The Question

Children with raised hands in a classroom
Image courtesy of
Children with raised hands in a classroom
Image courtesy of


“D’you ever worry you’ll have it?”

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] hesitated. This was something I hadn’t considered until now. “Not really.” I answered blithely. I was fourteen and had just delivered a class presentation on my father’s Manic Depression.


A few weeks earlier my mother sat me down at the table, “I think you’re old enough now to understand… your father’s not well” she said, before launching into a brief explanation of the mental illness with which he’d been diagnosed: known as bipolar these days, but back then, manic depression. “I don’t know much about it,” her tone signaled the conversation was drawing to a close, “if you want more information you’d have to contact a mental health group.” She rose from the table, pushed her chair in and walked towards the door. “‘Mind’ I think they’re called” floated over her shoulder as she left the room.

In truth, he’d actually been diagnosed seven years before – back when we still lived in Ireland – by the feted psychiatrist and TV and radio presenter Dr. Anthony Clare, no less. And to be honest, you’d have to have been an amoeba not to deduce something was up given all the ‘incidents’ over the years: the Christmas-that-never-was, the break-in, the poisoning accusations, the times David, his boss, returned him, shrill and mirthful, to our house halfway through the day, “Because,” he said, business suit incongruous in our kitchen as he looked at my mother, sisters and I with a mixture of pity and apology, “he’s just not fit to be in the office in this state.”

A hoot of manic laughter told us my father found this hysterical.

…“Is he fit to be here?” I wondered.

He’d spent thousands on jewelry, leather jackets (??) and a state of the art computer none of us could figure out how to work. He’d convinced my mother he was having either an affair or a mid-life crisis, and had been in and out of hospital enough times for us to have a decent collection of raffia-work housewares.

The writer in me knew this would make for a killer presentation.


I wish I still had those A4 ruled and lined pages with the clearly printed sentences that let me glance up and make eye contact without losing my place. Would the words give me any insight into my tender comprehension of something that would impact the rest of my life? It’s a faintly romantic notion and highly unlikely. I really didn’t give it much thought; after all, I’d been living with the reality for most of my life – giving it a name didn’t change my ordinary.

I put together some information from pamphlets and reference books: a description of manic and depressive episodes, the possible causes – genetic, neurological and environmental, mixed in some personal anecdotes to make it relatable and rehearsed a few times for a smooth delivery.

Most of the other presentations were about my classmate’s holidays or hobbies – that was their ordinary. Mine held the room in rapt attention and when I finished speaking the questions carried on until the bell went. Only one gave me pause for thought.


“D’you ever worry you’ll have it?”

I look back and wonder at my childish disregard for something so potentially devastating. Whoever asked that pertinent question, though close in age, showed far greater maturity and foresight than I.

But perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. Not only did my mother’s ambivalence make it seem nothing untoward, but by then I’d moved house five times in as many years, been removed and put back into schools, lived with the ticking time bomb of domestic violence and the threat of divorce or being put in a children’s home. Is it any wonder I’d resigned myself to the unpredictability of life?

Living day-to-day with no thought for the future was the only way I had of coping with such instability, for if the future was anything like the present it was unthinkable (as it did indeed prove to be. In the coming months I would be strangled into unconsciousness, and there were still three more years of steadily escalating violence and misery to get through before I was to break free). But for some reason that question remained, lodged firmly in my memory.

I received an A grade for my presentation, but that wasn’t all. As though tripped by the trigger of innocent enquiry, that was the year I first grew conscious of the dread-drenched chill of recognition I felt when the periodic black veil of fear and hopelessness descended, cutting me off from the rest of the world.

Twenty-four years later and I no longer worry – I know.



By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Please tell me that this does not mean you do have it: Twenty-four years later and I no longer worry – I know.
    Sorry you have been through all of this.
    Sounds like you have broken the cycle as you have such a beautiful family life and great adventures.
    Never knew you ever lived in Ireland. My family on both sides are Irish. Which part did you live in?
    Liska x

      1. Oh that is lovely that you were born in Ireland. I consider myself Irish but my Mum is always quick to remind me I was born in the UK ;-( I like to consider myself “made in Ireland” as that was where I was conceived before they panicked and boated over here for a shotgun wedding.
        Sorry about the diagnosis but it sounds like you are relieved. I have become a stress head since becoming a Mum, but not sure if I would receive a label. I know the husband can’t stand my nagging but hey ho. I need to get the yoga mat out and sort my life out.
        Your blog is always so fascinating and inspiring, so I hope it means that you have it all under control.
        Take care, Liska xx

