‘And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me. He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me’

I thought being a teenager was the hardest part of having a parent with mental illness

The fighting, the lack of understanding, the fear and the unpredictability

It wasn’t though

I’m 38 years old and the hardest part is right now

When he’s 74 years old and he’s too scared to leave the house

Too scared to drive

Too scared to be home alone

Too scared to go anywhere

It’s hearing the fear in his voice when he asks you to call him bc he’s going to be alone for a few hours

It’s seeing the anxiety manifest in his body movements and in the tightness of his face and wringing of his hands

It’s the pleading in his voice to go to the hospital where he hopes they’ll find something, that is not anxiety

It’s hearing and seeing him lash out in anger because he’s frustrated and helpless in his life

It’s knowing that he’s missing out on life because of this thing he’s battled for over 40 years

It’s coming home after seeing him

And crying uncontrollably

Because you still can’t help him

You still can’t save him

You still feel like the scared kid who’s home alone with him when he’s having a panic attack and you don’t know what to do

You still feel like the teenager whose angry and pissed off at a world that lets this happen to anyone

It’s knowing another day will go by and he won’t have conquered his anxiety

His illness wins again

It seems like it always fucking wins

And I’m afraid that mine will too…

I woke up thinking about my nonna

I don’t know why…

So I’d like to share with you a little about my nonna Concetta

She wore black for like 50 years after my grandfather passed away

She used to have really long hair

I remember being a kid and watching her in wonderment comb it and then put in a bun

She never wore it down so I felt like I had gotten a peak behind the wall

She took care of me during the school week

My cousins and I would go home for lunch and she’d be always be ready for us

It’s funny to me now

But back then she never missed a lunch

She always sat with us

She didn’t eat

I don’t know when she ate her lunch

But during our lunch time as we spoke to each other in English

She sat with us

Just being with us

I remember once my cousin was telling a story and said the word ‘stupid’ to describe someone

And she backhanded him lightening fast

Because she thought he had called her stupid

I remember hiding a grin and a laugh

One time my cousins and I took our time returning after school

We approached with a big group of friends

She was waiting on the veranda

Yelling and screaming in Italian

Putting her hand in between her teeth

I can’t explain it

It’s an Italian thing


My cousin was so embarrassed in front of his non Italian friends

That he told everyone our nonna was a witch and had just put a spell on everyone

When no one was around she would sit on the couch and play cards on her lap

But as soon as someone showed up at the door

She’d sweep the evidence under the couch cushion

I don’t know why she didn’t want to be caught playing cards

But it always bothered me

Maybe she felt she’d be judged

I don’t know

As I got older I didn’t see her as much

I didn’t speak to her as much when I did see her

Embarrassed by my broken Italian that I had once spoken well

I’d say the usual greeting and whatnot

But didn’t really talk to her like I once had

We’d go visit her and my cousins would be there

We would sit at the table and laugh and tell stories in English


And she would sit there

Like old times

Just smiling

Being with us

She got sick and older and frail

I went to the hospital to visit her

It was late at night

My cousin left to get us something from Tim’s

My nonna looked scared

I got up and went by her bed

She looked up at me and I whispered

‘Ti amo tanto Nonna’

She smiled weakly

Eventually she got better

She went home

I visited again

I got a text from my cousin

Saying la nonna had died

It actually autocorrected to the nonna had died

That stood out then

Like she was the only one

She passed away at home

I went to see her one last time

I went to her room

Where she laid in her bed

She looked so small

So frail

So unlike the strong woman I’d looked up to my whole life

There was so much I wanted to say

So much I wanted to thank her for

Time had run out

But it didn’t matter

She knew

I just didn’t realize no words were needed for her to understand

She always did

Ti amo tante e per sempre

Mental illness is a family illness

Do you think I want to be like this?’

He screams as he rips his hands through his hair

It sounds more like a plea

As if he is begging for someone to save him and not to just understand his pain

His eyes search our faces

Yearning to find hope

Hope that we have found a way out

Instead we look at each other

Finding sad faces stricken with grief

If there was a way

None of us have found it yet

You could see that we all wish it were different

So we try to come up with words of encouragement

Motivating words

That will inspire him

I tell him I need him to show me

So that I can do it too

He doesn’t think he’s strong

I remind him

That waking up each day of the last almost 73 years

Makes him a warrior

The thing is

I’ve cried those same words a thousand times

Do you think I want to be this way’?

So you see

I’m selfish

I need him to be okay

I need to see it get better

I need to know that after everything he’s been through

I need to know

There’s a happy ending

I need that to be true

I need it for him

I need it for me

What is it about a death that makes you evaluate and question everything?

