A Father Remember…

Today on Father’s day and I cannot help but think about my son’s father and his life. My ex-husband, Philippe passed away at the beginning of the year and this month is my son, Anthony, first Father’s Day and birthday without him. Father loved son, and son loved father, and on milestone days it is hard not to think about Philippe and our time as a family.

He died from a disease that kills millions of people each year and as of yet there is no way to diagnose the illness, no treatment, no cure, no “race or walk” to cure, and it often leads to death. The death is considered so horrible and shameful that loved ones are afraid to talk about it and often don’t admit to how the loved one died. It is “mental illness.”

Anthony’s father, Philippe, was handsome tall guy with aqua eyes, ruby red full lips, black hair, and pale white skin. I would tease him if he was a girl he would look like Snow White. One year for Halloween, I tried to convince him to wear a blue dress and go to a party as Monica Lewinsky. Of course, he would not do it.

He could be really be funny like Jerry Lewis, and loved to pull pranks on people. April Fool’s Day was especially fun where everyone was pulling pranks all day long on each other. He loved his home country France, and just about anything International — European football, business, travel, and of course food.

Philippe was born a foodie, and he used food to express love to people he cared about. He made the most incredible French desserts and at one point he consider this as a possible career choice. Before Anthony was born, Philippe’s first job in the US was on a fishing boat in Katchikan Alaska. It was not uncommon to wake up to homemade crapes. The variety of homemade desserts was way above the American standard supped-up boxed cake. Philippe’s included fruit and almond tarts, charlottes, chocolate mousse, rum cakes, beignets, and claffourti. It was always a special treat to have Philippe make dessert and was the center piece of any holiday meal.

He was very interested in short-term stock trading to the point it became an obsession for him. He even wrote a manifesto on the importance of volume as an indicator in short term trading, which he emailed to me and my son the night before he died with a note “I still think this is something to pursue”. Anthony is planning on coding the algorithms some day.
Philippe had a natural gift for foreign languages and loved to learn new ones. He spoke business French, English, and Spanish. It was truly at genius level where he could pick up foreign languages in little time or effort. He had such an ear for spoken words.

But Philippe’s life was a scary and conflicting world. He had a nervous energy about him, where he had to be in a perpetual state of movement and felt everyone around him needed to be in that same state. He could smell like a bloodhound and certain smells could trigger him off and influence his mood. Everything was from the point of view of “half empty”, he was not optimistic, which lead to him to suffer from long periods of depression. Many of his friends felt in the last 7 years of his life he had lost all joy for living. He had certain anger about him, and often would take this out on people he loved.

In October 1999, he had his first suicide attempt. After this attempt, his mental health was never the same, and his condition got continually worst over time. Anthony was born in June 2000 and the moment he saw the baby he was in love.

On July 29, 2013, Philippe had his second suicide attempt after a period of 13 years. He jumped off a highway bridge in rush hour traffic. He broke just about every bone in his body, shattering his leg, to the point where he needed 5 surgeries to get it where he could limp around. He was in the hospital for several months, and basically would never leave a managed care facility. It was the day before he was to leave for a 3 week vacation to visit family and friends in France with Anthony. It was a tragic and traumatic event that changed everyone’s lives and required for my son to relocate to California, where I had moved my mobile start-up venture.

After the accident, Philippe keep a journal of his thoughts and important information of his life. It has been interesting to read what he wrote and kept.On September 21, 2013, he reflects on his mental health illness. “I have been hospitalized for almost two months. Where is the end? I hate being bipolar. Is there a treatment to get relief? If it exists, I would like to know about it. Where is it available? How long does it take to be cured? I was reading about Catherine Zeta Jones who went to a treatment center to get cured. Did she get good results? What skills are being taught? What are the main components of the treatment? What do people who go to it have to say about it?”

He himself was looking for answers and a treatment and felt the treatments that were available where not helping him. He was clearly in pain but it seemed that he could not get the treatment that would make him better.
On September 22nd, 2013 he continues in his journal.
“Tired of laying down in bed with back pain, and ear drums problems! Asked doctors for ear specialist but I am being told “No”. Where is my future? I certainly hope for better days! Missed my vacation to France, seeing Olivier in Nice, missing my son, Anthony, my dog Daisy. Missing my house and cooking. I watched a show on TV which explains that mental disease should be treated like physical health issues to stop the epidemic of people who have mental health issues in the USA. I could certainly have a treatment which would help me to become a productive citizen. I do not want to be a cost to society but be a productive citizen again!”
He expressed his frustration in the mental health system for the lack of treatment.

Part of the argument is involving mental health issues and the stigma attached to the disease involves is the view is it nature or nurture. We treat mental illness as a nurture issue, not a physical nature issue. Diagnose of treatments starts by going to a doctor and talking about your problems, life, and your feelings. The diagnose process is totally qualitative analysis; there is no blood, urine test, or x-rays. We certainly don’t diagnose cancer by just asking questions, and then the doctor diagnoses cancer and starts you on a treatment program with strong potent drugs that have in the past made the condition worst and could results in death. But this is the standard procedure for the mentally ill. Survivors of suicide victims feel that death is their fault that there was something they could have done, or said to make the disease go away. This survivor guilt is not associated with cancer or heart disease.

In the 21st Century, isn’t there better ways to help people with mental illness besides just throwing a dart on the board and seeing where it will stick? t almost feels like if it lands outside of the bulls-eye and you have mental illness, you’re died.

Surprisingly, our son Anthony has taken all of these traumatic events with maturity that I would not expected in a 14 year old. He does not blame himself, even though he loved his father very much, he realizes that he was very sick, and that was not his fault. The two and half weeks prior to his death, Philippe made special efforts to create quality time with Anthony by being the father that he couldn’t always be because he was sick. This leaves Anthony with some really special memories of his father, which both of us are glad he has.

In a journal entry Philippe expresses his love for Anthony by creating a collage of Anthony photo with the following words:
“What a smart and handsome boy you are! What a sad thing that your dad has mental health issues! It is in the family as you know!”
On this Father’s Day, start honoring our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and also loved ones that have been affected by mental illness and start developing and using tools of science and technology to come up with better diagnoses. By developing better diagnostics, treatments can be developed to help these people in pain and dying get help. These sick people are asking for help, and so are their loved ones.