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‘A Shark Just Ran Off With My Leg! HELP. HELP!! I’m Bleeding!!”…No you’re not bleeding.

Living in a Family of Denial

“woman standing at beach beside shark signage” by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

My 86 year old dad is dying. He is in an Assisted Living place now.

He was always a man of denial. He denied anything painful in his life. He was a party animal. The party might be over now for him because he recently had 4 strokes and his health has gone way down.

Recently my 60 year old sister went to him saying she was so depressed that she might be suicidal.

He said ‘Nah — you’re fine’.


Its dawned on me as he ends his life how much he has denied his feelings and negative emotions all his life.

Whenever I went to him as a child or even adult with something scary or depressing he would say happy -go- lucky denying comments. I always felt dismissed, not heard or validated. He’d throw out:

Tomorrows another day.

It will all be better in the morning.

Just go take a walk.

Your so talented.

You’ll figure it out.

No. You’re fine.

Or he would make a joke. He was and still is a jokester.


I was an angst filled kid. I wrote in my journals a lot because my own parents were not able to validate or even be there for my negative emotions.

A pile of just some of my journals from age 9 on.

I just figured this out in therapy and through my writing.

If feelings are not validated you can become stunted.

So my feelings were not validated so for the most part I held in my depressed thoughts. I held them in so long (over 50 years) that recently at age 57 it has turned into a serious panic disorder.

I’ve used the analogy before of a Jack in the Box head. If you try with all your might to hold that head down for years and years soon you cant hold it down any longer. It springs up — BOINGGG!! — and hits you in the face!

This is what happened to me after 50 years of denying my deep pain.

Although I’m not fond of labels I have many ‘names’ for the mental issues I have now.

  1. Anxiety
  2. Panic Attacks
  3. C-PTSD
  4. Unexpressed Childhood Trauma.
  5. Depression

It’s a combination of all of the above actually.

A wonderful friend Cori said recently that Anxiety is just a symptom.

It is a symptom of ‘not following or denying your inner truth’. In my case it also means not being heard or validated.

This is all becoming crystal clear to me now.

So, yesterday I called my dad at his Assisted Living Home, which I do to alleviate some guilt and because its the ‘right thing to do?

After asking him about his health issues, his Physical Therapy, his bad teeth , what he’s been doing lately, how the food tastes, if he’s watching baseball on TV etc. he asked me ‘So how are you doing?’

I dread that question because honestly my whole life every time he’s asked it my back would go up and it was hard to know how to answer him.

Do I tell him the truth?
Do I sugar coat it?
Will it matter if I tell him the real deal about my emotions?
Will he get it?
Will he be empathetic?
Will I feel supported if I tell him?
Will he make me feel better or worse?(Usually it was worse)

So I answered him with the truth this time:

’Dad I’ve been in a really scary space. I am going through almost constant panic/anxiety attacks lately. Bobs health has really gone down which is frightening to me. I sometimes feel like putting myself away somewhere, checking myself in to a treatment Recovery center but I don’t have the money or health insurance”.

So there. I bared my soul to him.

He responded with ‘Ohhhhhh….’

Then a long pause.


“Soooo… what did you think of the election yesterday?”

Ummm. Dad, just ignored me again?

So much for telling him the truth.

Part of me knew that he would discount, ignore or minimized my pain. He’s done it all my life. I’m used to it.

I was singing in a show in Sun City South Africa in 1996 (I had the starring role of a multi million dollar production show). After 6 months in that show my husband who was traveling with me at the time emptied our bank account, almost killed me and left me alone with no way to get home to the states.

I called my dad. He lived in Denver at the time.

I normally never called my dad for help but I was in a crisis and I thought Id buck it up, be brave and ask dad for some money to get a plane ticket home,

His response was ‘Can’t you find someone else?”


I recall asking him, “Who am I gonna call Ghost Busters??

That line has stuck in my head. I’ll be using it in my memoir. LOL

So, here I am 20 plus years late somehow expecting him to be there for me in a hard time. Nope. Not gonna happen.

Thanks for reminding me Albert Einstein!

Part of me wants to never open up to him again. I want to shut down. I did that recently for awhile and hadn’t called him for weeks at a time.

It has been a strain on me to call him and not be truthful. Being vague and inauthentic is not me. I pride myself on authenticity but it doesn’t work with him, obviously.

I want to tell him the truth about my recent and serious mental health issues but when I do I am slapped down and not heard. They say ‘don’t cast your pearls before swine?”

Is my dad swine? Maybe so.

My therapist suggests to just call and ask him only questions about himself. I’ve been attempting to do that.

The irony in all of this is that he’s leaving me $100,000 in his Will so I feel an odd warped obligation to keep up this phone calling charade.

For now, I accept that he has no clue that a shark has run off with my leg and I AM bleeding. This is real. My mental health challenges are not my imagination. I would not make this shit up but he doesn’t want to know.

I must live with this fact that you cant get blood from a turnip and you must seek support from others sometimes — not a family member.


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