  2. Wow that sounds like you have had a long time dealing and wondering how you felt and if there was something you couldn’t put your finger on. I’m glad you now know where you stand and hope that it helps. Ireland is beautiful. x

  3. My husband was recently diagnosed as bipolar II, and we are in the ups and downs and merry go rounds of finding the right combination of medication and therapy for him. We have been worried about how this will affect our not-yet-two year old, and how to explain it to her when she’s older. I’m honestly most concerned about getting him to head to work regularly at this point…we live paycheck to paycheck. And he’s been sporadically attending work for a year, his job only saved by the Americans with Disabilities act. I guess I’m rambling…what I was trying to say was thank you for sharing your experience, and I’m sorry you have been through so much. I hope having a diagnoses has made it easier rather than harder for you. I hope it eventually gets easier for my husband.

    1. Thankyou for sharing your story, I hope things get easier for you and your husband. Living day-to-day becomes hard eventually, especially when you have children and you feel the importance of planning for the future. I’m lucky to be a SAHM and have a husband to support me – I can only imagine the worry you must be going through and the awful guilt your husband must feel. I wish him all the best.

  4. Depression ravages families through the everyday situation of dealing with it and the genetic hand down. Sadly people are still passed off and very little is done to support family members who have to deal with it.

  5. Sounds like a lot to deal with. My mother suffered with depression and I know I also struggle with it. After seeing what she went through I always worried too.

  6. Genetics have so much to answer for don’t they. Is it more reassuring somehow that it’s genetics rather than wondering where it’s come from? Just interested…

    1. It’s kind of a double-edged sword – on the one hand you might spend your life in a state of paranoid anxiety over-analysing yourself for signs of something that may never materialise, but on the other, in a society that commonly views mental illness in terms of ‘if you’re not psychotic (in which case you should be locked up) then you must be a malingerer’ and just need to ‘buck up your ideas’.
      Bipolar illness is also influenced by environmental factors – among others – and I always felt that my difficulties were a result of the emotional turmoil I’d lived with for years. It was only later, when my present continued to be influenced by a long-escaped past, that I had to consider it was something more.
      Overall, I don’t find it particularly reassuring, knowing where it’s come from. Each sufferer’s experience is unique to the individual so the lives of other family members won’t necessarily be a template for my own. The real relief is in knowing it’s not my fault.

  7. Depression is a horrible illness. I have suffered with touches of it over the last few years, but luckily nothing as serious as what you’ve gone through. A diagnosis sometimes helps in a strange way, as it makes you realise you’re not going crazy, that it is a real illness and one that you can get some help with. A brave post x

  8. My mom is bipolar and my little brother. I know I have the tendency and I’m afraid my son has inherited it too. He’s too young to tell anything but the worrying is sort of part of my life. It does make life more rich in experience but broke in trust and safety.
    I’m glad you have the diagnosis, that can be a lifesaver.

    1. What a great description, how it makes “life more rich in experience but broke in trust and safety.”
      Thanks for your comment and yes, a diagnosis means I can progress instead of treading water and getting caught in the same old rip tides.

  9. My mother had/has manic depression too. We no longer speak because of the episodes & irrational accusations. This was a great piece! No one was able to explain it to me when I was younger as I was the carer. I wish I’d been at your presentation

    1. That must have been tough for you Zena. No one seemed to realise back then the deeply personal journey family members must take in order to come to terms living with a relative who’s mentally ill. It pushes your thoughts across borders never encountered before – I suppose that’s why many (like my father’s family) refuse to even acknowledge it.
      I wonder if support for family members has changed much now – I suppose I will find out. Thanks for sharing your comment.

  10. I wonder, if the fact that you know the name of the condition changes anything?
    So often people say… if I only knew earlier… but does it really change anything? Is it helping you to cope any better? or you still manage it in exactly the same way as before?
    just wondering…

    1. To me, it makes a HUGE difference. As I said it helps you get things in perspective – you know that the problem is inside, in the way you’re wired, not a failure on your part to deal with the outside. It helps immensely in learning to live with yourself. You may manage it the same way, but the weight you carry around with you is lifted.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story – having suffered from depression before I truly think that the more people who open up about mental illnesses, the less of a taboo subject it will become. Hope you find some peace now that you have been diagnosed. xx

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