A Polaroid picture of my father, Joseph Aloisious Fitzpatrick, fades inside a cabinet like our memories of him. Almost forty years after his death, he is rarely mentioned or discussed. It’s the stigma, you see, which was and still is attached to mental illness.
My dad was hospitalized and largely institutionalized for almost my entire childhood and adolescence from the early nineteen-sixties until the mid-seventies. I still write this page with trepidation as it was instilled in me early to never talk about him with anyone outside our family. Hell, we rarely ever mentioned him among ourselves. So, why the shame? Why can’t he be remembered as a good, intelligent, and kind man who suffered from a disease (manic-depression), which has biological roots just like someone who suffers from cancer? And do the families of these cancer sufferers whisper their relative’s names as if they might bring the wrath of a judgmental society down upon them?
Over the past ten years, I have written and revised my first novel about a boy growing up with (and mainly without) his mentally ill father. Periodically while writing this, I would glance up from my desk at the mantra I had composed and tacked up on my bulletin board for inspiration. It reads: Families of the mentally ill should not feel ashamed. Easier said, or read, than done.
I recently began sending out query letters to literary agents and continue to have faith that my novel will be published, gain a wide audience, and perhaps inspire others to talk about their mentally ill relatives as well. I also hope that we as a society can overcome this unfair stigma and come to acknowledge our relatives who have suffered from this disease.