Sharing the Voice—A Father’s Regret

Dear Rebecca,

It’s been over 11 years since you chose to leave us, and I still miss you every single day. You’re the only one who really appreciated my sense of humor. I remember how you struggled, on a daily basis, with the demons you faced, wondering if anyone else suffered as you did. Back then, very few people talked about bipolar disorder. Like mental illness in general, they believed that anyone with that diagnosis must be like a character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book by Ken Kesey that became the 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson. Even the old name of the disease, manic depression, conjured up visions, right out of the movie, of straight jackets and institutionalized isolation. When people did dare to talk about the disease, it was in hushed tones, like it was something to be ashamed of.

No disease, mental or physical, is ever something to be ashamed of. You had so much to offer, Rebecca—such incredible talents to be proud, not ashamed, of. And you so very much wanted everyone to understand the demons of the disease you were dealing with, but in our own ignorance, we—your family and friends—forced you to suffer alone. It grieves me to think of the stigma you endured; it must have been as painful as the actual symptoms.

Today, rather than being whispered about in the corner, it seems like bipolar disorder has entered into the lexicon of everyday conversation. I can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine without finding it mentioned somewhere. But sadly, the reference is usually to a celebrity behaving badly or someone who has committed some terrible crime. This kind of “news” focuses our society’s attention on such a tiny percentage of people and so badly distorts the fact that there are literally millions of people who struggle each day with depression and bipolar disorder. But thanks to new medications and therapies, they are able to persevere and lead normal lives. Yes, there are those, who like you did so many years ago, speak out and talk honestly about their struggles with—and successes in spite of—mental illness, but unfortunately, their voices are not heard. The press doesn’t give them much coverage. But they’re the ones who are actually making “real” news—with their successes and triumphs.

How I wish these new medications and therapies were available 11 years ago. And how I wish that, back then, I’d been able to better understand your illness. As a father, this is my regret. But I have come to understand, Rebecca, and Mom and I have been working to help spare others this regret, to help them also understand.

We have attempted to continue the dream you had, Rebecca—the dream of a world where, instead of secretive whispers and stigma, there is compassionate understanding of depression and bipolar disorder as real diseases. When you look at the ways Mom and I have tried to live your dream, I hope that you are pleased and happy at what you see. And I hope that we can continue to celebrate the successes of those who struggle with mental illness and who persevere, but who never make it into the headlines.

Love you forever,