Jed Diamond has been working with families afflicted with mental illness for 50 years. He invites you to join him in this crusade to support those who face this battle every day.
On June 12, 1965 I walked across the stage at U.C. Santa Barbara to receive my diploma and met my long-lost father. I hadn’t seen him since I was six years old, but I knew it was him. I hadn’t heard anything about him since he escaped from Camarillo State Mental Hospital. When I looked for him after the graduation ceremony, he had disappeared. A week later I received a letter from his brother Frank and my world was turned upside down. This began a fifty year journey to heal the masculine soul. I’d like to share my experiences with you and invite you to join me. I’ll tell you how to do that shortly.
In the letter Uncle Frank told me he had run into my father unexpectedly when he was in Los Angeles on a business trip. My father still seemed angry, he said, and blamed the family for the years he had spent in the mental hospital. Frank told him that I was graduating from U.C.S.B. and told me,
“Your father is living in Los Angeles. He goes by the name Tom Roberts. Here’s his contact information. Maybe you can help him. I can’t.”
His letter seemed typical of my father’s family. They were all successful businessmen and didn’t understand, or have a lot of time for, “people problems.” My father had always been the black sheep of the family. He was a failure at business, spent his time writing poetry, plays, and novels, and was emotionally unstable. I take after my father, a fact I have spent a lot of my life running away from.
I remember the first five years of my life as being pretty happy. My parents moved from New York to sunny San Fernando Valley when I was nine months old. My father hoped to break into the emerging television industry. His script for a children’s T.V. show had been accepted and he looked forward to finally “making it” as a writer. I still remember it, “The Squeaky Mulligan Show.”
Squeaky was a cat puppet who talked to kids. I was on the show for one episode before he was cancelled and my father fell more deeply into depression, which seems to run in our family. After the show was cancelled my father never worked again. As a child I didn’t understand what had happened to him. It began to make sense when I discovered my father’s journals many years later. Journal #6 contained entries of this period of his life.
Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work, Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.
Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop.
A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.
I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”
Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to take his own life.
Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same, nor was I. My mother was terrified that I would turn out like my father. She never said it directly, but she had the view that mental illness was inherited. This is a belief that, at least in part, has been shown to be true. I know now that my father suffered from manic-depression, more recently called bipolar disorder.
He would have expansive periods of being very upbeat, would write for days at a time with very little sleep. When he was up he was on top of the world. But the up times were very fragile. It wouldn’t take much to shake his confidence and his world would come crashing down. I know. I share his vulnerability. I spent years denying that I had bipolar disorder, or any mental illness. It was too scary to contemplate. If I had what he had, I saw my life going downhill and me ending up in a mental hospital following a suicide attempt.
But I’ve learned that many of us suffer from some form of mental illness. In this world of social upheaval, it may be that all of us have to deal with some form of illness, whether its depression, attention deficit disorder, or some other emotional reaction to the stresses of living.
When my father came back into my life in 1965, I knew that my personal and professional journey would be wrapped up in helping him and other men like him. I knew how his breakdown had impacted me and my mother. I wanted to help. Following my college graduation I went on to graduate school, got a master’s degree in social work and later a Ph.D. in International Health.
Between 1965 and 2015 I have been helping men and the families who love them. I write books and articles and would appreciate your support in helping me help others. Every week I post an article like this. They are always free, but they take lots of time and I’d like to reach a wider audience. If this resonates with you and you would like to help, drop me a note and I’ll send you details. Put “help” in the subject line (be sure and respond to my spamarrest filter if you’re writing for the first time). I’ll send you details on what you can do. I also appreciate comments. If you’d like to respond to this article with your own experiences I’d enjoy hearing from you.
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
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