand of some higher power whose main goal is to ruin your life. We freak out, cry and curse our existence.
And it’s okay because we’re young and sensitive. We’ll grow up, learn and eventually give other people advice. And it’s okay because it’s only for right now – but what if it isn’t?
I have seen so many statistics about mental health and stress in young people. There are so many resources and so much effort put forth to eradicate stigma in high schools and universities. It’s easy sometimes to forget that mental health issues aren’t “teenage disorders.”
It’s easy to forget that our parents need help too.
I was 14 when I first witnessed my dad breaking down during an episode. Watching your own parent’s sanity unravel makes you grow up quick. It was the tail end of grade eight, my last year before high school, and I was watching my dad come undone.
I felt much older then because I wasn’t ignorant. I knew he wasn’t as mentally stable as all the other parents out there. It’s scary knowing what’s happening but not knowing what to do. I don’t even think my mom knew what to do.
My dad experienced extreme bouts of mania and though they weren’t often, they were intense. He cycled with extreme depression too, something I also understood on a personal level. By the time I was entering high school, he was in therapy and on medication.
And that’s that, right? Not exactly. My dad is a full time veterinarian and incredibly young considering he has two children. He graduated vet school not even a decade ago and has had to juggle the responsibility of his career, his children, his incredibly rocky relationship and paying off his students loans. This would take an incredible toll on anyone and for my dad it got to be too much. He couldn’t balance everything.
My parents split up two years after that, when I was 16 and in the middle of grade ten. It was hard on me to see my family split apart, but also because of the amount of guilt I harboured. I knew my dad was sick and that he needed more help. I knew this and I couldn’t do anything about it, and I hated that I couldn’t.
Most children of divorced parents feel like it’s their fault but my feelings of guilt were amplified. I was a troubled kid and gave my parents unnecessary grief. My dad knew that I was going through something similar to him and so he began to see me as a confidant. It broke my heart. Every single day I worried for his mental health after he moved out. Every single day I was scared he would relapse into a deep depression and would have no one to pull him out of it.
Guilt and dread are scary, scary things.
Right before I entered the eleventh grade, July 2013, I came home to an eerily silent house even though my grandpa was home. My grandma wasn’t with my dad, which was odd, and my mom wasn’t home either, even though it was late and she should’ve been. I knew instantly, because I know all about things like this. But also because that morning my parents had a big argument and I was the last person my dad had talked to before driving off in tears. My grandpa denied everything, to protect me I guess, but I knew. My family was in the hospital with my dad, who had survived an attempt on his life.
As a teenager it’s easy to think that you are the only one struggling, until you realize that other people are hurting just as bad as you are. And the guilt is crippling. It’s hard to be 14 and given the responsibility of taking care of the people who are supposed to take care of you and then believe yourself to have failed horribly.
For now my dad assures me that he’s fine, he’s doing better, but I know him well enough to know he still struggles with his mental illness all the time. He lives an hour and a half away from me and I don’t get to see him as often as I used to. I know he’s doing better these days but when you’ve felt sick with worry and guilt for years, the feelings are hard to kick.
I just know that I can’t be the one to save him.