I think it must be the finality of it and the possibility that each of us might pass away before we’ve done/said/felt something we have determined to be important.

And if we fuck it up

That’s it

There’s no take backs

No do overs

There’s this one chance at life

Yet, to fuck up is inherently human

We make mistakes

Sometimes we learn from them

And sometimes we keep making them over and over again

And yet to say at the end of your life (however long that might be)

That you have lived and will die with no regrets

Is kind of a beautiful thing

A lie undoubtedly

But indeed a beautiful thing

Much in the same way that fairy tales are beautiful

Or heavenly tales of the after life

Each of those beautiful in the way that can never be true

Real life stuff isn’t beautiful in such an edited way

It’s messy

And it doesn’t play out in such a fantastical way

There’s not a before

Not a once upon a time

Not a singular event that changes us

And then an after

Not in such a seamless order anyway

There’s lots of before moments

Lots of events that are detrimental to who we are

Lots of events that are completely insignificant in the greater scheme of things

But there’s not one final culminating scene in which the fairy tale closes

We don’t know when it will end

We don’t know when our life is over

And so we live it the only ways we know how

We segment this great big life into days and weeks and months

Not knowing when we will run out of them

We go on this way

Until we simply have no days left

And the story ends

Sometimes abruptly and with a bang

Sometimes quietly and with a whisper

And each of us never knows how the story ends

Up until that final moment

What will be replaying behind our eyelids as we take that last breath?

Will it be relishing our own versions of the happily ever after we lived?

Sprinkled with some regrets but overjoyed with all the things we did do

Or will it be filled with visions of a life that we never really lived?

Weighed down with regrets that could have been chances if not for the fact we didn’t take them

Once upon a time I knew how I wanted my story to end

But my head got stuck somewhere along the way

And I’ve become stilted by some life altering events

And now I can’t reimagine a happily ever after

That includes me

Let alone

One that stars me

Day 3 of 3 (belated) Quote Challenge

Things have been super busy and I missed doing this yesterday. So here it goes.

This quote is a little different for me. As you may know by now I have a penchant for the darker quotes and while this one isn’t light and fluffy it’s definitely different. It evokes many memories for me. This was something from my childhood, hung in my family home and now hangs in my own. This quote reminds me of my grandmother, mother, superstition, culture and folklore. Things I love.

This loosely translates to ‘May whoever wishes bad on this house, drop dead before they enter’.

My family is big on superstition. And we have something in our culture called the ‘malocchio’ which means ‘evil eye’. It is believed that people who have an evil eye can cast a curse on you as a result of their jealousy or envy. Sometimes it is malicious and sometimes not, but the person cursed can become physically ill. There is a prayer that can take the curse away, learned once a year on Xmas eve by someone who already practices it. There’s also a whole espresso cup thing filled with water and oil droplets. I’ve said too much. 😬

I don’t know if I believe in it but I still call my ma to remove the ‘malocchio’ from me on the regular. You know, just in case.

Corni benedica folks

‘Having been damaged and no longer in one piece or in working order.’

Our fate isn’t written in the stars

It’s written into our genes

Embedded into the very essence of what makes us ‘us’

It’s stamped onto us before we are even born

And you go your whole life

Not even knowing that you carry this…this defect

Until it hits you

Boarding a plane to Cuba

When you can’t breathe and your mind starts spinning and your whole body feels clammy

Until it hits you

After the anxiety goes away

And you’re left with a big gaping hole where your full heart used to be and you can’t remember a time when happiness was real, not just a distant memory

Today I listened as Joey spoke to my family doctor on the phone

My father has the same doctor

Joey was filling him in on my possible flare and all the emotional toll work is having on me

And then the doctor said:

Look I get it, she feels judged by work. And then she goes over to her parents house and sees her father laying on the couch and she worries that will become her eventually. And it will, if she lets it’

I put a pillow over my head to drown out his voice

What they don’t understand

The medical professionals

The people around you

The ones who aren’t defected like you

Is that there is no perfect cocktail of medications

That will fix whatever is wrong

Because once you’ve lived with it for so long

What was once only written on your genes

With possibilities of never manifesting itself

It has now changed how you see yourself and the world around you

You have changed

You are not the same person you used to be

Picture a beautiful vase

It’s pristine and it sparkles


And then it breaks


The pieces can be glued back together

To look like a vase from the outside

But when you look closely

You see all the broken pieces

Held together by glue

I’m not saying that the vase is no longer beautiful

It still has the same pieces

It can still hold flowers

But we all know it is never the same again

It will always be the vase that is broken

And this is my fear

What happens when it breaks the second time?

