Mark: Coping Strategies

As a child and teenager, Mark’s mother was his only source of support. For a long time, he believed he had done something wrong and he was a bad person who somehow had contributed to what happened to his father. His mother struggled to hold family life together, with work and meeting her children’s needs. Mark recognized that his mother did not have much time to offer support.

A pastor from the family’s church was the only person Mark remembers offering support to his family during his childhood. His school provided no support; he recalled that school staff would address physical abuse but did not recognize the emotional suffering he was experiencing. He recalled that his mother’s health insurance did not cover therapy in those years, and people typically did not seek therapy.

Mark discovered that doing physical work on the farm required all his energy and cleared his mind. Then in his early 20s with his first job, he sought counseling, which gave him new insight. He called a help line for referral and decided to drive to a town 40 minutes away to avoid seeing anyone he knew in the counselor’s office. Mark learned to feel okay with who he was. In the past he had not heard the message that he was okay from anyone other than his mother.

I was probably 25 or 26 before I realized it wasn’t my problem, it was his—15, 16 years later I figured that out. Up to that point I didn’t necessarily want to date—I really didn’t know what a future would be in regards to anything. That helped me quite a bit.

Mark wished he could have heard the message about being okay much sooner in his life. When he was a child, his family viewed therapy weakness and implied that something was very wrong. He has continued to go for short periods of counseling to “spill my guts again to feel better about things.” He became comfortable in the confidential, professional counseling environment, something he wished he had earlier in his life.

In the past, Mark did not know how to express what he was feeling. Now, he is able to release the heavy burden he felt due to his father’s illness“Sometimes the whole weight of the world is on you because you think you’re the only one that’s gone through this.” He chooses to ignore the past and reduce visits to Gene. Even one visit a year seems like too much. He talks about putting the past in a box behind a closed door and uses the metaphor of putting up a wall and not wanting to look at the other side.

He worries that his father’s illness has shaped the things he has done in his life. He does not want to be like his father and somedays feels like he is “slipping in that direction” and other times feels he is 180 degrees from being like his father. When his family was blamed for everything that went wrong with Gene, “It made whatever self-esteem that I had at that age was pretty much shot into pieces. I probably didn’t have real great self-esteem until my mid-20s.” Mark explained that although he felt he was derailed from what he could have been, he also learned what he didn’t want to be in life.