Sunday, 25 January 2015

Hidden in plain view for 35 years


Bonding time with my Dad! (Around 1972)
The following is an adapted and condensed excerpt taken from a story I wrote about my Dad (Douwe Vanderlaan 1937 - 1999) a few years ago. Many thanks to Bell Media (#Bell_LetsTalk on January 28) for their ongoing campaign against the stigma surrounding mental illness and to Brett Rothery and his supporters, of Crescent Heights High School (#CHHSLetsTalk) in Calgary, Canada for their current campaign to raise awareness of mental health in teens. This one's for my Dad who was a 16 year old teenager with OCD in 1953.
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I’m not entirely sure when we found out. It could have been the summer after my freshman or sophomore year ('86 or '87) at university. Dad came home late from work...a visible wreck. He threw me his car keys and said, “DRIVE”!

“Where are we going?”, I said.

“Just drive”, he replied.

I headed down our road and after traveling a few kms he told me to slow down and began to frantically look out the side window. Still unsure of what was going on, I asked him what he was doing.

And there on the side of the road, he confessed that he had spent the last few hours driving up and down the street looking for someone he thought he had hit.

You see – Dad suffered from OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Dad was a survivalist and he had lead a ‘double life’. He had suffered since he was 16 years old and he hid it from everyone until he was in his early 50’s. For approximately 35 years, Dad waged a mental battle that none of us, including my Mom, were aware.

Dad’s mind was trapped in an endless cycle of uncontrollable, irrational thoughts. Dad was (in OCD terms) ‘a checker’.

Was the door locked? It felted locked when he tugged on it, but was it truly locked?

Did he put out his cigarette? The smoke is gone, but is the fire out?

Did he hit someone while driving? He didn’t see blood, but maybe the victim is lying in the ditch.

Did he pay his mortgage bill in the 1960’s? The loan holder hasn’t asked, but was there a missed payment they didn't catch.

And on...and on...and on.

The harder he tried to reassure himself, the more he sank in the trap. Survival was as natural to him as breathing. He couldn’t focus on relationships, on himself, or on hobbies. He was simply trying to exist and, all the while, tension anxiety was building endlessly.
 
Dad was a 'pioneer' - one of the first patients to be given Prozac to combat his anxiety and obsessions. Medication after medication was prescribed to try help him cope with life. Often times, the medication would create in Dad a zombie-like appearance, which caused him to sleep his free time away. Sometime during the late 1990’s, with the help of medication and therapy, I think Dad finally lived a somewhat ‘normal’ life again.

Dad died on April 30, 1999. He was taken away from his house on a stretcher never to return. He had fought the good fight and was tired. God didn’t want him to suffer anymore. Dad had helped to raise a family, loved our Mom and his children, helped a friend wage a war on OCD - including his own, quietly lived his life for Jesus, and was 62 years old and his life was finished.
 
One of my regrets is that I would not tell him what I meant when I included a poem by Dylan Thomas during my 1986 valedictorian address for high school. I can recall several times, even years after giving my speech, Dad asking me about the poem's meaning. I would simply shrug and say, “It’s what you want it to mean.” But, if I had the chance today to explain, I would tell him, “Don’t give up Dad. Keep up the fight. Be an immigrant boy.” And with the lines: “And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray...” I would say, if all you could say was a curse, then I would know you still had a fight in you.

So, before I lay down my ‘pen’, I’d like to dedicate the same poem by Dylan Thomas to my Dad:
 
Dear Dad,

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


I love you, Dad.

Before I go Dad...just one more thing...is it too late to say I'm proud of you? No? I didn't think so.

Henry (Mij Yonk)
Photo taken about a year before Dad went 'home'.

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

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