Tag Archives: hereditary depression

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today, I’ve got something different for you.

I’d like to introduce you to my dad.

With Father’s Day around the corner, of course he’s on my mind, but he is also wrapped around everything I am trying to achieve with this blog.

My dad passed away when I was thirteen. Losing him was hard, and it was one of the things that tipped me over into my first major depression.

My dad was a wonderful and hard man to live with. His sense of right and wrong was like granite. He would go to the ends of the earth to do right by his family, but he didn’t really believe in forgiveness or acceptance, for himself or for others.

My dad was also bipolar. That meant my siblings and I were more than twice as likely as the average kid to develop severe mental illness (that is, bipolar depression, unipolar depression, or schizophrenia), and eight times more likely to have ADHD.

Many issues connected to my dad – the need to understand the effects of emotional trauma, the skill development required for grieving, forgiving, and accepting, and the tools necessary to overcome genetic and biological obstacles – are what we need to talk about in order to get a handle on mental illness.

But there is something more, and with Dad on my shoulder, this is the perfect time to bring it up.

We need to be able to flip our suffering upside down once in a while and look into its bunghole to find the light.

Because even though I am a neurological mess, I can be funny, too. At least 35% of the time.

So could my dad.

And while sometimes I need to talk about my hard stuff to help illuminate yours, I also need to make you smile. That is the only real thing that keeps us from being victims.

Laughter is a leap of faith. You have to open yourself up to receive it. It is a choice. You need to decide that you are secure enough to touch the things that make you squirm. If you do, and find the ridiculous in your pain, you will shatter the shame that keeps you stuck.

Laughter dissolves misery. We all need that.

I am bringing up the funny around my dad because it helps me remember that I am more than a kid with a wonky brain. I am the daughter of a one-of-a-kind man who was smart, passionate, and quirky as hell.

When I think of Dad from all angles, I know that in spite of what went wrong, he loved me, and all of us around him. I believe he still does.

To honour that, and to balance my message, I’m sharing an essay I wrote about him. I think is as important as anything in the mental health conversation.

I hope you enjoy it, and that it helps you sniff out the farts in your own disasters and laugh about them, with the lack of respect they are due.

Hot Diggety Dad

A lot of the comfort that Dad left behind for us exists in objects. These articles were special to our family: things that he built, restored, or scrounged up from God knows where.

Each of these things symbolized something unique about Dad: his huge imagination, his brilliance for design, his eye for the potential in something broken, or his hilarious glee at discovering an item for sale that he wished he had invented.

One thing Dad snatched up like a feverish pirate was the Hot Diggety Dogger. It was basically a toaster, but instead of having two long slots to drop your bread into, it had two round holes for wieners and two big half-moons slots for buns.

With this genius contraption, he could make both the essential parts of his all-time favorite meal with a single, satisfying thunk of a lever.

Everybody knew that Dad loved hot dogs. If hot dogs had needed child support, he would have found a way. No one would have batted an eye if hotdogs had been named in the will. It was a surprise that all three of us kids escaped a meaty namesake; there is thankfully neither an Oscar, nor a Meyer, among us.

Dad demanded that his hotdogs be crispy. He quickly dominated the Hot Diggety Dogger’s anemic settings by developing a special technique. This consisted of pulling out the buns after the first cooking cycle and leaving in the meat for an extra “bing” or two. He toasted and re-toasted his pork cigars until the drip tray ran with salty rivulets and the air hung thick with the smell of bacon’s tubular little brother.

I’m not going to lie; Dad’s dogs were good. Damn good. Those crackly, crisp tubes of ground pig lips got sublimated into hot dog heaven.

The Hot Diggety Dogger’s existence was a metaphysical wonder, like some being of the highest evolution had reached into Dad’s technicolour mind, pulled out a dream, and made it real. He loved that thing.

And I loved him.

Ever since, I have appreciated a nicely crisped meaty morsel on a golden-toasted bun. Much to my delight, my stepmom let me take the Hot Diggety Dogger with me when I moved out. It was one of my prized possessions.

I’m pretty sure that the first meal I made for my roommate, Lucas, was Hot Diggety Dogs. He may have thought I was a tiny bit nuts as I tried to prepare him for the pure, crisp-salt-smoke satisfaction he was about to experience.

“Sure, I like hot dogs,” he shrugged, like someone who had no idea that his mind was about to be blown.

I’m guessing that my eyes were as demented as Gollum’s as I gingerly struggled the apparatus out of its tight cardboard cocoon.

There may have been some muttering under my breath like, “Mmm… Crackled skin… Ooooo… One more cycle! …Oh my god, it smells like bacon!”

My mind would have raced while I waited endless minutes for our smoked puree of unmentionable animal parts to alchemize into condiment-drizzled bliss.

Finally, we would have eaten.

But Lucas, one of my truest, most cherished friends, had thought the Hot Diggety Dogs were just okay. He continued to boil his wieners in a pot. Like a total chump.

Somehow, we managed to stay friends.

Oh well. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him classy.

