Dad’s Nervous Breakdown and Me

Once again, I’m popping through time. This time backwards. It was the first time I was left to deal with dad’s nervous breakdowns alone. I was 12 and my 15 year old brother was so wrapped in his own problems, his own pain, that I had no one to help.  My parents were separating. Like many it blindsided me. Not because there were not fights, long silences, rages. Those were all normal with my dad. He had been diagnosed as bipolar back when it was called manic depression before I was born. He tried medication for about a week, decided it wasn’t working and left it all behind for a denial that lasted into his 60s. I didn’t know that then. We didn’t talk about his rages, his silences, his highs, its impact on our family.

Back to the night that my parents told us that they were separating. We were already moving from Las Vegas, NM to Santa Fe. My horse and her colt were being sold, no more riding lessons, gymnastics just begun was ending. Now my mom was moving to Socorro to get her Masters in Geology. My dad had a Ph. Geology and mum had been a teacher all my life. I was shocked and crying, my brother, Richard, just asked if he could go back to his room. Later that evening dad gave me a 100 dollar bill as if that would make things better.

Mom took a minimum amount of stuff and was gone. It left me with Richard and my dad. Dad was a mess. One of the scariest moments was driving in our old Ford truck with me in the middle seat. Dad was having some kind of attack. We were on the highway, dad was saying he couldn’t drive on one side and Richard was yelling at me to take over on the other side. I was 12 and I didn’t know how to drive. Richard wouldn’t reach over me to help. He told me to do it I was terrified for my dad, crying and scared because I was supposed to get us off the road. I don’t really remember how but somehow we got slowed down and to the side of the highway. There were no cell phones back then. I managed to get dad calmed but he would not go to the hospital or even a doctor, all he wanted was to get to Santa Fe. That drive was awful but we got home.

That started a year of stress. Rich was so angry that he would not talk to mom. He was studying karate and I would catch him “practicing” on trees. He would punch trees until his knuckles were bloody. I would try to stop him before it got that bad, or try to help him if he was already bloodied. He hid in his teenage bravado. He pretended that this was how all the “great” Karate Masters did things. I would try to talk to him about mom and dad. He was hurt, angry and absolutely shut down. He followed my dad into silence. Refusing to talk to me. Dad was so absorbed in his loss that he did not see my brother’s pain and mom was gone. Enjoying a freedom she had not known since before she married my dad.

Dad was stalking her. He would go to Socorro, sit outside her trailer, and watch for hours. Sometimes all night. He would come home, cry in my bedroom, and talk for hours. I was left to try to talk my dad down. I had to tell him he had to leave mom to make her decisions. I had to beg him not to do anything drastic, read that as violent. I had too many late nights and could not mourn for the family I had lost. My 12 and shortly 13 year old maturity knew this was for the best.

It was years later that mum and I sat down and talk about those years. Richard only graced us with the honor of his “presence” on rare occasions and that made my mum second guess her decision to leave my dad. At the same tine she would remember the dangers. My dad would sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow. He would try to jump out of the moving car. She would drive holding the auto locks closed so he couldn’t open the door. What made her final decision was when she found herself in the kitchen with him. She was behind him with a knife and she could see herself burying it in his back. Hard as it was she took the courageous step. Finding freedom for herself and quite possibly preventing a suicide that could have escalated and taken us all. I don’t know if he ever recognized it but things were better with them separated.



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