Will it break into so many more pieces?

Will it just shatter?

So many pieces that it cannot be held together by even the strongest glue?

The beautiful vase that once was

We all know what happens next

The second time it breaks

You throw it out

Because now you know

That fucking vase is just too broken to be put back together

‘In order to love who you are, you can’t hate the experiences that shaped you’

Something has been bothering me lately…more than usual.

Mental illness is embedded within my family. It wasn’t talked about openly and growing up, people rarely understood what it was like to have mental illness or what it was like to have a parent struggle with their mental health. 

There were no family counselling sessions or support offered from extended family. 

No one at school to talk to.

No friends to commiserate with.

It was like a poorly kept secret, that everyone knew about but no one ever addressed.

It was well into my adolescence when I actually began to grasp that my father wasn’t being mean or cold. There was a name for it. It explained so much.

But still I don’t think I fully understood

Even when I would fetch him water in the mornings which I knew would help ease his panic.

Even when the sound of a door closing brought him to an angry place.

Even when I noticed the eggshells that we walked on leaving a messy trail.

I’m pained to admit that it took me dealing with my own mental illness for me to even remotely grasp the severity of what my father was going through…had been going through for so many years.

And still we didn’t really talk about it.

I remember asking my mother to tell me more about what had happened when he first got sick (Italian speak for when his symptoms began to appear).

I listened intently.

I wanted to know. To understand.  

To find myself in the reflections of him.

But it was too much

It was too painful

I made her stop

And I’ve never wanted to hear any more.

My father is older now. Weird to say that he’s ‘elderly’. 

He’s 71 years old.

And it hasn’t gotten easier for him

Or for us.

No matter how much I can relate to him.

I still feel like a stranger looking through a window at someone that I can never really reach. 

Unlike movies and books, his struggle continues.

Even with having grandkids and being the patriarch of a kooky but kind family that love him very much.

It all still persists

And still people don’t understand

They don’t understand his struggle

Or ours

And how lonely both sides are.

Anyone suffering with mental illnesses especially anxiety and depression has surely heard people say ridiculous comments like ‘everyone is anxious’ or ‘we all worry’ or ‘everyone gets sad or down’ or ‘you gotta be positive’

Those people despite being naive are also so lucky that they have never known the truth of what it means to have a mental illness. 

They haven’t had to beg to any higher being to make the pain go away.

To make the fear of going crazy end.

To make the sad thoughts disappear.

To constantly be at war with your own mind. 

I know physical pain is horrible but it’s like an outside force causing it.

Mental illness is different.

You feel at war with yourself.

And that’s so frightening

Because even laying comfortably in bed, those feelings haunt you.

They keep you awake all night

They make you want to sleep all day.

And you can’t really explain that to people.

When people ask you how you are. You can’t blurt out that you’re feeling particularly like you’re going fucking bonkers.

You can’t just say that the sadness in the world is overwhelming you.

It’s so shitty when it’s going on in your own body and mind.

And it’s unbearable to watch your parent struggle.

When you’re young and you want comfort but can’t find it

When you’re young and you want to feel secure and there’s only panic.

When you’re both older and you want to see peace settling in but there’s only turmoil.

When you’re both older and you want to see a happy ending. But you only see him in pain and you can’t help but worry that will be your ending too.

When you’ve done everything but you can’t escape your family history or genetics. 

But at the very least, I can unequivocally say:

Dad…now I understand.


I begged for your peace..for a piece of It

You’re going to let your entire life pass you by in a blur of fears, anxieties and worries. You’ve lived most of your life with one foot in the grave always waiting for the other foot to fall.

You missed all the beauty life could have offered you. The beauty it did offer you but you were too scared to even notice.

Your family surrounded you and loved you and I don’t think you ever believed it. Fully. 

It was tainted with angry words and resentment. You let your fears, anxieties and worries take up room in your head instead of the laugher and love that was around you. 

You heard the cruel words of the world and at night, in the dark, the conflicts around you were the only things you replayed behind your eyes. 

You couldn’t listen when your child begged for help and needed your hand to keep her from drowning. You could only hear your own pain shouting so loudly in your ears.

You didn’t hear your child’s fear, anxieties and worry replacing what should have been their own happy thoughts. You only heard your own voice crying out in the dark. Again and again. 

Instead you obsessively worried about when you would die, frantically worrying about when the pain would suffocate you. 

And I still don’t know whether or not you were worrying about when and how it would end or if all along you were simply hoping for it.