Speaking of classy, I was at the discount grocery store the other day. I was pushing a squeaky cart with my runny-nosed girls in the classiest way possible, when a vision arrested me: there, inside a gleaming, red, brushed-stainless case, sat a modern version of our sacred appliance.

But it was all wrong. Someone had pathetically renamed it, “hot dog toaster.” I mean, come on; where’s the poetry? That’s like a name that got translated from another language. You might as well call it, “depress-lever cooker of mixed meat cylinders.” Total lack of reverence. Disgraceful.

Although my face was crunched into a “Tsk”, my neck was peppered in goosebumps.

Dad has been gone for twenty-two years, and all that time I have been dreaming of running into him somewhere, feeling a wave of recognition and longing crash over me like thunder.

And there he was. Hot Diggety Damn.

There is Always a Way

My oldest daughter, a four-year-old so opinionated she will probably launch her own blog before I get this one off the ground, recently had her first nightmare. At least, it was the first one she shared with me.

The dream involved volcanoes. As she related it, several things struck me. First was the sense that this moment was critical, my first attempt at open surgery on her anxiety. There was a hush in my ears that blocked out the breath of the furnace and other murmurs of the night. I wanted to be there and get my reaction right.

Second, I noticed my little one’s tone. It wasn’t hysterical or dramatic, like I would expect from a small child confronting the limitlessness of imagined fear.

Her voice was quiet, and surprisingly sad, like she was resigned to a crushing inevitability. I realized that she had not come to me for comfort after her bad dream. I might not have known about it at all, if I hadn’t been woken by her baby sister and noticed her sitting awake as I passed.

“Mommy,” she whispered when I asked what was wrong, “I’ll never go back to sleep. Never.”

I took her in my arms and could feel the weight of sadness, her chest pressing into me with more than her little body’s mass.

I held her close, rocking her, breathing words into her hair, willing the warmth of my chest to radiate into her. Her trunk was stiff and her limbs were limp. It felt out of sync.

I pushed my worry down and pulled my knowledge up, all the things I knew about childhood emotions, managing anxiety, and the role I wanted to play in her growth.

I listened quietly until she was done. I reflected back the feelings she described, and admitted that sometimes, I had bad dreams, too. I said I knew a trick that helped me feel better, and would share it if she’d like.

She sat on my lap, turned her back into me, and looked out into the darkness. Then, she nodded.

I said, “My trick is to close my eyes and imagine the dream again, but this time, I imagine myself solving the scary problem. I might fix it with magic, or by talking, or fighting, or calling someone who can help me.

Maybe you could wave your hands like Elsa and make all the hot lava get frozen, so it’s not dangerous anymore. Maybe you could make it turn into chocolate syrup, and eat it all up. Or maybe you could imagine a great big butterfly that appears and picks you up and flies you to safety.

All you need to remember is that there is always a way to get safe. Every scary dream has a way out: a secret door, or magic spell, or fairy godmother who will come to help when you call her. No matter what, there is always a way to get safe.

When you wake up and feel so scared and can’t get back to sleep, start telling yourself, ‘There is always a way to get safe.'”

We repeated the words together a few times. At first, my girl was reluctant, then she got into it, and finally, she started to seem a little bored. She rubbed her eyes.

“Great job, Honey, “I said, kissing her soft hair, “I’m so proud of you.” I laid with her a little while, and when her breath got slow and even, I crept back to my own bed.

Ironically, now I couldn’t sleep. I was happy with how we handled her fear, but bothered by what I saw behind it. That quiet shift she made, from fear to hopeless resignation, bore the signature of my personal monster. That is depression, in a nutshell.

This was my biggest fear, the reason why I didn’t want to have kids. I hated the idea of bringing someone into the world who would grow up tormented like me, and many others in our family.

I felt tangled in smothering blankets of guilt, shame, and doubt. I looked ahead and saw my gorgeous girl struggling, growing up emotionally stunted, sabotaging herself both purposefully and unwittingly. I saw her in my place, fighting dark urges that never completely go away, especially when near a high railing.

I sneaked down to the bathroom, where I could tremble and cry without disturbing my husband. I did that for quite a while.

What finally brought my breathing back was a particularly sharp slice of shame. It poked me between the ribs, harder and harder until I could barely breathe. When I finally paid attention to it, I realized it was not just garden-variety shame at my brokenness, but something more focused: it was shame at my hypocrisy.

I realized I would never be able to sell the whole, “There is always a way to make things okay,” shtick to my anxious daughter unless I lived it, too.

My nose stopped gushing and my chest stopped heaving that very second.

I won’t say that I haven’t had any moments since then of sorrow and fear for the journey ahead of my sensitive kid. I have. However, I can say honestly that recognizing the need to take my own medicine in order to help my child has made me ready to commit with all my soul to winning the war inside me.

Fighting depression through every strategy imaginable has dredged a rusty ton of useful tidbits from the bottom places of my life. The knowledge is there to help me and my girl; I just need to trust it and use it, to wave my magic hands and call upon the wisdom to resolve each nightmare as it comes.

If you see me looking in the mirror, or watching my star-bright, complex little girl with a smile on my face but a wrinkle in my brow, you will know that I am whispering to myself, “There is always a way.”

And there is. For you, too.