Dad’s Life with Mental Illness
I’ve been struggling all day to write this post. In fact I’ve been struggling all year to express myself. You see a year ago to the day my baba died from terminal brain cancer and although I mention that part of the reason for this trip is to deal with the death, I haven’t really done any reflection or acknowledgment. I am aware that these emotions may come out in undesirable ways in the future and if I don’t deal with them I may be setting myself up for a bigger fall.
A brief overview
My Baba was born in 1951 in Thessaloniki, Greece. He moved to Athens when he was six after his parents got divorced. He started working as a painter when he was 14. My dad came over to Australia from Greece in 1977 when he was 24 because he married my mum (a Greek-Australian). My dad in the 80’s and 90’s had his own painting and decorating business that had its good times and bad times. I was born in 1988 and along with my two older brothers, we had a happy upbringing.
But it wasn’t a happy marriage. My parents would constantly fight about money with memories of me being sent to my room during their arguments. My dad was constantly sick and my mum would say, “See this is what happens when you smoke.” Not exactly building my dad up to be a great role model and it didn’t account for the early mornings, Melbourne’s cold, windy and rainy days and dust from the worksites. However, I have never smoked a cigarette, so I guess it’s an effective parenting strategy.
Yes, my dad was constantly sick and after his business went south he started working on big construction sites and for a large period of time and worked for Multiplex. He would often work six days a week and on the seventh day would rest. I didn’t see much of my father in that time except for the days where he’d call us into his room to give him hands and feet massages (although I normally massaged his arms). This also explains why I am such a good masseur, ladies…
After the divorce, in 2006 (also my final year of school), my dad started spiralling into depression and mental illness, although he was never diagnosed, “What do the doctors know!” Slowly, slowly he lost all his friends and isolated himself from meeting others “they’re the xioriatiki (village) Greeks not the Greeks from Athens”. He was in and out of work during this period and would often be at the computer listening to Alex Jones and on Skype.
In 2010, he had spent most of the money from the sale of the house. He had wanted us boys, to keep living as if we had so we rented a large house in Wheelers Hill and went out for dinner quite a lot. Once I figured out that we didn’t have much money left I suggested that we move out into something more affordable. So I moved with my dad to an unrenovated 2 bedroom flat in East Brighton, close to the beach but not close enough to walk.
He was mostly out of work at this time and although the house was suitable for me it only worsened his depression. Although I hardly saw this as he was so excited when I came home we would often watch movies and TV series together.
In 2011, I had a job in online marketing and I hated it, so I packed my bags and left for Korea to teach for a year, leaving my dad by himself in a depressing flat. He told me later there’d be days where he wouldn’t even get out of the house and be on his computer the whole day. Hey, he was always a skype call away when I needed him right?
When I came back a year later things were generally good. I did some odd jobs here and there and we were watching TV series again like Game of Thrones. In March 2013, while watching TV my dad told me that he couldn’t feel his left hand. And I started hitting his hand, hard “really? You can’t feel it?” The next day he couldn’t get out of bed and I had to take him to hospital. I didn’t think much of it as it was common for my dad to complain about things. Then they found a tumour the size of a golf ball in the centre of his brain.
It was Easter weekend so the neurosurgeons were out. He had surgery and it was a success but we were told that he had Glioblastoma (stage 4 brain cancer). We were told that he had 12-18 months to live. They were wrong.
After a month in the hospital, our viewing habits changed. No more, Game of Thrones and more Modern Family (and that’s why I’ve only seen the first 2 seasons of GoT). Since I didn’t have a job at the time I became his full-time carer. We moved from East Brighton to a nice house in Forest Hill and the brothers came back in support.
It was a happier time even through the radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He had his sons back. He had his family back. He started to wear hats to cover up the hair loss from the radiotherapy and he gained weight so he kind of looked like the Godfather. We went to Queensland and Perth together. I tried to get him back into the community and I also tried to get him walking and exercising. But it didn’t work and he had no motivation to get himself out of his bad mental situation. We all tried in our ways and after a year of relatively good health, my brothers decided that they were moving out.
I thought that although his physical state had improved his mental state hadn’t and so we decided to go to Perth to live. Perhaps, the better weather and the change of scenery will get him out of his funk.
