Mental illness can affect people differently. It can be challenging, differently, for those with the condition and those who love them. This is one son’s story. Lukas Kesslig has experience of living with someone who showed symptoms of bipolar disorder. Lukas grew up with a father who had mental health challenges. Here he kindly shares with MQ part of his experience growing up with his father.


My father, especially when tilted toward mania, always needed to be doing something – something important.  The mission was accomplishment and it crept into all aspects of life.  All work didn’t make him a dull boy, as the saying goes, but frivolous pursuits didn’t interest him.

He cared deeply about his work, but also family, politics, creativity, conservation, travel.  As a young man, much of his restless energy funnelled into risk-laden activism.  Later in life, he would redirect it into family, academia, teaching, writing.

When an idea or task was important to my father, he would have no peace until he fully explored or achieved it.

This task-oriented focus and singular determination kept him ploughing ahead – but not without cost, not without drawbacks.  His mind never felt like it had enough, his ambition and accomplishment never coalesced into victory.

When you think this way, you never feel fully successful no matter how much you achieve.  That insistent itch that Dad had, you can never quite alleviate it, not completely.  Any sense of resolution remains elusive, fleeting, distant.  The more you do, the more work you see ahead of you.

This mission that never ends often intensifies with mania, but it doesn’t have to.  I experience a similar unquenchable drive for fulfilment and achievement and, while a tendency toward bipolar traits is in my genetics, I have never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Clinical depression, like the depressive episodes which Dad suffered as part of his bipolar disorder, does occasionally strike me.  Yet, even in the fog of depression, the drums of pent-up ideas, of unfinished creations, continue their diffused pulse.

Like Dad, for my whole adult life, I have navigated a nervous energy and a quest for contentment that hovers perpetually just out of reach. I liken this to my father’s “itch”.

The itch is a double-edged sword that I, too, have attempted to wield.  I share Dad’s impulse for doing things and his physical and mental intolerance for idleness.

This unquiet nature is a bonanza for productivity, but much of the time, it really can feel like a curse.  The next task always needs immediate attention.  The taste of victory is semi-sweet, but increasingly diluted by the tide of duties to come.  My father recognised that saccharine flavour all too well.

When the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in its major goals, when the troops came back from Vietnam, when his conservation ideas became legislation, Dad was still looking, still searching for wholeness, still running the last mile.

He remained on that treadmill his whole life, straight through his career, into retirement and on his death bed.  As every milestone passed, he always held a compulsion for more purpose – and therein lay the itch.

My feet follow the same never-ending path.  The road always continues beyond the destination. Fortunately, I’ve found other ways to rest along the way.

Our thanks to Lukas for his story. MQ is interested to work with researchers who are looking to study various aspects of bipolar disorder. If you’re a researcher interested in this area please take a look at our funding opportunities page.


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