by Jay O'Toole
Depression can be debilitating, but its familiarity can be a state of peace & security.
Quickly dressed, brushed teeth, grabbed schoolbooks, thought Lovely, I ran downstairs to kiss Dad as he ran out of the door to go to work.
Mom was up and dressed, Lovely remembered. She was ready for the drive to school. Mom looked the way she always looked, like an angel from a stained glass window of a cathedral.
The first part of the ride to school that morning was the same as so many mornings before, but then we approached the Main Street Exchange…, Lovely recalled with a sadness she could taste like milk that had soured with age. In slow motion, I saw a man fall off his bike right in front of Mom. Mom swerved left to miss him, which put her in the path of an oncoming semi-truck. One moment she was Mom with a twinkle in her lovely hazel eyes. The next moment she was the angel I always thought she had to be. How did I ever survive that crash with the car rolling over and over, becoming less and less space on the inside where we were? How did I ever stop crying when I came to and soon realized that Mom was gone? How did I ever return to anything like "normal" when nothing "normal" was left in my life?
Dad has never recovered.
When he works, he works like a machine, Lovely thought to herself, When he’s home, he watches TV and sleeps on the couch. When it’s too much work for him to find the couch, he crawls up into a ball in a quiet corner and vegges out. No more laughing blue eyes like the man in my earliest memories of him. The light has gone from his eyes. The blue has nearly become black or at least dark brown it seems.
Lovely found her the dad in the fetal position under the stairwell at the back of the house for the umpteenth time. The hallway was dark since Dad never turned on lights in any rooms anymore. He was lying there motionless on a pile of pillows, under another pile of quilts and barely dressed. He breathed, a little, but he did not respond when she sweetly called his name.
"Why does Dad have to be depressed so often and for so long?" she said to nobody in particular. “I can be funny. We used to play for hours on in. We’d go to the store and come home with piles of stuff. Now, he just zones out for hours at a time."
“What did I do to deserve this!" Lovely screamed as agony gripped her by the throat.
The mind can hold only so much pain as most humans are all too well aware.
Just then, Lovely was whisking away by a thought. Wait for me, Daddy! You are running so fast! I can’t keep up! Dad fell into a heap on the beautiful green grass of the lush, inviting meadow. Lovely was running so quickly, that she bounced off her dad and started to roll. He took this as his cue and started to roll, too. This is fun, Daddy! That was twelve years ago. She wished that it was today.
Oh, how I wish I could turn this off with the flip of a switch, Dad thought. Barely able to wake he looked in the direction of Lovely. He had heard her, when she spoke, but couldn’t seem to respond to her. I don't want my family, especially Lovely, to worry about me. I'm in here. I'm the same person, but my ability to reach outside of my head seems blocked at times by walls I can't climb. This dark hole IS frightening, especially when you awake to the consciousness of being unable to see, to feel or to move. Yet, daylight can sometimes feel, even scarier. You already know how the others will respond to the coating of darkness on your face. So, am I awake, dreaming that I'm asleep or asleep, dreaming that I'm awake?
"I just don't know!” Dad finally screamed out.
The scream gave Lovely the faintest hint of hope. “What is it, Dad?”
“I feel so guilty about not being able to take better care of you, Lovely,” he confessed. "You’re in high school. You really need me to be there for you.”
“Dad, you don’t really enjoy being depressed, do you?” Lovely asked. “Sometimes, I…think the answer is...yes and no. You seem to enjoy it like a warm and fuzzy blanket, during the times that it protects you from the outside world, from socializing, and...in a word...from things you can't really control. However, I really think you hate it when it keeps you too long in that vegetative state of no talking, no moving,...no...living."
“You know me so well, Lovely,” Dad responded. “Oh, how I've wanted to be normal, but even that term is a little frightening. I suppose it's like living on the Georgia coast all of your life, wading through the marshes in Muck Boots. The going is slow and treacherous, especially when you encounter really thick pluff mud, but it's 'normal' for us. To change our lives and to move inland onto the higher ground would feel strange, different,…bad. To be free from depression after years of suffering from it would be unsettling at the very least.”
Lovely understood her dad better than most people could. She respected him in the unique and special way, that only a truly devoted daughter could love and respect her father.
The stigma of being very different and at times barely functional in a world, that values productivity above all else, is not something, I'm sure, that Dad would ever choose to experience, she thought, loudly, wondering how Dad might respond, and while wondering if he could actually hear her thoughts. This is especially true if either of us had the ability to snap fingers and transform his life at a moment’s notice.
Her dad stood, gaining a modicum of new strength, and simply said, “Manageable pain, alone in the security of my little cubby of a world, is preferred over the unpredictable pain of being shunned for being different. Depression is like the Mariana Trench of pain, uncertainty, and seclusion.
"Of course, the scientists will tell us that there is some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain triggered by…something,” he continued. “That's all very well and good for the emotionally absent people, who look down their noses, but what hope is there for those of us, who have flailed about in the murky waters of the mind, in the pluff mud of the emotions?"
"I'm glad to see you so articulate, Dad" praised Lovely, “It’s nice to see you get a little relief from your depression. Dad, you work hard to lift yourself up from this Slough of Despond, but it is sad to see you become so tired and succumb for a while.”
Dad settled back into quiet, and Lovely returned to her thoughts.