All this caring had taken its toll on me. I became more snappy and a whole lot more negative. As my brother put it, I would go from 0 to a 100 like that. Anything that my dad would say that didn’t fit in with what I wanted I would snap. Why don’t you go outside! Why don’t you want to make friends! Why must you be so difficult!
It was made evident to me when we went to America and I left my dad with his sister who he hadn’t seen in over 30 years and it was the first time I had seen her. I was travelling around America and my dad would call me up just to complain and I would snap at him over the phone, “Work it out baba! You’re ruining my holiday” and then I went to Canada and I didn’t give him my contact number and I felt so relaxed and so happy until I received a message.
“IASON WHERE ARE YOU? YOU HAVEN’T CONTACTED ME IN 48 HOURS. WE ARE CALLING THE POLICE!”
It was then I realised that I had to leave. So I studied a month teaching course and off I went to Europe but not before I sent my dad to Greece, maybe he can get back in contact with his extended family?
Nope, that wasn’t the case. Instead, he pissed off the family and in the meantime, he had gotten his things stolen TWICE. By the time I came to Greece he had little money and no accommodation. In two days I sorted him out with a place in Athens (needless to say, however it wasn’t flashy). It didn’t occur to me, that whilst I still saw my dad as being a competent strong person he actually was floundering and couldn’t look after himself. The conspiracy theories got bigger and bigger.
I told my dad that I had had enough and that I am cutting communication with him, I am cutting the negative (the reason for the title of this website), for three months. Why three months? Because I had heard from a friend, years ago, that three months away from family is enough to become truly independent. I explained this to him and he congratulated me and said that I was now a man. However, I had loaned him 700 euro to help pay for the apartment. I originally gifted it to him but he insisted he’d pay me back.
After my stint in England and France, I got back in contact with him and said I was moving to Italy because I had found a job. He told me to tell me the bank and he could send the money to me. In Italy when I set up a bank account I sent it to him over Facebook. He said that he would give me a call later.
He called me during class and I didn’t pick up because I was teaching. I tried messaging him after work and the next day but he didn’t pick up. He went missing online and then he went missing offline. The conspiracy theories in his head had built up so much with no one to keep him in check he believed them. He thought my brother and I were dead, that the mafia had killed me and sold my organs and that his friends are out to get him. No shit.
He winds up in a hospital 3 weeks later having a broken leg 3 hours away from Athens. My cousin who he had just met, took him in and there he rested for 3 weeks before flying back to Melbourne. He was speaking fine and normally until my cousin would bring up my brother and me. He was convinced that we were both dead.
When dad arrived in Melbourne he went straight to the hospital and with the aid of my other brother he wound up in a nursing home. He still believed we were dead and even a Skype call couldn’t convince him. It wasn’t until my brother flew home for Easter did he realise that he had just made it all up. It was then I was able to skype with my dad.
He had gotten so sick. He was now unable to walk due to breaking his leg in Greece and again in the hospital. I put on a brave face and gave updates. It had been months since I had spoken with my dad.
I got back to Melbourne one month before he died. Where we made sure there was someone every day at the nursing home even if individually we couldn’t come. There were some close calls and I got to say, “I love you.”
The night before he died was the most horrific. He had pneumonia and the water in his lungs made a sound so visceral it makes it hard to type this sentence. The next day I went to work. It was my first day at my new job and I had worked about 40 minutes before I got a phone call then text from my brother to come immediately.
I left and went straight to the nursing home. I took one look and left bursting into tears. I came back and noticed that his face was already cold but his body wasn’t.
On the Friday, we had the funeral. I had insisted that we had an open casket because I didn’t want the last memories of him to be so painful. He didn’t have many friends but we made up for it as we brought all our friends to the funeral to pay respects.
Rest in Peace Baba – 23/6/1951 – 19/9/2016
One final note about mental illness. You can’t see it if you have it or if you are in it/around it. It’s really hard to deal with someone who has a mental illness especially if you don’t know they have it. It’s super important that you deal with your emotions by letting other people hear about it and if you need it don’t be afraid to ask for help. I got help through talking with friends and psychologists. You aren’t lesser for seeking help. My dad didn’t and his illness consumed him. Seek help and save a life.