Crazy for the First Time

The first time I saw my dad acting crazy it was in the kitchen. He stood in his white, v-neck undershirt and black slacks in front of the open refrigerator door. With his head tilted all the way back, his hand lifted an entire gallon of milk up to his mouth. And he guzzled it down like a frat-boy. The whole dang thing. Chug! Chug! Chug!!

As a freckled face little girl I stood there beside him in the kitchen. I was transfixed by his behavior, my dry mouth gaping open. I was thirsty, too. It was impossible to keep any milk in the house, between five kids under age 13 and a Dad like this one. The milk was always gone.

Dad’s untreated bipolar caused him to cycle through highs of mania (where he acted impulsively and excessively) and lows of depression (where he turned inward and lived in his bed).

Dad’s mania was fun for us as kids. He deconstructed our lawn mower one day and turned it into a go-kart. He turned over the wheel of a car or small airplane to us to drive.

His mood swing coming down from mania was not crazy fun, but crazy scary.

It was crazy scary when I saw Dad pour all of his chalky white milk onto my mother. I don’t remember what he was shouting as he did this to her. The scene in my mind is silent. I see the milk dripping off of her lavender floral dress and onto the green carpet.

Today I celebrate that crazy doesn’t have to define who I am even though it is part of my family’s crazy fun and crazy scary past.

I celebrate that there is no turning back. My book went to the printers yesterday. The release date is September 30 and on that day I’ll be freaking out feeling all the feels.

I remember the first time I saw crazy. And as a child I had never heard the word bipolar. Nobody talked about it.

I just knew crazy because it lived in my house.

And to this day I can smell crazy from a mile away. It smells like milk.

I celebrate that today people are starting to talk about mental illness and that we have access to more mental health support services and resources now than ever before.

Like the milk in my childhood home, it’s never enough. We need more. More people telling their stories to break the silence about mental illness, more research, more support services that are accessible and affordable, more understanding and inclusion of people with mental illness.

We need more because there are thousands of families out there that need help.

5 thoughts on “Crazy for the First Time

  1. So, I’ve been diagnosed with two in the DSM for crazies, bipolar, schizophrenia, you could probably add a few more to that list. Congrats on getting your book printed! I drank milk from the jug yesterday, trying to avoid being seen by my wife and three year old son, because I guess its not acceptable 🙂 my wife has noticed even tho I’m pseudolatose intolerant (don’t stand around me afterwards 🙂 milk helps when I’m manic. And my hippie old lady friends say it has something to do with the lichens in the milk? I just try to stay calm and stay away when I’m scary! Thanks for sharing. Yay for sharing :)!

    1. I’m glad you have support and are taking care of yourself. As to the milk, I didn’t know there was this common theme about mania and milk…wow. Just remember to save some milk for your family. Thanks for your comment and support to break the silence about mental illness.

  2. Thanks for sharing this.

    I guess “crazy lived in my house” too, and we definitely didn’t say much about it growing up.

    In my case, it was my mom that was mentally ill. It was something that no one really acknowledged. As a child, I was definitely kept in the dark about what was going on. I mean you kind of “know” on some level, but on another level you do what you have to do to feel “okay” or “normal” about your upbringing.

    In later life, I have pieced together the truth — that is obvious to outsiders like my wife from the moment they step on my parent’s property. I guess it goes to show that if you live with anything long enough, you get used to it, and it almost seems “normal” to you. Kind of like a hoarder learns to move around a messy house, I learned to “maneuver around the elephant” in my living room. You do it to survive, but Lord knows you don’t really thrive.

    The fact is, however, life was far from “normal” and who I am now (for good or ill) has been shaped a whole lot by growing up as I did. I lost out on experiences growing up that I will never recover and I have started to reckon with that — and grieve it. It’s only as I have gotten older, gotten married, and moved away, that I’ve gained perspective on what was in my family of origin — and still is whenever I return home to visit.

    My parents like to tell me, “they are fine,” when it’s so obvious (to anyone outside our family) they are not. My father has settled for such a low level of living for so long, though, that I think he actually believes that all is well — or as well as he can hope for under the circumstance. It’s a decision he made at some point to help him survive 55 years marriage to mom, but the decision has had far-reaching consequences not just for him, but for his children — and now even his grandchildren.

    Suffice to say, I’m definitely interested in checking out your book! Our stories may have some common threads…

    1. Alan, it is good to share our stories. Thank you for sharing yours. As adult children of parents who have mental illness, there is a lot of grief to sort through. I hope that by opening up and breaking the silence about mental illness, we can become more whole.

      1. Difficult to read, difficult to remember. I hope that writing your book relieves some of the pain for you. Yeats ago, guided meditation assisted me in forgiving those who assaulted my young spirit. That has assisted me throughout my life when I have allowd people with mental illnesses to “injure” me. I want to stay open and not shut myself off, but it still hurts. Prayer is my comfort and solice. You are always in my heart, and I pray for you as you move forward with God’s plan for your life. You continue to blossom. Stay open, stay vulnerable, and grow in grace Sara.

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