Talking To My Bipolar Dad Can Make You Feel Like You're The Crazy One

Because we're so similar I can follow his thoughts to some extent, but sometimes it'll just be like “What?! Why has he brought up Douglas Adams eating a book?”
Publish date:
August 28, 2012
bipolar disorder, family, dads, dad jokes

My dad is so much like me. He's vibrant, passionate, excitable and his enthusiasm is infectious. He's a show off (and therefore pleased that I am writing this article), and in public he's always "on." He too has a million and one things he's done or wants to do with his life. People find him irritating or they're not quite sure how to take him. They don't see him in his quiet moments, with his glasses and a book.

He's the most intelligent person I know and always knows the answers on University Challenge.

And oh yeah, he's cyclothymic.

To me, the diagnosis a few years ago didn't change anything. He was still my dad. He was still the same man who my primary school headteacher once told me was "childlike" or my friends would talk about as being "weird." Putting a label on it made sense but it didn't change who he is or how he is.

It's difficult when someone has been diagnosed as something because then it's so easy to discount things about them as being part of an illness. Those in the mental profession call it gaslighting. A sort of "Calm down dear, you're just being crazy" that women are also familiar with. Luckily my dad has a sense of humor and doesn't mind me and my brothers doing our (awesome) impressions of him, or when I say CLANG to his wordy jokes.

Most of the time we get on pretty well. I have to distance myself occasionally because otherwise the amount of time we spend rehashing the past, and having deep conversations about life and relationships and love and stuff can be a bit, well, overwhelming. Cathartic, important, but a lot to hear or think about in one sitting.

And then there's when we don't talk and we argue. It is near impossible to get to the end of an argument with my dad where he goes "Oh, I see what you mean." (But then maybe that's the whole reason an argument is an argument and not a discussion?)

I don't know what arguing with a parent is like when they're not crazy. I'm pretty sure, though, that it isn't like you're having to draw on everything you've ever known or read or heard in your arsenal because the subject is always bouncing around from one thing to another. He always plays devil's advocate and never agrees with anything I say (even if he actually does agree with me, I know -- infuriating).

Like when we have our deep emotional chats, I feel like we're not in the present anymore and have somehow found our way onto a mountain top in the middle of space. Nothing is quite how I believed it to be and things aren't easily definable or explainable.

Because we're so similar I can follow his thoughts to some extent, but sometimes it'll just be like "What?! Why has he brought up Douglas Adams eating a book?" and sometimes it's frustrating if it's an angry-angry argument. Sometimes it's just ridiculous and funny and makes me laugh.

We're both scary, intimidating people when we want to be. Which means when we lock horns, we really lock horns. But I always come out of it feeling like "What just happened?" and "I wish I'd filmed that so I could explain it better." I can't even make sense of what was said in my own head. It's worse because of how intelligent he is, arguing with him makes you feel like you're the stupid/crazy/wrong one.

The moments when he is preoccupied with his own brain and getting his attention is near impossible are probably what I find the most difficult. I like attention, and need it sometimes. He might ask a question and then not listen to the answer, immediately be on his phone looking something up, or just simply walk off to do something else. That is hard.

But I wouldn't trade those confusing, mind-boggling moments for a thousand "normal" fathers. And I wouldn't choose to not have those talks or those arguments because although sometimes I can be left an emotional wreck, more often than not I feel like I've been brought a little closer to myself. Art, writing, politics, philosophy, film, music, my brothers, his childhood, my future, travel, experiences. It's all just life. And my dad is really good at reminding me of it.