Holiday Memories: Dealing with dad's mental illness

My English teacher made me write this. Said gotta turn it in to you guys if I want a grade. Said we all got memories of Christmas past. S'pose so. But I ain't got no warm and fuzzy ones. You see my dad liked to gamble. And he always told me what pony to bet on.

I always wondered who told him to do it, but he never said. Moved one Christmas Eve to Nevada because of it. For he had been duly instructed that, "He'd win in Nevada."

William Harrah was a friend of the family. Lived with my aunt after his bingo parlor was closed down in Santa Barbara. So my dad would spend his days gambling at Harrah's place. My aunt would then use the money to expand the casino. She was into construction. Kept the money in the family - in an odd sort of way. Every Christmas my mom and I would go down to the casino, grab pa, and we'd have Christmas breakfast together. Courtesy of Mr. Harrah and his staff.

This brief moment of breakfast calm interrupted the normal yelling, screaming and otherwise good Christmas cheer that my parents had that time of year. They argued over politics, gambling and why my dad couldn't tolerate his anti psychotic drugs. But like so many schizophrenics, he had adverse reactions to the medicine. It would cause him to lose control over his body. Tardive Dyskinsea the doctors called it. Sort of like a continuous epileptic seizure. Tardive Dyskinsea, a big word that I learned one morning, as he sat there in a chair, convulsing, trying to plug a string of Christmas tree lights into the wall.

Others used to say that schizophrenics should just take their medicine. Then they'd be fine.

But should my father have been asked to lose control over his body when he'd already lost control over his mind? If it were you, would you take a medicine that did this to your body? Especially when the government is trying to convince you that you're suffering from paranoid delusions? That the doctors really aren't conspiring to kill you?

My father was relatively functional compared to other schizophrenics. He had a job and a family. He was even on a first-name basis with the local suicide prevention officer - though only after a few attempts. And how many people can boast of that?

Yes, every time I see a homeless person wandering the streets, I'm taken back to those happy days of youth. A youth where I only had to worry about presidential politics, gambling debts, delusional parents and not getting a grade in an English class.

Such are my memories of Christmas.


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