Mark: I didn't know I was okay

“I know his illness has changed things in my life. I don’t want to be like him.”

Mark lived most of his early years in the shadow of his father’s mental illness. With a lack of family and community support in his later childhood and teenage years, he struggled to make sense of what had happened in his family. When Mark was 10-years old, his father, Gene, abruptly left the family home to be committed to a state hospital for bipolar disorder. Although his father was physically absent, Mark continued to grapple with the consequences of Gene’s mental illness. Mark is the oldest sibling of three with a younger sister and brother. His mother, Janet, raised the family following Gene’s departure.

As a 10-year old, Mark knew something was wrong, but he did not understand what was happening. He remembered that his mother had talked about his father’s car accidents and tried to get help for his father, because of Gene’s family history with mental illness. Gene’s father died by suicide in the 1950s. After his first hospitalization, Gene came home for a brief period of time, but quickly relapsed, directing physical and emotional abuse at Mark’s mother. At that point Gene was deemed to be mentally ill and dangerous. He did not live in the family home again, and since then has moved back and forth between hospital and an apartment or group home living.

More of the Story: Childhood and Teen Years