"I remember days when I would have to counsel him for hours into the middle of the night before he could go to sleep, safely,…at least in my eyes,” she muttered to herself. “The life of the depressed person must look selfish to others, who do not know, but my dad hated it so badly…(and still does,) that he did not want to go on. Oh, how I wish I could forget this thought."
'Does depression have any connection with other illnesses in any way?’ people often ask us, she recalled. There are incidents of bipolar illness in our family history, and since Dad obviously has these traits, I guess there are some similarities. 'Manic-Depression Syndrome' or something of the like is the name I've often heard.
It has been my experience, Lovely remembered, during one of the ‘sleepy’ times, to see piles and piles of clothes to clean, stacks and stacks of dishes to wash and bookshelves, overflowing with books to organize, while Dad was virtually helpless to assist me in doing anything about any of these things. However, during his days of hyper happiness, I have seen him clean of all of the clothes, wash all of the dishes and organize all of the bookshelves and more by losing sleep for a night. (He did have to pay for that choice, but the sense of accomplishment seemed to more than make up for the tiredness.)
The amazing thing about living with a depressed person, Lovely mused, is that there can be moments of clarity, and not just clarity, but hyper-clarity. It's like dad thinks,…deeply,...during his vegetative states because that is all he CAN do.
Run, Lovely! Run! Run! Very fast! The kite is going higher, higher! You’re doing it! Good girl! A tear trickled down Dad’s cheek as he remembered all the fun of rearing a toddler, who was thrilled with every moment of life. I am so proud of you. You are a very smart girl. You do things so well. This is so much FUN.
However, the scene changed abruptly for Dad as the spinning on the green grass changed to a car spinning out of control, rolling down a steep embankment, landing on the rider’s side of the car.
"We've got to get out of here, Lovely!” Dad screamed in terror at the seriousness of the situation.
“I’m already on the wet grass, Dad! Jump down!” As he did the car started to roll over three more times and exploded before the helpless eyes of their mud-covered faces.
“I don't think I can ever drive, again!” he shouted as they cried in each other’s arms. “I lost your mom in a car accident, years ago, and I nearly lost you, today! I don't think I can do it anymore!”
"How have I remained functional, during these years of grief upon grief?" Dad spoke up from in his solitude. "How does an allergy sufferer remain functional in the spring of the year? We locate remedies, that work for each of us, individually. Allergy sufferers take allergy medications, that reduce the symptoms. Depression sufferers learn to focus on tasks at hand, that can be done by sheer willpower.
"Being a runner, a poet and a piano player have helped me through much of my life, especially when I was not too overwhelmed by the depression,” Dad continued. “As a runner, the rhythm of the arms and the legs swinging in regular patterns for miles at a time has helped to buoy my spirit and increase the sense of well-being.
“As a poet the rhythm and the rhyme of poetry has focused my brain in patterns, that help to increase my effectiveness,” Dad said, smiling. “As a piano player, the rhythms of music have helped to refocus me, giving me the ability to accomplish life.
"There is one axiom I have expressed to my family,” Dad said, confidently, as though emoting to a large audience. “'Keep track of my piano playing. The more I play the piano the better my outlook on life and the less depression has control over my mind.’"
Lovely chimed in. "I have personally seen that axiom be played out in our lives, Dad. When you play the piano on a daily basis, you're more functional, more full of life. Actually, there's this really famous saying that was '...coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697: 'Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,...' So, we can say that music with its many patterns and flowing nature plus its consistent way of doing things...can do some good, and may provide some relief for depression and for the relieving of sadness over all."
“Who needs to be convinced music is good?” Dad asked. “These same believers know that music motivates us well. Studies show that calm music helps us eat slowly and healthily in restaurants, fast music motivates us to buy clothes in clothing stores, and at least one teacher of my acquaintance watched a sixth grade class of students increase its focus on the assignment given, while enjoying the playing of Mannheim Steamroller vinyl albums back in the 1980s.”
“Exactly,” exulted Lovely. “I know that you are a different person when you are playing the music you love. I don't think it works like that for everybody, and it doesn't always work like that for you, Dad. Yet, this regular help keeps hope in my heart."
"Lovely, you are a great daughter,” Dad told her as he puffed out his chest. “You help me with a willing and determined heart. You stand by me when many would leave me to shrivel up and die. Not every father is blessed like I am to have a daughter, who sticks beside him through thick and thin. This truth has led me to an important theory about life in general. I think, that depression, like autism, has many different levels of difficulty. Some can’t function without help, but everybody can improve with proper care and encouragement.
"Depression is no fun, and it’s usually very difficult,” Dad continued. “However, as an individual who suffers from depression and who has completed two marathons in his lifetime...so far...accomplishment is, indeed, its own endorphin.”
“Hmmm, I think it’s about time to get up and put on some clothes. I’m sure I’ll feel better,” Dad said with a weary smile. “At least that’s what my parents used to tell me. Put on the kettle, Lovely. I think it’s time for a spot of tea.”
“Earl Grey. Hot?” asked Lovely.
“Yes, of course,” Dad broadened his smile. “That’s what Captain Picard would have.”
“Anything else?” Lovely wondered.
“Pull out the Diabelli and Clementi,” Dad responded. “The piano is beginning to look a little dusty.”
Life for Lovely and her Dad was far from perfect, but respect, patience, consistent love and tenacious commitment were characteristics, that kept them together and pressing forward in life no matter what.
Word Count: 2430
by Jay O'Toole
on August 14, 2016.
Edited & Updated on July 14th, 2018.