Facing my fear: my ex is bipolar. I was scared our daughter would be, too

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Source: The Guardian

First came the fear. Then came the bat.

I realize it’s usually the other way around, but there are some fears not easily dispensed with – the sort you can’t catch, or kill.

Nearly 16 years ago, my daughter’s father and I, who had never married, separated.

Although her primary residence was with me, she adored going to her father’s cavernous studio apartment. At my house, there were rules and regular bath times. At Daddy’s house, it was messier, looser, louder.

Daddy let her throw water balloons out the window. Daddy never made her clean up her toys. Daddy was fun!

Daddy was also sick.

Although I didn’t realize it when my daughter was born, her father was – and is still, of course – bipolar. He was hospitalized for the first time when she was three.I went to see him; we’d already split up but remained committed co-parents, and – ultimately – friends. At the end of that first visit, I watched him walk away from me down the hallway, head hanging, shuffling slowly along like an old man.

My heart tightened with pain. When it released, it was full of fear. My flower-faced daughter – who built houses for the worms in the garden, who sang Sun, Sun, Mr Golden Sun while she painted, who trilled, “Mommy, isn’t it a glo-ri-ous day?” – came from this man. Could his illness be lurking in her DNA? Was it lying dormant in her developing brain, nestled silently somewhere, waiting, invisible? I felt my hands shaking as I walked to my car.

The fear only increased as, in the next few years, the episodes that led to his hospitalizations became more disturbing. There were maggots in the Christmas stockings. Dirty pots littered the kitchen floor, stinking and slick with mold. The floor of his living room resembled an archeological site; if you dug deep enough, you’d likely uncover the remains of a pizza and Christmas wrappings from four months ago.

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