Depression, Dad and Me
“At 16 I considered killing myself” these words came from my dad one night as we sat chatting, tears glistening in his eyes as for the first time we actually shared the reality of his feelings and his illness.
I had the best childhood: happy family holidays, nights inside watching films and magical Christmases; I was lucky, but we weren’t perfect.
The reality is everything wasn’t always “happy families”, the truth is on and off one very poignant member of the family went missing, and as I reached my teenage years he went more and more frequently. I never noticed if I’m honest, not then anyway: it wasn’t a physical vanishing, but a mental one, as my hero retreated into the depths of depression. I was content in my childhood ignorance; I never imagined someone could be unhappy in the way depression makes you, in my eyes everything was so good, most of the time anyway. It was after my third admission that the reality of my dad’s suffering hit me. Having hidden it for so long, seen me struggle so much he gave in, days led into weeks led into months as he sat motionless on the sofa. Not sleeping, eating sporadically and barely talking, I suddenly grew up and grew wise.
Having spent the six months previous in a unit suffering from my own mental illness I should have been the person able to connect, to understand, to empathise with him. Though our suffering was quite different, he had devoted countless hours to me, holding me up, supporting me and giving me reason to smile, but seeing him there I felt powerless and like a failure. He had saved me, why oh why couldn’t I save him?
Fortunately piece by piece my dad came back, and I thought nothing of this episode. My life was continually unstable but we were managing and I was out of hospital. My dad although sometimes withdrawn seemed ok, and I was determined myself to recreate the family we had before I had destroyed it due to my personal struggle.
Fast forward seven years: my repeated admissions, my repeated suicide attempts and several home truths later and I’m beginning to see what I had avoided looking at for so long: my dad suffers from severe depressive episodes. He too has contemplated ending his life, he too has been on the drug merry-go-round and he too has been through counselling services. So we’re different: I’m borderline personality disorder, psychotic, eating disordered: he’s severely depressed. My behaviour has led to police, hospital, and education drop out: his, well long term sick and early retirement. But really we’re both trying to fight our way through our own personal daemons; the annoying thing for me is that I cannot help him. I know how bad things get, I’ve experienced the same painful feelings, I’ve locked myself away from the world but I have no idea how to connect to him when he’s down. I feel like I should be the one to draw him up, hold him up, and keep him safe like he has with me so many times. I should know the magic words to reach him, but every time I push him away, run away myself, desperate not to admit that my hero, my strong, stable dad is struggling.
I’m now only too familiar with his disappearance, his bursts of anger and his own evident self hatred, and looking back I can see the scars on my childhood. His illness will never take away the happiness and good memories I have, but it does make me wonder if the dad I loved so much of the time was actually there in person or was just a mask pretending to the world that everything was alright.