My Dad Is Mentally Ill

How I Learned My Father Was a Paranoid Schizophrenic...

My Dad Is Mentally Ill

Today while watching an episode of ER, a sub-story triggered a long held memory. A six-year-old boy had just found out his mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and although just a show, I felt his sadness to my core...because I, too, have lived this life.

When I was five, and Will four, mom gave birth to our youngest brother, Richard, at Oak Knoll naval hospital, in Oakland, Ca.

During the birthing process, my father was escorted out by security, and later 5150'd for his erratic behavior.

When Rich was born, the doctors instantly knew something was deathly wrong. Seconds after entering the world, he went blue.

Turned out he was born with something called "transposition of the great vessels." The condition necessitated an experimental open heart surgery for any chance of survival.

At nine days old, he underwent the daunting seven hour procedure, and at two months old, our mother was finally able to bring him home.

By the time Richard came home from the hospital, my father had already been released from the psych unit.

The week following Richard's homecoming, my mother noticed my father's behavior become alarmingly worse. He was hearing voices, talking to people who weren't there, and was convinced everyone from the CIA to the next door neighbor were out to get him.

(When I was little, his episodes were much different than the ones he has today. Because he self-medicated with crank and heroin, his episodes were dark and violent. It's hard to even describe his behavior back then. His face changed. His voice took on a dead tone...and every movement was one to be feared.)

Here my mother was, doing her best to occupy two rambunctious pre-schoolers, staying on schedule with dressing changes for her two month old's torso long incision...and then having to vigilantly keep an eye on my father to make sure he didn't hurt us or himself.

(Mom's last thought was always of herself. She usually took the brunt of my father's episodes.)

It was too much..

Two weeks after Rich's coming home, we left my father.

Dad's psychosis progressed. His ramblings about the government trying to spy on him worsened. He told my mother my brother "didn't really have open heart surgery, that the surgery was really so the government could implant a listening device to spy on him."

My mother feared it was only a matter of time before my father would try to cut him open to "remove the device."

I remember it was dark when we left him. We ran down the street, the four of us, the wind traveling with us. I can remember holding Will's hand. I remember his little face, so full of worry. He's always been the worrier. I don't remember being scared. I remember feeling relief. I also remember being overjoyed to see my Nonna in her big green Dodge Ram Van.

She had come to save us....the first of many.

My father was committed to a VA psych hospital. This was the first time I became aware of my father's illness...the first time I realized my father was different.

At five and a half years old, I learned my father was a paranoid schizophrenic.

I celebrated my sixth birthday in the Menlo Park VA mental hospital with my dad.

I just wanted to share. Other folks need to know they're not alone. There should be no shame or stigma...just understanding.

We all have our "dark nights.".....and if lucky, a "lady in a green van."

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Crystal Damato-Pineda

I hug cats. Sometimes I write funny shit. I have two kids, who unfortunately are not baby goats. My plate usually overfloweth..

See all posts by Crystal Damato-Pineda